Posted on 14 March 2013 by Keith Lacey
One of Canada’s leading conservation groups has made an offer to purchase another huge chunk of land near Osoyoos that will allow for years of vital research and provide a safe habitat for some of the most at-risk species in the country.
Only months after purchasing almost 1,300 acres of land near Kilpoola, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has made an offer to private land owners to purchase another 1,836 (743 hectares) of land the NCC is calling the Elkink South Block.
The NCC also purchased several hundred acres of land now called the Sagebrush Slopes near Twin Lakes near Keremeos in 2012.
In order to finalize this latest deal, the NCC has to raise an additional $1.4 million on top of the $2.9 million it has already raised, said Lesley Nielsen, communications manager for B.C. region with the NCC.
“Thirty per cent of all species at risk in British Columbia rely on grasslands habitat and that’s why this purchase is so important for us,” said Nielsen.
Purchasing property on the Elkink Ranch has been of interest to the conservation community for more than 30 years as the land encompassed by the ranch is rich with at-risk species and includes a mosaic of habitat types, she said.
The chance to conserve a large portion – the Elkink South Block – is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will make a significant impact on the natural legacy of the South Okanagan-Similkameen region, she said.
“If the purchase goes through, this land can never be developed,” she said. “It will allow us to protect some of the most important grassland ecological areas in the country.”
The purchase near Kilpoola has been called the Sage and Sparrow Conservation Area. It currently consists of two separate sections of land that sit along the Canada-U.S. border near Osoyoos.
The acquisition of the Elkink South Block would more than double the existing conservation area and create a world-class refuge for many of the rare and endangered grassland species that make their home here, said Nielsen.
“This landscape is a crucial migratory corridor for species moving between the desert areas of the western United States and the dry grasslands of interior B.C.,” she said.
This purchase would provide a critical connection between the two NCC properties acquired in 2012 and would bring the Sage and Sparrow Conservation Area to more than 3,100 acres.
The grassland ecosystem is one of the most endangered in Canada and provides a home to a diversity of rare plants, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals, some of which aren’t found anywhere else in the world, said Nielsen.
A public fundraising campaign is underway to allow for the purchase of the Elkink South Block property.
“We’re approaching our corporate supporters and trying to access provincial and federal grants that are out there, plus the foundations that are supportive of causes like ours, as well as looking for community support from individuals,” she said. “In B.C. we have a fundraising team headed up by our program manager Barb Pryce, who has taken charge of the project and working with our B.C. fundraising team to need.”
Like all NCC property, members of the public will be able to visit at all times, she said.
“We’re all about biodiversity and providing a permanent home for at-risk species, but we’re also about allowing people to come and use the land,” he said. “We want them out walking and looking and smelling the area … it’s very important.
“A recent survey showed that 90 per cent of Canadians felt better physically when they spent some time in nature. They will be able to come here and walk, talk, hike and basically share this beautiful piece of paradise.”
UBC Professor Sarah Otto made a generous donation of $50,000 to the NCC in late 2012, with the specific intent of that money being used to purchase the land near Kilpoola, said Pryce.
“That was an incredibly generous donation on her part and an amazing gift she has given to our organization,” she said.
The Oliver-Osoyoos Naturalist Club also made a small donation towards the land purchase.
It took months of negotiations with two private land owners to finalize the deal for the land near Kilpoola Lake and several more before an offer was made on the Elkink South Block, said Pryce.
“I don’t know exactly what the long-term plans are but we’re all about preserving things in their most natural state and allowing natural ecosystems to thrive,” she said.
The area will be closed to motorized traffic, but will be open to nature lovers and hikers, she said.
“We will be open to those who enjoy nature, but we won’t be allowing camping or open fires or any kind of motorized vehicle traffic,” she said. “This will allow us to protect this valuable piece of property.
“We get so excited about land purchases like this because it is permanent and it will never open to development. We know we have an amazing amount of species and species-at-risk that live in this area, so many in fact we’re going to have to conduct a full inventory of all the critters and creatures that call this place home.”
Having numerous supporters behind this project is a clear indication that protecting environmentally sensitive areas like the South Okanagan grasslands remains a priority for the federal and provincial government and nature lovers throughout the region, she said.
“It’s not just about financial support, but it’s also so important to have the support of local communities and people behind what we’re trying to do,” she said. “We live in a very special place here in the South Okanagan and we need to continue purchasing and protecting sensitive areas like this.”
The NCC celebrated its 50th year in 2012.
The NCC is holding a grand opening celebration of the Sage and Sparrow Conservation Area Thursday, May 16 as part of the Meadowlark Festival.
Anyone interested in making a donation or seeking more information can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-888-404-8428. For more information about the NCC, go online and visit www.natureconservancy.ca.