Another piece of the puzzle

Adding Another Piece to the Puzzle in the White Lake Basin

By Judie Steeves

Yellow monkey flowers scattered along the pathway through tall grass tell a tale of the dampness hidden at root level and rustling aspen leaves whisper the invisible location of a creek meandering through this grassland.

Clumps of grey sagebrush are accents on the grassy hillsides that rise on both sides, but they’re also dotted with stately red-trunked ponderosa pines — both releasing distinctive aromas evocative of the hot, dry climate that is typical of the South Okanagan’s desert ecosystem.

This diversity on the 32-hectare Park Rill Creek property is what makes this land critical to so many, often-endangered creatures and their habitat.

These range from the Half-moon Hairstreak butterfly to the Blotched Tiger Salamander, the Brewer’s Sparrow to the Badger.

Park Rill Creek is an infill property within the White Lake Basin Biodiversity Ranch, which is managed by The Nature Trust of B.C. with the Clifton family.

“We are integrating livestock management with endangered species protection and habitat conservation,” said Dr. Jasper Lament, CEO of The Nature Trust of B.C.

Acquisition of this unusual property by The Nature Trust of B.C. would add another piece to the puzzle which, when complete, will show a picture of a very diverse and representative cross-section of Okanagan natural ecosystems.

This property will connect to other protected areas, expanding conservation in the South Okanagan.

The White Lake Biodiversity Ranch is one of the largest intact grasslands in the region. East of it is B.C. Parks’ White Lake Grasslands Protected Area, which links with the Vaseux-Bighorn National Wildlife Area of the Canadian Wildlife Service and more Nature Trust holdings on the west side of Vaseux Lake.

Lament notes that the Park Rill Creek property includes riparian floodplain, wetlands, ponderosa pine, rocky outcrops, sagebrush steppe, broadleaf woodlands and grassland, all of which have been protected to a large extent by the family who has been managing the land until now.

Bryn White is manager of the South Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Program. She notes this is a hot spot for species at risk and includes three of four bio-geoclimatic zones that are of concern in this province — Bunchgrass, Ponderosa pine and Interior Douglas fir — while 30 per cent of B.C.’s listed species at risk are here.

Penticton Indian Band knowledge-keeper Richard Armstrong calls the basin “a breadbasket for us. We still dig roots and pick berries, even though we are not so much dependent on them for our food.”

His people are part of the health of the land, as are caretakers such as The Nature Trust, he adds.

Adjacent to this property, efforts are underway by the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society to re-introduce captive-bred Burrowing Owls by digging the burrows they would normally inhabit to raise their young and then releasing a pair of owls there to nest.

Acquisition of the Park Rill Creek land would conserve important sites for the owls to hunt.

Park Rill Creek is the newest property in the Okanagan which The Nature Trust is working to acquire and it’s necessary to raise $1.15 million by Sept. 30 this year for that dream to come true.

“We need a lot of partners to achieve our goal,” Jasper adds.

The South Okanagan Conservation Fund is overseen by the Regional District of the South Okanagan and provides grants for conservation.

The Nature Trust’s Park Rill Creek received one of the first grants to be awarded from this program in the amount of $200,000. And local naturalists from the South Okanagan stepped up with a donation of $1,150.

If you would like to help conserve this important property or to learn more about The Nature Trust of B.C., go to the website at: www.naturetrust.bc.ca

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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