Three conservation areas near Osoyoos among 26 acquired by NCC from financially troubled TLC

By on October 7, 2015

Three ecologically significant conservation areas near Osoyoos are among 26 in the province that the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has purchased from a financially troubled land trust.

The conservation properties were owned by The Land Conservancy of British Columbia (TLC), which has decided to sell many of its properties to deal with debt problems.

The three conservation areas near Osoyoos are Lehman Springs Conservation Area, Similkameen River Pines and Peachcliff Conservation Area.

NCC, a major Canadian land conservation organization, worked with the Nature Trust of B.C., TLC and others for more than a year to ensure the conservation status of TLC’s high-priority conservation lands and to provide for their long-term stewardship.

TLC entered into creditor protection in October of 2013 because it could no longer service its debts. In April 2015, the creditors and Supreme Court of B.C. approved a plan of arrangement.

By selling off a number of properties, TLC is able to continue holding 200 conservation covenants across the province.

Tom Swann, director of land securement and associate regional vice president for NCC’s British Columbia region, said NCC is paying $1.5 million for the 26 conservation properties across the province.

Management of these sensitive lands, however, is a bigger cost, which he said brings the cost to NCC to a total of $4.3 million for the properties.

Swann said when the NCC first learned of the financial situation at TLC it was worrisome. TLC was unable to service its debts and was laying off staff.

“The concern that we had as one of the major land trusts across the country is what the impact of this failure might mean for the entire land trust movement in terms of donor confidence and landowners’ confidence and everything that makes what the land trust movement is all about,” said Swann.

Afraid that the failure of TLC could shake the confidence of people donating to land trusts, NCC and other organizations pulled together to find a solution.

“The Nature Conservancy of Canada was extremely motivated to ensure these important properties remain protected, and to uphold the expectations of the donors who had originally contributed to their conservation,” said Nancy Newhouse, acting B.C. regional vice president with NCC. “We are committed to providing for the long-term stewardship of all our conservation properties. I’ve been doing this with the NCC for about 14 years now and this is by far the most complicated piece of business we put together.

“We were taking over a large number of properties and they all have a lot of issues around them. It took a lot of work just to make our way through all the legal agreements.”

Lehman Springs Conservation Area is 59.3 acres and has some of B.C.’s largest western larch trees. It is located about 20 minutes east of Osoyoos off Highway 3. The old-growth western larches are more than 600 years old and the largest tree is 170 feet (52-metres) tall. The site provides habitat for a number of species including the vulnerable Williamson’s sapsucker.

Similkameen River Pines occupies 113.2 acres of rare riparian flood plane and upland grasslands habitat for species at risk.

It is located on the east side of the Similkameen River next to the international border and the Chopaka West portion of the South Okanagan Grasslands Protected Area.

Peachcliff Conservation Area is a 42.5-acre conservation property near Okanagan Falls with a globally imperiled antelope-brush plant community, bighorn sheep, numerous snake species, canyon wren and Behr’s hairstreak, an endangered butterfly.

Currently, public access to these properties is restricted due to the fragile environment and other concerns.

Swann said the NCC will do extensive management planning on each of its newly acquired properties to determine what important conservation values exist and how best to protect them.

It is too early to say whether public access may be permitted in the future.

“Access management is a key factor that must be determined in every case,” said Swann. “Generally speaking the majority of properties that the Nature Conservancy of Canada owns are available to the public. There are exceptions to that, and normally the exception is that there are so many listed species or critical habitat that by opening to the public, there would be high risk of damage done unknowingly.”

RICHARD McGUIRE

Osoyoos Times

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