Conservationists Saving Land in BC

The Nature Conservancy of Canada is the country’s largest land conservation organization. I recently interviewed Lesley Neilson, Communications and Engagement Manager of the BC Region, regarding their BC activities.

Darkwoods is a mountainous, forested conservation area located approximately 45 minutes south of Nelson. The land is open to the public on weekends from July through September, with a permit.

The area is an important conservation corridor for grizzly bears and several other species that need a wide range. The challenge for wide ranging animals is to get from point A to point B through hundreds of kilometers without encountering trouble such as highways or settled areas with garbage or orchards with fences.

The grizzly bears in Darkwoods are from a threatened population. Biologist Michael Proctor researches the bears. He collars them and tracks their movements through Creston Valley and into the next mountain range (Purcell Mountains east of Creston). This movement is important as the bears need to mix with the Purcell Mountain bears to maintain genetic diversity.

Dr. Proctor’s maps of where the bears go allow conservationists to see their movements, which can lead NCC and its partners to know which properties are the most strategically valuable to conserve.

Working with scientists who study where species go supports good conservation choices as it becomes known which land the animals are actually using. “There are many layers of conservation science behind what we do,” Lesley said. “We work in natural areas where we have mapped ecosystems, threats, old growth forests, wetlands and rivers.”

The conservationists work largely on private lands, which are sometimes donated and sometimes bought. Sometimes they register a covenant so the landowner still owns the property but the legal agreement requires them to follow terms. The most common terms are agreements to never subdivide the land. This is useful on large properties. For example, there is a covenant on SLR K2 Ranch (on the west side of Windermere Lake) for 11,000 acres to not be divided by the present or any future owners. By keeping the land whole and restricting the construction of new buildings, wildlife such as mule deer and badger can continue to freely use the area.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada examines what’s there and what quality it is – how healthy or destroyed the habitat is. They look at where the areas are that still have high biodiversity values. Where the private lands are. The threats and trends in land use are considered, with information coming most often from biologists and foresters. The lands get ranked, then the conservationists go after the highest ranked land.

burrowing owl standing on landAnother example is the Sage and Sparrow Conservation Area in Okanagan. There are over 52 species at risk confirmed in the area. The Nature Conservancy of Canada manages the land now, and biologists study bats, birds, butterflies, plants, and toads. The special concern around the toads is they live in puddles that dry up in summer so they have to time reproduction correctly. They may be negatively impacted if the area warms up from climate change. Conservationists also work with the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society to reintroduce the owls to the area. The burrowing owls are bred in the lower mainland.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada has been actively conserving land in BC since 1974 and is getting close to having saved 1 million acres of land. They strive to save areas as small as ½ acre to 136,000 acres.

On Monday of this week, the Nature Conservancy of Canada announced that it had just signed an agreement for a piece of heavily logged land near Gamadiis Port Clements, Haida Gwaii. The land will now be restored thanks to a new partnership between the Haida Nation and NCC. In addition to supporting three species of salmon, these lands provide habitat for at least two species listed on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act: marbeled murrelet (threatened) and the Haida Gwaii ermine (threatened).

Lesley is excited to help people connect to nature. Sign up for their newsletter so you get informed about speaker events, nature walks, and other activities.


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Alison Wheatley

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