The Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Alliance is continuing working with growers to encourage awareness of the benefits or working with local species, like these great horned owls released at the Burrowing Owl Estate Winery. Mark Brett/Western News

The Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Alliance is continuing working with growers to encourage awareness of the benefits or working with local species, like these great horned owls released at the Burrowing Owl Estate Winery. Mark Brett/Western News

Conservation group getting together with growers

Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Alliance talking with growers about working with species at risk

The Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Alliance wants to sit down for a chat with fruit, grape and other crop growers in the valley.

OSCA is hosting an informal round table on farming with the environment and species at risk in Penticton on Jan. 28 from 10 to noon, and they are looking for growers to participate.

Farming with the environment and the species that inhabit it is necessary to ensure long-term agricultural sustainability in the Okanagan, according to their release. Discussions will include feedback on barriers and challenges to farming with species at risk as well as sustainable farming practices and funding opportunities.

OSCA ecoManagement co-ordinator Tanya Brouwers said there are several outcomes she is hoping for from the meeting, explaining that one of the group’s mandates is education.

“We’re trying to promote awareness of farming with at-risk animals, how to farm with that risk and also the resources that farmers can access.

One of the biggest things she is hoping for is feedback from growers. The only way for groups like OSCA to be successful with growers, she said, is by understanding and addressing their concerns and challenges.

Recent years have seen a lot more research, much of it at the Summerland Research station, on working with pests and finding more natural ways to control them. Brouwers said growers are becoming more aware of this research, as are consumers, which might influence how farmers operate.

“My concern is that farmers have a lot of work to do just farming. Starting to access new information like farming with species at risk, it’s difficult,” said Brouwers. “That’s where we come in is to provide this additional information without them having to search and spend a whole bunch of extra time trying to do that on their own.”

There are a number of farmers already on this path, she said.

Related: Taste of freedom for owls released in Oliver

“They’re doing things like fencing off wetlands, they’re putting up snake fences to protect a lot of the threatened species like the rattlesnake or the gopher snake and other practices to minimizing the use of rodenticide and stuff like that because it causes mortality in a lot of the raptors,” said Brouwers. “Lots of farmers are working to do alternative practices that don’t harm these species at risk.”

Brouwers notes the grassland ecosystem only accounts for about one per cent of B.C.’s total land area. But 33 per cent of that is gone, and of the remaining grassland, 40 per cent is on private land.

“There’s a lot of opportunities there for farms to be a part of bringing that back, working with, and helping, species at risk and ecosystems,” said Brouwers. “That’s where I see it going. There’s going to be, not working against, but working with species that risk.”

Brouwers added that many species in the Okanagan can help farmers, like various insects helping with pollination or raptors and snakes controlling rodent populations. “If you have a wetland on your farm you’re like promoting drought and flood mitigation so in the end, it’s actually a good thing.”

The series of workshops are putting on are being funded through the South Okanagan Conservation Fund.

Related: Improving relations between farmers and wildlife

“We’re pretty fortunate to be able to put these on to get all these farmers together and promote education, which is really important for OSCA,” said Brouwers.

The round table takes place at the Regional District Okanagan Similkameen office RDOS office, 101 Martin Street, Penticton. To register, contact Brouwers at ecostudies@osca.org.


Steve Kidd
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
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