Awarded to the Nature Conservancy of Canada to create and restore resiliency on this important conservation property in order to support wildlife habitat, improve habitat diversity, and continue invasive plant management and monitoring.

PROPONENT: Nature Conservancy of Canada

DESCRIPTION: The Kootenay River Ranch conservation area is located in the Rocky Mountain Trench between Skookumchuck and Canal Flats. The property encompasses 1,980 ha (4,890 ac) of grassland and dry open forest, closed forest, and wetland ecosystems within the imperilled Interior Douglas-fir (IDF) biogeoclimatic zone. The valley bottom property, which was identified as linkage habitat for Grizzly Bear, also supports wide-ranging carnivores such as Gray Wolf and Cougar. Furthermore, the property supports habitat for species at risk such as Flammulated Owl, Lewis’s Woodpecker, and American Badger and provides important ungulate winter range for Mule Deer and Elk.

The Kootenay River Ranch vegetation management plan identifies the low-elevation Interior Douglas-fir zone as natural disturbance type 4, which is characterized by frequent stand maintaining fires. Historically this 5-20 year cycle of low-intensity surface fires shaped interior grassland and open forest ecosystems. The absence of these fires in recent decades due to modern fire suppression activities has caused higher stem densities in forests and led to more fuel loading and a greater risk of high-intensity wildfire. Increased crown closure in forests also minimizes the potential for healthy grass and forb communities to grow, significantly reducing the amount of forage habitat available for overwintering ungulates.

OBJECTIVE: One of the primary objectives of this project is to create and restore resiliency on conservation lands that support important wildlife habitat, and thereby enhance conservation values in the Upper Columbia region. The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) will restore open forest structure and core grassland communities in areas where forest ingrowth and encroachment have occurred. Since acquiring the property in 2004, NCC has restored over 300 ha of open forest habitat, improving biodiversity and wildlife habitat in strategic areas. In 2021, NCC plans to complete forest thinning treatments to maintain these areas that have been restored previously.

A second objective of this project is to address the urgent need to continue annual invasive plant management and monitoring on the property. Invasive plants pose the second largest threat to native biodiversity after the threat of residential development. NCC and their partners, having removed the primary threat of development, are placing a priority on the management of invasive species on conservation properties. This year invasive plant management activities will be prioritized on Kootenay River Ranch, including the two adjacent parcels that were acquired by NCC early in 2020 and incorporated into the Kootenay River Ranch conservation area.

Finally, NCC plans to complete several other small projects that relate to improving habitat diversity on the property. These projects include planting native species such as Western Larch and Saskatoon in forestry landing sites that were restored in 2019, and removing stunted Lodgepole Pine trees that were left behind following past forest harvesting. Both of these projects will influence naturalization in several key areas and improve habitat diversity by encouraging the development of native plant communities. 

PHOTO: Lyle Grisdale