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B.C. wetlands grow with land purchase by conservation groups

B.C. birding area grows with conservancy purchase

OLIVER, B.C. — A parcel of land in a birder’s paradise in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley has been secured by the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

The 36.4 hectare property is located in an expanse of wetland near the Okanagan River and is an important acquisition because so much of the valley bottom has been lost to development and agriculture, said Barb Pryce, the southern Interior program director with the conservancy.

“Finding a parcel that’s 90 acres in size is quite a rarity in the south Okanagan and that’s why it’s so important,” she said.

Less than 15 per cent of the valley bottom remains wetlands.

Bird watchers from around the world come to see the diversity of birds that use the area for breeding, nesting, hunting and as a migration stopover.

The long-billed curlew, yellow-breasted chat and bobolink, all designated as species at risk in Canada, are found in the area.

“Some of the birds in the area are in decline, so anything we can do to support their population levels is really important.”

Pryce said part of the farmland will remain in hay production because the dapper-looking bobolink songbird uses the grassland as a breeding ground. The males are black and white and have a straw coloured head.

Grasslands are rare and cover less than one per cent in the province, she noted.

Pryce said the conservancy and Ducks Unlimited Canada, which co-owns the land, will start a restoration program on the property soon. 

The land is criss-crossed with old oxbows, or wetland channels, that have been cut off from the Okanagan River since the river was straightened in the 1950s to control flooding.

“You can see them from Google imagery. We’ll likely be excavating those parts of the land,” she said, adding that they will plant vegetation natural to the area, such as cottonwood, dogwood and willow trees.

The groups don’t plan to link the oxbows back to the Okanagan River itself. Pryce said they dug out the channels on a similar restoration project just south of the property and within minutes water was rising out of the oxbows and the next day they were full.

“A day or two after that we had waterfowl swimming on these places. It’s really amazing how nature wants to revert back to its natural condition.”

That area, not far from the Canada-U.S. border is a flood plain, and before people moved at the turn of the last century the area was mostly marshland, she said.

A conservancy news release says rebuilding the wetland areas will allow for other species to move in, such as the western painted turtle or the blotched tiger salamander, which is also a species at risk in Canada.

— By Terri Theodore in Vancouver.

The Canadian Press

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