Kootenay Connect

Kootenay Connect is one of 15 Community-Nominated Priority Places projects funded by a federal Canada Nature Fund grant issued by Environment and Climate Change Canada.

This project aims to enhance, restore, and manage large riparian and wetland complexes to support the recovery of 16 listed species at risk, and over a dozen species of concern. The Canada Nature Fund grant will focus on the Bonanza Biodiversity Corridor (north of New Denver), Creston Valley, Wycliffe Wildlife Corridor, and the Columbia Valley Wetlands.

KCP news release about receiving this grant

ECCC news release: “Canada funds 52 new projects to protect and recover species at risk”

Backgrounders on the 15 funded Community-Nominated Priority Places projects

Introduction

Kootenay Connect is a new project funded by Environment and Climate Change Canada in which over 25 KCP Partners are actively working together to enhance and restore habitat for species at risk in four biodiversity hotspots in the Kootenays.

Project Goals & Objectives

The goal of this project is to sustain biodiversity across local landscapes by focusing on habitat connectivity within and between valley bottoms and mountain ranges to sustain exceptional places of biodiversity. This project stems from a recent analysis by Proctor and Mahr that identified a dozen key areas within the Kootenays that are critical for wildlife movement corridors and for conserving vulnerable and at-risk species into the future. The focus of Kootenay Connect is on four of these key areas identified where KCP’s partners have been active in conservation and stewardship.

This project focuses on improving and protecting a broad spectrum of habitat types such as, native grasslands, rich wetlands, cottonwood riparian areas, and mature cedar-hemlock forests that support species at risk. To date, there has been considerable effort to conserve important places in our region such as national and provincial parks, wildlife management areas and conservation properties held by a combination of land trusts and government. However, we are still concerned about the threats to habitat that in turn drive the loss of vulnerable species, especially in light of increasing human development and climate change.

Northern Leopard Frog. Photo by Marc-Andre Beaucher

The specific project objectives are:

  1. To reduce the threat of extirpation and enhance population sustainability of a spectrum of at-risk species such as, Northern Leopard Frog, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Bobolink, Western Screech-owl, American Badger, Little Brown Bat, Western Painted Turtle, Western Toad and more. This objective will be achieved by improving habitat quality and security and improving reproductive capacity, survival, and recruitment within and between individual populations.
  2. To understand and restore hydrologic connectivity of riparian-wetland systems, by informing effective management to ensure sustainability of the inter-relationship of surface and ground water critical to the functioning of riparian-wetland complexes and the resiliency of these systems to the impacts of climate change.
  3. To improve inter-habitat connectivity for wide-ranging species, including regionally fragmented Grizzly Bears, Wolverine and other species by identifying and protecting secure movement corridors and habitat features.

Project Description

Kootenay Connect takes a large landscape, multi-ecosystem approach to sustaining biodiversity, species at risk, and ecosystem connectivity and function within the upper Columbia River Basin in the Kootenay region of BC. The four areas featured in this project include, Creston Valley, Columbia Wetlands, Wycliffe Corridor, and Bonanza Corridor.

These areas are linked by common habitat types that contain rich biological diversity, multiple species at risk, and potential climate change refugia.

Our four focal areas are also zones of ecological connectivity and migration for species of special concern that rely on valley bottom riparian-wetland habitats for some portion of their annual life requisites and/or for inter-mountain connectivity with adjacent upland habitats and protected areas. Without action, the ecological value of these lands and their associated species will further deteriorate and may become at-risk over time.

The team, coordinated by the Kootenay Conservation Program, will undertake comprehensive and detailed planning at the ecosystem, hydrologic watershed, habitat, and individual species scales to inform a suite of over 60 conservation activities designed to increase ecosystem and species resilience. Our efforts to identify and implement informed habitat and hydrological improvements in four key connectivity areas will increase their ability to provide multiple ecosystem services for which riparian-wetland complexes are so important. Our planning and cooperative effort with land trusts such as Nature Conservancy of Canada and Nature Trust BC, will increase the amount of protected lands in the planning area and will further contribute to Canada’s Target 1 Goal, the first of 19 targets under Canada’s 2020 Biodiversity Goals and Targets:

“By 2020, at least 17 percent of terrestrial areas and inland water, and 10 percent of coastal and marine areas, are conserved through networks of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures.”

Kootenay Connect will utilize “Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation” to inform and guide management planning processes where appropriate. Two examples illustrate the importance of this approach.

The Northern Leopard Frog (NLF) is SARA listed “Endangered” with its primary population naturally occurring in the Creston Valley. The NLF Recovery Strategy indicates a high priority to establish two additional populations in the Upper Columbia watershed, monitor and destroy invasive American Bullfrogs, maintain the quality of breeding habitats, and manage conservation and agricultural lands to provide connectivity between seasonal habitats. The project in Creston will work with the Northern Leopard Frog Recovery Team to further plan, define and implement activities in support of these efforts.

Work will be coordinated with the Ktunaxa and Shuswap First Nations on Grizzly Bears (one of their most highly valued species), to reduce human-caused mortality and increase inter-population connectivity in the Upper Columbia Valley between the Purcell and Rocky Mountains. Research shows that corridors for Grizzly Bears align well with riparian-wetland complexes across our region and that when corridor function becomes impaired then the serious regional conservation threat associated with population fragmentation can result.

Project team experience

This large project is being coordinated by Marcy Mahr and Juliet Craig of the Kootenay Conservation Program.

The project benefits from guidance provided by several scientific advisors including Dr. Michael Proctor, a grizzly bear biologist whose data, vision, and approach has already been integral at reconnecting grizzly bear populations across the Creston Valley; Dr. Suzanne Bayley, retired wetland ecology Professor Emeritus from the University of Alberta who has >130 peer-reviewed publications and is an expert in ecosystem ecology and assessments of wetland health; and Dr. Cori Lausen, a North American bat specialist with the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Other species at risk and conservation specialist input is provided by the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), The Nature Trust of BC (NTBC), Northern Leopard Frog Recovery Team, Slocan Lake Stewardship Society (SLSS), Columbia Wetlands Stewardship Partners (CWSP), Wildlife Conservation Society Canada (WCSC),  Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area (CVWMA) and the B.C. provincial government.