This article is the first in a series featuring three conservation properties in the Columbia Valley that were purchased with support from the Columbia Valley Local Conservation Fund.
The Columbia Valley is a beautifully biodiverse landscape, bordered by the Rocky and Purcell mountain ranges with the headwaters of the Columbia River flowing through its centre. Not only is this vast valley a key wildlife corridor, but it is home to the Columbia Wetlands, one of the largest wetland complexes in British Columbia. This complex includes water from Columbia Lake and Lake Windermere, and is also one of the few remaining pristine floodplain wetlands left in North America. This area has been recognized as ecologically important by scientists and communities alike, recognizing the need to maintain these values for future generations.
The Columbia Valley Local Conservation Fund (CVLCF), established in partnership by the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) and Kootenay Conservation Program, is supporting these efforts. Since 2008, property owners in the RDEK Columbia Valley sub-region (from Canal Flats to Spillimacheen) have paid an annual tax of $20 per parcel per year towards this dedicated fund, which provides financial support to local projects that help conserve and restore the region’s prized natural surroundings. Over the years, projects have ranged from lake monitoring and invasive leafy spurge control to waterbird monitoring, bat conservation and support for farmers taking extraordinary measures to conserve important habitats on their farms. The CVLCF has also supported the purchase of land parcels by land trusts for conservation purposes — a process called land securement. Perhaps the most well-known of these conservation areas is Columbia Lake—Lot 48, located five kilometres south of Fairmont Hot Springs.
An ecologically and culturally important parcel of land over 300 acres located on the eastern shore of Columbia Lake, this property is hailed as a shining example of cooperation when it comes to conservation in the East Kootenay.
Adjacent to Columbia Lake Provincial Park, the Columbia Wetlands Wildlife Management Area and the East Side Columbia Lake Wildlife Management Area, the area supports native grasslands that represent the largest connected expanse of prime winter range for deer, elk and other grazing ungulates in the Upper Columbia Valley. For thousands of years the area was used by the Ktunaxa as a transportation route and is a significant part of the Ktunaxa Creation Story. It is also important to the Shuswap Band who used the area historically for its salmon resources.
Columbia Lake—Lot 48 had been considered a regional treasure for decades but moves to protect it didn’t begin until 2005 when the property’s private owners made plans to create a golf resort on the land. Recognizing that development would impact the property’s important values, the RDEK tabled a rare motion to down-zone the land to agricultural use only. In 2010, the family that had owned the land since 1966, petitioned the regional district to work with them towards finding a solution that would both protect the land and ease their financial burden. Different agencies were invited to join the negotiations, which resulted in the Nature Conservancy of Canada securing the property in 2011 with contributions from Teck Resources, Columbia Basin Trust, the Province of B.C., the Government of Canada through the Natural Areas Conservation Program, Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, Fish & Wildlife Compensation Program, donations from local groups and organizations, and significant funding from the Columbia Valley Local Conservation Fund in the amount of $700,000 ($100,000 per year for seven years).
Today, Columbia Lake—Lot 48 is part of a network of conservation lands and wildlife management areas that spans more than 7,600 hectares (18,500 acres). This network contributes significantly to a critical north-south and east-west wildlife corridor and providing first-class habitat for several rare and endangered species. Columbia Valley residents and visitors can enjoy these conservation lands and take in the stunning surrounding scenery as the east side of Columbia Lake supports wide variety of non-motorized uses such as hiking, cycling, bird watching, hunting and fishing. Lucky folks might catch a glimpse of nesting eagles or spot beavers busy at work in channels branching off Columbia Lake.
“Columbia Lake—Lot 48 was the final piece in securing the whole east side of the lake, contributing immensely to vibrancy of the landscape,” said Nature Conservancy of Canada Program Director Richard Klafki. “Not only did the CVLCF help acquire the property, but it also supported stewardship work that has kept it in its natural state, such as restoration work and invasive plant management that have helped keep the grasslands intact and the forest open. Due to the diverse and resilient habitats on the property a variety of wildlife tend to seek out and gather on the land there.”
To learn more about the Columbia Valley Local Conservation Fund, visit https://kootenayconservation.ca/columbia-valley-local-conservation-fund/.