Posted on 07 March 2013 by Richard McGuire
Area residents will have a chance to learn about and comment on a plan aimed at protecting local biodiversity and natural habitats at a series of open houses.
Keeping Nature in Our Future is a conservation strategy developed by the South Okanagan-Similkameen Conservation Program (SOSCP) and its partner organizations that aims to protect land with threatened ecosystems.
Open houses are being held in seven local communities between Feb. 12 and March 11, with the final one aimed at Rural Osoyoos Electoral Area A set for March 11 from 5 – 7 p.m. at the Sonora Community Centre.
The meetings are jointly sponsored by SOSCP and the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen (RDOS).
While the plan itself doesn’t mandate land use or conservation measures, it provides a policy framework and recommendations that municipal and other levels of government can use in their planning.
These include setting security deposits for developers to ensure environmental compliance, as well as financial incentives to encourage stewardship on private lands.
Bryn White, SOSCP manager, said the plan was released in December, but it has not been formally adopted.
It was developed by a steering committee that included local governments, federal and provincial government officials, First Nations observers and participants, and non-profit organizations.
The RDOS board asked SOSCP to hold the public engagement sessions so they can get a sense as to whether the public supports further RDOS involvement with the strategy, White said.
The plan argues that the Okanagan-Similkameen region is an exceptional place with a biologically unique area of species and ecosystems that don’t occur elsewhere in Canada, or in some cases elsewhere in the world.
The region is also one of Canada’s most endangered natural systems, the strategy says.
“Many of the wildlife and natural areas in the South Okanagan-Similkameen are in trouble because of impacts from our towns and cities, agriculture and other human activities on the land and water,” the strategy paper says.
It calls for measures to protect natural assets “as a legacy for our children and grandchildren.”
The strategy contains extensive mapping of the most sensitive areas and those most in need of protection, which it refers to as “hot spots.”
It argues that habitat areas should be interconnected to provide corridors for wildlife movement between important habitats.
While some species of animals and plants are mentioned in passing, the bulk of the report is on policies that governments can adopt to encourage conservation and discourage destruction of sensitive habitat.
The strategy brings together a lot of data that was in disparate places, White said.
This allows decision makers to find the data they need to make good decisions, she added.
Asked what in the report she would highlight to the public, White pointed out that there are specific findings for each community.
She also emphasized the importance of the valley bottom.
The study found the greatest proportion of very high and high relative biodiversity in Area A (Rural Osoyoos), Area B (Cawston), Area C (Rural Oliver) Area D (Okanagan Falls), and the municipalities of Osoyoos and Oliver.
The valley bottom, though a smaller part of the overall region, contains half of the very high and high biodiversity. A significant amount of the habitat in the valley has already been lost.
“That’s where we’ve situated all our agriculture, our communities and transportation corridors, so it’s really kind of a collision course in the valley bottom,” said White.
The report cites public opinion surveys done in 2004 and 2008 showing that three quarters of local residents believe it’s important to protect endangered species and their habitats “even if that means putting restrictions on economic development.”
On the other hand, 20 per cent believed that too much land in the region is already protected and 13 per cent said the real estate industry is so important to the region that restrictions on new developments are unnecessary.
White, however, is not expecting opposition to the strategy from people who are pro-development and may not see the importance of biodiversity.
“I can’t imagine anyone who would not agree with protecting values like clean air, clean water, natural viewscapes and functioning ecosystems that support communities for now and for the future,” she said.
Keeping Nature in Our Future can be downloaded at http://www.soscp.org/biodiversity/ where there is other information about the study.