McLachlan Lake given a chance to live up to its name

October 2014 2!

It was during the work to implement the Garnet Valley  Motor Vehicle Closure project  that we noticed an area that had obviously been a wetland in a previous life. Hard-hit by cattle and mud-boggers – for the first time in many years this area was struggling to hold a very small amount of water and was being punished for doing so by off road vehicle vandals. A bit of local research confirmed this was a wetland in the past – so  vast that is was  known as “McLachlan Lake” and at one time it had been fenced off judging from the remnants of barbed wire and old posts strewn about.  Maybe with some luck and a fence to exclude cattle and off-road vehicles, this wetland could come back. Inspired by the success of the Ritchie Lake project, SOSCP approached the local rancher Dave Casorso, FLNRO Range Officers Charles Oduro and Rob Dinwoodie, and the District Manager Ray Crampton to get permission to re-establish a fence around it. At the same time, conservation partners were working towards an Okanagan Wetland Strategy and were looking for a project that they could sink their teeth into.

image001Within just a couple of weeks from conception to completion, SOSCP and many partners, funders and helpers were able to get this fencing project off the ground and completed. Led by the  SOSCP Program Manager, with funds and staff help from the BC Wildlife Federation, OBWB and the Central Okanagan Regional District, the fence was completed in four very long, very tiring days thanks to Meadow Valley Construction, members of the Summerland Sportsmen’s Association and other community volunteers. What a dedicated crew! Although trying to stop off road vehicle damage in the Okanagan sometimes it seems a losing battle to those who willingly destroy the environment, it is equally inspiring to start and finish a project with people who want to make a difference, who go the extra mile and show up to work hard, with a smile, in the mud and rain. A very special thank you goes out to  Dave Carleton, Ray Paulsen, Dave McClellan, Doug and Kathi Penny from Meadow Valley Construction, Lorraine Bennest, Sue George, Murray Rooney, Neil Fletcher, Diane Kiss, Lia McKinnon and Jillian Tamblyn.  

The fence is done!!best volunteers ever 2

Garnet Valley Wildlife Habitat Protected

Garnet Valley Sept 2014In late September, volunteers from the Summerland Sportsmen’s Association worked alongside the Conservation Officer Service and SOSCP in Garnet Valley north of Summerland, posting signs and deactivating illegal trails. The project, partly funded by the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation Public Conservation Assistance Fund, was initiated by the Province of BC Fish and Wildlife and COs in support of new Wildlife Act Motor Vehicle Prohibition Regulations. Garnet Valley has some of the Okanagan’s’ most valuable wildlife habitat – including south facing slopes which are ideal winter and early spring habitat for mule deer. Garnet Valley is home to conservation lands that were purchased by the Province for their extremely important value to wildlife. The valley contains sensitive wetlands, grasslands and open forests, and is a link for wildlife to connect to other important natural areas away from the Hwy 97 corridor. Motorized vehicles cause disturbance to wildlife and have degraded habitat in Garnet due to illegal trail building. The new regulations for Garnet Valley designate open, legal routes and close illegal routes to protect wildlife and allow habitat to recover.
“The success of the Ritchie Lake fencing project and the recovery of that wetland has inspired all of us, the sportsmen’s club, the conservation partnership and the provincial government to keep working for habitat recovery in the Garnet”, said Bryn White, SOSCP  Program Manager. Violations and fines will be imposed for those who travel off the designated routes, and individuals who cause significant damage to the environment can be subject to penalties under the Forests and Range Practices Act. Anyone can report illegal activities and environmental damage by calling the RAPP line 1-877-952-RAPP (7277).

Regional Conservation Fund proposal moves forward

July and August is a hot and exciting time to be in the Okanagan. Wildfires can get the adrenaline surging – but so can visionary ideas and leadership. On July 17th, the RDOS Planning and Development Committee moved to “approve in principle” the establishment of a Conservation Fund. This follows a motion from the City of Penticton Council on June 23rd to support the exploration of a Conservation Fund. SOSCP will be working with staff to obtain public opinion and further develop fund details as a team over the next many months.

