Biodiversity strategy presented to RDOS committee

Valley bottoms contain highest proportion of biodiversity values - and need the most protection and consideration, says study

Bryn White, Program Manager for the South Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Program, discussed the SOSCP’s Biodiversity Conservation Strategy for the South Okanagan-Similkameen with the regional district Planning and Development Committee on June 7.

The South Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Program was founded in 2000 by various groups concerned with the special environment and habitat of the South Okanagan-Similkameen area. The SOSCP is a partnership of non-governmental, government, and First Nations organizations working together to conserve biodiversity, including the regional district and member municipalities. SOSCP is a co-ordinator and facilitator of the partners to help improve the effectiveness of their conservation efforts.

The SOSCP partners promote the practices of land and water stewardship through landowner contact programs and support for local sustainable land use planning The group uses First Nations knowledge and ecological heritage, and offers educational programs that link people and communities to nature.

SOSCP partners – the Nature Trust of BC, the Land Conservancy of BC and other conservancy groups with a local presence, also purchase, receive or monitor land for habitat, undertake habitat restoration for enhancement of fish and wildlife populations, as well as undertaking research related to wildlife and fish populations and habitat.

The group also advocates for policy change.

The Biodiversity Conservation Strategy was initiated in late 2009, suggested as a policy item within the regional district’s Regional Growth Strategy.

“Keeping Nature in our Future is our strategy,” White told the board, “the science and methodology in the strategy was assembled by some of the most respected experts in the province.”

White felt that the regional district and municipalities are  “well situated” to use the resource, pointing out a number of key findings.

The strategy’s conservation ranking map ranks sensitive ecosystems for their importance for conservation and identifies where they occur on the land. Two thirds of the study area is rated as high in importance for conservation. While the strategy addresses the entire RDOS area, some of the strategy products were created to help individual communities and electoral areas.

For example, while 73 per cent of Area “D” ranked high for conservation, only 11 per cent of that area is actually conserved in parks or dedicated open space.

“Our results are scientifically defensible,” White maintained, adding that the strategy was not precluding development, rather it was promoting more environmental consideration prior to development.

The strategy also delineated “hotspots,” or areas of greatest importance for biodiversity. Twenty per cent of the study area classified as high or very high relative diversity with many natural areas supporting a diversity of wildlife.

White pointed to Area “A,” “B,” “C,” “D,” and Towns of Osoyoos and Oliver as having the greatest proportion of very high and high relative biodiversity.

White also pointed out that the valley bottom was a significant factor in maintaining biodiversity, as half of all biodiversity values occur in the valley bottoms even though it is only one quarter of the study area.

Oliver rural Director Allan Patton, reacting to White’s comment regarding the importance of the valley bottom for biodiversity’s sake, noted that the east side of Osoyoos Lake – reserve lands – should be protected, as that was the only uncompromised large parcel left.

“All jurisdictions need to do something to protect biodiversity,” answered White.

The study’s mapping also pointed out the gaps in existing biodiversity management, breaking down land management into four  categories:

– Conservation lands including parks and protected areas – 13.2 per cent

– Dedicated open spaces – 3.2 per cent

– Public/Crownresource lands – 70 per cent

– Agriculture and Crown leases – 3.8  per cent

Private land and Indian Reserve land were not categorized under land management classes for biodiversity but were identified as covering 4.6 per cent and 4.8 per cent of the landscape respectively.

The study mapping methodology originally looked at the Okanagan – Similkameen areas totally without tenure, applying the biodiversity mapping without regard to land use.

“The uplands are not as sensitive from a biodiversity standpoint,” White continued, “we need to be working in a focused direction on the high biodiversity values of the valley bottom lands that remain.”

The next steps for White and the study include working with the regional district and member municipalities to seek public engagement. The process is expected to take three to five years.

Directors expressed concerns with respect to how the plan could be implemented with local governments. White noted that the SOSCP had partners “poised to assist.”

Osoyoos Director Stu Wells expressed caution over taking the strategy public, wary of a possible backlash if a proper public consultation isn’t done.

Area “D” Director Tom Siddon complimented White on the “thoughtful approach” the strategy had taken. He further noted that there were two types of people, both with valid points of view that had to be satisfied.

Siddon also pointed out that the regional growth strategy, which was promoting future density growth in Okanagan Falls, was in conflict with the strategy which described Okanagan Falls as an environmentally sensitive area.

“This is a pivotal time for the strategy,” commented White to the Review at the conclusion of the meeting.

“Coming before the board presented a chance to update our local government partners as the information is passed on to the public.

An important point I would like to stress – and I hope the report makes this clear – there is no magic bullet here. There are many diverse things that need to be done across all jurisdictions in order to make this happen.”