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Kelowna: Local conservation efforts should benefit from federal funding

Urban deer, like this one roaming near Knox Mountain Park, have been a huge problem in B.C. cities, an issue which may have to do with habitat changes brought on when people prevent forest fires. - Jennifer Smith
Urban deer, like this one roaming near Knox Mountain Park, have been a huge problem in B.C. cities, an issue which may have to do with habitat changes brought on when people prevent forest fires.
— image credit: Jennifer Smith

Prescribed burns for habitat restoration, and to minimize wildlife conflict, and restoring wetlands and fish habitat where Kokanee populations have plummeted are top conservation goals for the Lake Country Oceloa Fish and Game Club.

Conservation groups across the country will be sharpening their pencils to identify such priorities in the wake of a national announcement of $252 million for conservation and volunteer conservation groups made Thursday.

"Any time there's money getting put toward conservation, it is a good news story as far as I'm concerned," said Jared Wilkison, Oceloa Club president and BC Wildlife Federation director, noting he's aware the Opposition is dismissing the announcement.

The $252-million plan will span five years, with roughly $100 million going to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, which partners with local conservation groups to secure ecologically sensitive lands.

It's basically the same funding allotment as the National Conservation Program funds spanning the previous five years, which just ended, according to Okanagan Collaborative Conservation Program coordinator Carol Luttmer.

The funds helped secure conservation areas like the Skaha Bluffs, Twin Lakes, and the Sage and Sparrows Grasslands in the South Okanagan.

This round of funding also includes $37 million to strengthen marine and coastal conservation efforts, $3.2 million to develop a national inventory of conserved areas and $50 million to restore wetlands—a huge issue in the Okanagan.

"The Okanagan region contains some of the most endangered ecosystems in Canada," Luttmer said.

The collaborative is spearheading a biodiversity inventory with maps, tools and recommended actions to ensure science-based priorities are set for habitat restoration and conservation throughout the Okanagan. And wetlands are sure to top the list.

For the Oceola club, it might mean figuring out where initiatives to sort out the Wood Lake kokanee crash would stack up against controlled burns intended to help restore habitat and remedy animal problems, like urban deer.

Wood Lake, according to Wilkison, is a complicated situation affected by stream flows, water temperature, nitrogen levels and algae, whereas the urban deer plaguing the Central Okanagan, he suspects, may be struggling with degradation of the backcountry in a province that has been extinguishing natural wildfires for decades.

"One great success story out of the Okanagan Mountain Park Fire was that we've restored a whole bunch of really great grasslands and brought back the native Big Horn sheep," said Wilkison.

Thursday's announcement was short on specifics, prompting NDP environment critic Megan Leslie to accuse the government of posturing in several media reports.

"We don't have the document in our hand, we just have the prime minister standing behind the podium," she told the Canadian Press.

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