The presentation made to the Committee by SOSCP highlighted the benefits of such fund including protecting special places for people and wildlife, ensuring clean air and water, restoring and enhancing the important natural areas and community values that contribute to the spectacular South Okanagan-Similkameen way of life.

What is clear in our conversations with decision-makers and community members around a conservation fund is that we need a significant financial goal to meet conservation needs, and the more participating areas to share in that, the better.

Past polling indicates strong support for a dedicated conservation fund in the region (86%). Residents willing to pay through their taxes quote an amount of $50 or less – with a greater emphasis on between $10 and 20. A number of scenarios for a regional fund here could rest between $9 and $13 per household.

The leadership shown today is exciting and I am looking forward to continuing to develop and explore the concept with our local government and conservation partners, and the communities that SOSCP serves.

Volunteers sought for bullfrog monitoring

In 2012 and 2013, BC Frogwatch received unconfirmed reports of invasive American Bullfrogs near Penticton and Summerland. This introduced species has not previously been reported in this area.

Okanagan Similkameen Stewardship is seeking people to become volunteer citizen scientists to help monitor for bullfrogs over the next two weeks. Volunteers can participate in daytime or nighttime pond searches being conducted in July. Those wishing to attend, volunteer, or report a bullfrog sighting should contact Alyson Skinner at 250-809-1980 or alysonskinner@gmail.com.

Photo: Carl D. Howe, Wikimedia Commons.

Photo: Carl D. Howe, Wikimedia Commons.

Bullfrogs were introduced in the Okanagan in the 1950s close to the Canada-US border. Since 2004, researchers, private landowners, conservation organizations, and government collaborated in bullfrog removal efforts in the south Okanagan. Removal efforts have drastically reduced bullfrog occurrence near the Canada-US border; however, a handful of bullfrogs can colonize a new area within one or two breeding seasons. Detecting all individuals is essential in preventing the spread of this species.

Introduced bullfrogs pose a great threat to native Okanagan amphibians. Bullfrogs are voracious predators of native fish, frogs and salamanders. They also reproduce rapidly by laying thousands of eggs, outcompete other animals for food, and spread disease to native amphibians. Many native amphibians are at risk due to human influences such as habitat loss, road mortality, and pollution. Removing the added threat of bullfrogs is vital to the survival of native amphibians. Bullfrogs live in year-round ponds and take up to two seasons to mature into adults. Other species which live in permanent ponds, such as the endangered Blotched Tiger Salamander, are at particular risk.

A mature American Bullfrog is the size of a dinner plate and is olive-yellow with a grey belly. Males have bright yellow throats during mating season. A prominent tympanic ear membrane is visible. Adult males have a distinctive loud call that can be heard during the spring and summer.

Visit www.OkanaganSimilkameenStewardship.ca for more information on this initiative.

Historic antelope-brush property saved

The Nature Trust of British Columbia announced the acquisition of a 12.32 hectare (30.4 acre) property in the Okanagan, at the south end of Vaseux Lake, between Okanagan Falls and Oliver. This acquisition and the adjacent Antelope-brush Conservation Area, which is also owned by The Nature Trust, are home to more than 20 species at risk. Most notably, this land supports more than half of the Canadian population of the Behr’s Hairstreak butterfly.

Bighorn Sheep, Pallid Bat, Desert Night Snake, Great Basin Spadefoot and Lewis’s Woodpecker are among other species at risk that are known to occur on the Antelope-brush Conservation Area lands. Securement of this property ensures the protection of important wildlife habitat and connectivity with other conservation areas for many species, providing greater opportunity for species to adjust to climate change.

