In 2019, KCP’s Kootenay Connect project was awarded $2 million over four years from Environment and Climate Change Canada to protect and restore species-at-risk habitat and ecological connectivity in four biodiversity hotspots in the Kootenays. An additional $145,000 was awarded to Kootenay Connect in 2021.

Thanks to this funding through the Canada Nature Fund’s Community-Nominated Priority Places program, over 50 projects to date involving 27 KCP partners and specialists have improved habitat for species at risk in the four landscapes: Creston Valley, Columbia Wetlands, Wycliffe Corridor, and Bonanza Biodiversity Corridor.

This incredible on-the-ground conservation action could not have happened without the support and guidance of Ivy Whitehorne. A Conservation Coordinator for Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Canadian Wildlife Service, Ivy coordinates and delivers the Community-Nominated Priority Places program for Species at Risk in B.C.

“The part of it that I find the most meaningful is I get to meet a whole bunch of different people and get exposure to a whole bunch of different organizations,” Ivy said. “I enjoy hearing about what they want to do, what they see as needing to be done in their local area for the species and the things they care about, and I have this role in helping them be able to go do these things.”

A transplant from Canada’s East Coast, Ivy’s childhood on the beaches of Nova Scotia poking around in seaweed nurtured such a strong love for nature that she naturally pursued a BSc in marine biology at Dalhousie University.

“It was during then that I really got into behavioural ecology. At the time that was a discipline that was very much bird-focused,” she said.

When Ivy decided to continue her studies, this time on avian ecology, she knew she had to be somewhere where she could see the ocean.

“It was either going to be Newfoundland or British Columbia, that’s how I ended up in B.C. to do my master’s in biology.”

She began her career as a Bird Conservation Planning Biologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada through the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) and the British Columbia Conservation Foundation, where she spent several years developing bird conservation plans for B.C. She’s also worked as a Conservation Programs Specialist with Ducks Unlimited Canada. In 2014, she returned to CWS as a migratory bird biologist before getting heavily involved with Environment and Climate Change Canada’s funding programs.

“The work for Ducks Unlimited Canada was my rapid-fire introduction to habitat restoration work, still tying into my focus on water fowl, water birds and all the birds that use wetland habitat,” Ivy said. “Nowadays I don’t get to get out there with the shovel in the ground but I get to help other people go do that work – and that’s the fun part.”

Prior to her role with the Community-Nominated Priority Places program, Ivy had little exposure to the Kootenay region (she lives in Vancouver’s Lower Mainland). However, she’s come to love the Kootenays through KCP’s Kootenay Connect and the only other B.C. project to receive Priority Places funding in 2019 — the Integrated Rocky Mountain Trench Dry Forest Ecosystem Restoration project led by the Ɂaq̓am community in collaboration with the yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡi’it and the Rocky Mountain Trench Natural Resources Society. She’s been amazed by the passion and dedication of the people working to protect their local areas.

“Ɂaq̓am’s Indigenous-led ecosystem restoration project has been working on grassland and open dry forest primarily on Ktunaxa reserve land so it’s a lot of mechanical thinning with hopes to have some cultural burning happen with that project,” Ivy said. “They’ve been happy to tie into adjacent conservation efforts and create larger contiguous area of restored habitat.”

As for Kootenay Connect, she says she appreciates being able to stand back and watch it unfold.

“Kootenay Connect has been an absolutely powerhouse in terms of the people involved and the partnerships they’ve been able to form, the existing expertise they’ve been able to draw upon, and just the sheer amount of stuff they’re doing is really impressive.

She’s hopeful Kootenay Connect will continue in order to build on the momentum it’s achieved over the last three years and keep the work going long-term. She has become even more invested in the Kootenays after becoming Canadian Wildlife Service’s representative on the KCP Board of Directors in 2019.

“Kootenay Connect is certainly a standout example within British Columbia and while there are equivalent groups across the country, there are probably not very many that are achieving the same level that KCP and its partners are.”