Sav­ing homes for bighorn fam­i­lies

The Daily Courier - - OKANAGAN - By JUDIE STEEVES

With longer days and sunny spring weather the bighorn ewe, heavy with her spring lamb, ea­gerly sought out ten­der grasses fi­nally sprout­ing on the west-fac­ing slope above the lake to graze on and get her strength back af­ter a snowy win­ter in the Okana­gan.

As she grazed, she was obliv­i­ous to the fact that she had wan­dered from the McTag­gartCowan/ns?k’? niw’t Wildlife Man­age­ment Area (WMA) onto pri­vate prop­erty.

It is land that could soon be cov­ered with roads and houses in­stead of her na­tive habi­tat: rugged, steep, rocky bluffs that would help to pro­tect her new­born lamb from preda­tors and open, shrubby grass­lands dot­ted with pon­derosa pines and Dou­glas firs.

If she and her com­pan­ions in this herd of wild sheep are lucky, the peo­ple of B.C. will be moved to raise the funds nec­es­sary for The Na­ture Trust of B.C. to pur­chase this 35.4-hectare prop­erty and add it to the ad­ja­cent 114-hectare con­ser­va­tion area ac­quired by The Na­ture Trust in 1988 and 1989. It is now part of the 6,491-hectare McTag­gart-Cowan/ ns?k’? niw’t WMA, which is ded­i­cated to pro­tec­tion of the iconic Okana­gan wild sheep.

Bi­ol­o­gist Jasper Lament is CEO of The Na­ture Trust, and he ex­plains this par­cel is a key ac­qui­si­tion be­cause it will ex­pand the cur­rent crit­i­cal habi­tat for wild sheep — along with that of other en­dan­gered wildlife, plants and birds that re­quire sim­i­lar habi­tat, in­clud­ing rat­tlesnakes, the white-throated swift and Lewis’s wood­pecker.

The pur­chase would add to a con­nected se­ries of con­ser­va­tion prop­er­ties that be­gins in Pen­tic­ton with the provin­cial Skaha Bluffs prop­erty and ex­tends south along the east side of Skaha Lake, nearly to Vaseux Lake.

Lament was born and raised in B.C. to an out­doorsy fam­ily, and learned to fish in the In­te­rior where he got hooked young and ended up do­ing his PhD on fish bi­ol­ogy. Upon grad­u­a­tion, he be­came in­ter­ested in non-gov­ern­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions and worked for Ducks Un­lim­ited and BC Hy­dro be­fore he joined The Na­ture Trust in 2012.

He’s pas­sion­ate about the wild places in his home prov­ince, and the im­por­tance of con­serv­ing habi­tat be­fore it dis­ap­pears, par­tic­u­larly in the Okana­gan where there are con­cen­tra­tions of na­tion­ally sig­nif­i­cant speciesat-risk. Only a frac­tion of the prov­ince con­tains the grass­land ecosys­tems re­quired for some of these species, he notes.

For this healthy band of bighorn sheep — ac­cus­tomed his­tor­i­cally to graz­ing these bench­lands above Skaha Lake — pur­chase of this land be­fore it’s built on is vi­tal.

There’s a June 30 dead­line to com­plete the pur­chase of this par­cel, and fundrais­ing ef­forts in­clude a gala on June 24 at the Delta Grand Okana­gan Re­sort in Kelowna, called Earth Wind Fire. It will open with live jazz, bub­bly and ap­pies while guests browse the silent auc­tion items, fol­lowed by siz­zling food sta­tions fea­tur­ing some of the prov­ince’s top chefs, wine and other bev­er­ages, a live auc­tion and dance party.

De­tails of the event are avail­able on The Na­ture Trust’s web­site, along with in­for­ma­tion about other ways to do­nate to­wards the pur­chase of this prop­erty: www.na­turetrust.bc.ca

Since 1971, The Na­ture Trust and its part­ners have in­vested more than $90 mil­lion to se­cure more than 70,000 hectares of land for wildlife in B.C.

Sub­mit­ted photo

Bighorn ewes and lamb take in the scenery around Vaseux Lake. The Na­ture Trust of B.C. is rais­ing funds to pur­chase a 35.4-hectare prop­erty to en­sure the habi­tat for these an­i­mals, and other species.

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