This property is ecologically significant and has been owned by the same family for 127 years. The family has cared deeply about protecting it. One family member, George Kennedy, provides a descriptive history: “In 1886 Peter McIntyre settled in the South Okanagan on land beneath a massive cliff. His land spread from the Okanagan River on the west side of the valley to a fast flowing creek on the east side. He chose to settle here because of this creek, where he installed a large water wheel which he used to generate power for a small saw mill.” “The family has tried to keep the land as natural as it was when ‘Uncle’ Pete arrived. It is an ongoing and formidable challenge to protect a pocket of naturalness in the midst of so much development in the Okanagan Valley.”

The Nature Trust of British Columbia had the support of many organizations and individuals to complete this acquisition including the landowner, FortisBC, the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, Habitat Stewardship Program, Sitka Foundation, Grayross Foundation, and the South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club. This acquisition was also supported by individual donors to The Nature Trust’s Okanagan Grasslands Acquisition Fund. The landowner’s donation was facilitated by the Federal Ecological Gifts Program.

Video explores benefits of conservation fund

The Kootenay Conservation Program and Regional District of East Kootenay provide funding for projects that benefit conservation in the area from Spillimacheen to Canal Flats through the Columbia Valley Local Conservation Fund (CVLCF). The conservation fund provides financial support for important projects that are not the responsibility of the federal, provincial or local governments. Through the CVLCF, the Kootenay Conservation Program has financially supported over 30 stewardship projects including ecosystem restoration, invasive species control, lake management, and water quality monitoring. Watch a two-minute video exploring what has been achieved by the fund in less than five years.

Got Bats?

The Okanagan Community Bat Program is a new initiative to support bat conservation in the region by providing information about bats and getting the public’s assistance with locating and monitoring bat populations. A new web site and toll free phone number 1-855-9BC-BATS has been set up to allow residents to contact the program to get information on attracting bats, ask about health and safety concerns, and learn about options for dealing with bats in buildings. Margaret Holm is the Okanagan Program Coordinator for 2014 and can be reached at okanagan@bcbats.ca. The Community Bat Program has been established in nine regions of the province through the assistance of the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation and BC Conservation Foundation.

Update on wild and domestic sheep separation

Wild sheep share a number of similarities with their domestic cousins. Unfortunately, contact between the two groups can have deadly consequences. Managing livestock/ wildlife conflicts on private land is a daunting task. The Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation has supported the Sheep Separation Program for nearly a decade, including the program’s provincial coordinator, Jeremy Ayotte. The Wild Sheep Working Group is made up of domestic sheep producers, biologists, and hunters. “One of our goals is to monitor the different strategies we’re trialing, and then share our success stories, within the province and beyond,” stated Ayotte. “Historically, the program’s had its ups and downs, but now that we’ve got some stability through funding, there’s a perceivable buzz: you can really feel the momentum starting to pick up.” Read the full article on the HCTF web site.

Help for amphibians trapped in pools

Okanagan Similkameen Stewardship Society (OSSS) and St. Lawrence University researchers are partnering on a number of stewardship initiatives this June- one of them being FrogLog amphibian escape ramps.  On the heels of a year with record-breaking numbers of Tiger Salamander migration and mortality, it became apparent that deaths in swimming pools had become a real threat to amphibian survival. One way to mitigate this threat may be to install FrogLogs in these swimming pools which allow frogs and salamanders to escape rather than to end up in skimmers. To find out more about this project, visit the OSSS web page.

Nick Burdock to oversee The Nature Trust activities in southern interior

Nicholas Burdock has been appointed as The Nature Trust of BC’s Okanagan Conservation Land Coordinator. Nicholas will be based in Penticton to oversee twenty-eight conservation properties, including two biodiversity ranches, in the Okanagan-Similkameen, Thompson and Boundary regions. Nicholas coordinates all aspects of site management, ecological monitoring, and community relations. He will also lead the Okanagan Conservation Youth Crew each summer. Nicholas has been working for The Nature Trust since 2003. He can be contacted at 250-490-8218 or nburdock@naturetrust.bc.ca.