Awarded to the Windermere District Farmers Institute to reward contracted farmers to take extraordinary stewardship action to conserve and enhance important riparian areas on their farms, 11 of which have been targeted and ranked by their potential to produce clean water and healthy wildlife populations, including species at risk. Much of the Columbia Valley’s critical habitat is owned by farmers who have limited capacity for stewardship.

PROPONENT: Windermere District Farmers Institute

DESCRIPTION: The region’s ecosystems are under pressure from human impacts, and much of ecologically valuable areas are owned or managed by farmers who have limited resources to dedicate to stewardship. There was no watershed scale program that supports farmers to implement and maintain evidence based land stewardship solutions that mitigate human impacts within this region. Therefore, the Columbia Valley Farmland Advantage Stewardship Project was conceived to restore and conserve habitat that improves water quality, fishing opportunities, species at risk populations and overall quality of life for people in the region.

Farmland Advantage built a unique program which provides incentives to farmers to take extraordinary action to restore and conserve important ecosystems. This novel program unleashes the untapped potential of private farmland to produce a healthier ecosystem that generates community benefits such as cleaner water, and more abundant wildlife populations. It is a pilot that is being scaled up to a larger program within this and other regions. This type of program is known as Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES). PES is a globally recognized concept where farmers or landowners are paid to manage their land to provide an ecological service such as conserving a wetland to filter water used by the community.

OBJECTIVE: In 2014, the Columbia Valley Farmland Advantage Working Group identified the key riparian ecosystem services to be targeted with this pilot including water quality, biodiversity, and species at risk, and started working with farmers who owned the top ranked sites. Farmers were offered a contract to restore and conserve critical riparian areas on their properties, and to maintain these activities over time. The project was so successful, it has now been rolled out to a larger, provincial scale, and is no longer funded by the Columbia Valley Local Conservation Fund. Over the last decade, project objectives have been to: 1) Conserve and restore 252 acres of prime riparian habitat and 7,987 metres of shoreline; 2) Contract farmers to take extraordinary efforts to conserve and restore the targeted riparian areas on 11 farm sites; 3) Retain the engagement of 95% of the region’s farmers; 4) Monitor the results of the project using tools such as Riparian Health Assessments, and other monitoring methods; and, 5) Work with organisations like Bird Studies Canada to conduct species at risk (e.g., Lewis’s Woodpecker) surveys on sites.

PHOTO: Farmland Advantage