Steeves: Okanagan icons pine and sagebrush are disappearing

Okanagan pine trees are going the way of the  dinosaur, so protect yours in whatever way you can.  - Judie Steeves/Capital News
Okanagan pine trees are going the way of the dinosaur, so protect yours in whatever way you can.
— image credit: Judie Steeves/Capital News

The first time I became aware of my attachment to the land was when I first headed home for a visit after I’d left the Okanagan to go to college.

There were no post-secondary options here at that time, except Grade 13, and after a year working part-time at the Penticton Herald, I thought I wanted to be a writer.

As I left the coastal humidity with its lush growth of cedar, balsam and vine maple, the landscape opened up to grass and saskatoons under towering pines. Suddenly, I could smell the resin from the pines in the autumn sunshine and see their distinctive paintbrush needles outlined against the sky.

It was just after Manning Park on the Hope-Princeton Highway, and as I drove further, it opened up more until soon there was big sage and rabbitbrush as well.

The lighter, drier air and the pine’s resiny smell, was joined by the aromatics of sagebrush.

And I realized—that’s the smell of home to me.

Since returning to the Okanagan to raise my family, I can’t count the number of times I’ve framed scenic photos with those brushes of needles topped with a handle of prickly pine cone.

Yet we’re building and planting over the sagebrush and bunchgrass hills up and down the valley. Those pines are an icon of the Okanagan Valley, and typical because of the dry climate in this region, yet today they’re being felled, left, right and centre.

There’s an all-out war against my symbol of home and it’s being waged predominantly by a tiny beetle that’s already laid waste to the forests of both northern and central B.C., changing the landscape completely.

Luckily, here in the Okanagan, we have forests with a mix of species that includes Douglas fir, larch in some areas and even the occasional pocket of cedar where it’s a bit damp, so our forests won’t be leveled as they have been further north.

But there’s going to be a dramatic change in their look with the loss of millions of 100-year-old stems of lodgepole pine, in addition to the loss of ponderosa pines in the valley bottom.

So, I jealously guard my remaining pines with pouches of verbenone to ward off bark beetles and keep my fingers crossed that I might be able to protect a few from the onslaught, while hoping a few other pockets might be saved as well.

Incidentally, on Tuesday, April 12, you’ll have an opportunity to learn all about Fintry Provincial Park, one of my favourites, at the monthly meeting of the Central Okanagan Naturalists’ Club, 7 p.m., at the Evangel Church, 3261 Gordon Dr.







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