Enhancements Focus on Ecosystem Health

(Columbia Basin) – Making changes to ecosystems in the Columbia Basin takes time, which is why four organizations are undertaking long-term projects to create significant, positive impacts. These projects are being supported by Columbia Basin Trust.

“Large-scale projects of this size can make big differences when it comes to ecological health and native biodiversity,” said Johnny Strilaeff, President and CEO, Columbia Basin Trust. “Maintaining, improving, enhancing, restoring—these are some of the goals when it comes to taking care of the vital landscapes and waterscapes that make up this region’s natural spaces.”

This latest intake of the Ecosystem Enhancement Program is providing nearly $2 million for four projects from around the Basin. To date, the program has supported 31 projects with $16.6 million since 2017. See all projects at ourtrust.org/eep.

In addition, the Trust is providing $257,000 for four smaller-scale and shorter-term projects—also prioritizing on-the-ground action—that intend to improve ecological health and native biodiversity.

Here are the latest recipients:

Natural processes to return to Bummers Flats

In the 1970s, Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) enhanced Bummers Flats near Fort Steele to stabilize water levels to improve waterfowl breeding habitat. Alongside partners like ʔaq̓am, The Nature Trust of British Columbia (NTBC) and the Province of BC, the organization is now taking a further step by re-activating the natural flooding of the Kootenay River within the Bummers Flats Conservation Area Complex, managed by DUC, NTBC and the Province. Activities include removing dikes and ditches and re-establishing natural inlets and outlets to the river. The five-year project will positively impact ecosystems along the river, improving habitat for species like the Columbia spotted frog and the at-risk northern leopard frog.

“The project vision is to return Bummers Flats to a naturalized, self‐sustaining ecosystem, driven by natural flood pulses and processes,” said Matthew Wilson, Head of Conservation Programs. “Dynamic processes will create a mosaic of wetland habitats with varying characteristics, enhancing the landscapes for many native species, including plants, invertebrates, amphibians, birds and mammals.”

Bighorn sheep and others get better room to roam

Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, Rocky Mountain elk, white‐tailed deer, mule deer and American badger—all these species and many more rely on the habitat contained in the Bull River Grassland Corridor and surrounding conservation land complex, located in the East Kootenay. To enhance this important Nature Trust of British Columbia (NTBC) Conservation Area and wildlife corridor, NTBC is undertaking a five-year project to restore 28 hectares of dry open forest and grasslands. Activities include thinning the forest, creating wildlife trees and controlling invasive plants.

“Forest thinning will seek to mimic historic, fire-maintained conditions, increasing the quantity and quality of the forage available for ungulates and improving sightlines to support free movement and avoidance of predators,” said Michelle Daniel, Senior Field Operations Coordinator. “It will also restore areas of native plant diversity and habitat for a variety of wildlife that depend on dry, open forests.”

High-quality habitat for rainbow trout

Woody debris will be placed in the water, while live trees and shrubs will be planted along the bank, all to benefit juvenile rainbow trout by enhancing its rearing habitat. These are some of the activities being undertaken by the Slocan Integral Forestry Cooperative on a side channel of the Slocan River near Lemon Creek. In turn, these actions will support the fish’s population in the Slocan River.

“Mimicking what nature does and allowing nature to continue doing what it does is central to the project,” said Stephan Martineau, Manager. “For example, introducing large woody debris reduces floodwater velocity and energy and provides valuable rearing habitats for juvenile rainbow trout. Planting trees and shrubs will stabilize the banks, increase shade and lower water temperature, promoting aquatic life sustainability while providing additional habitat for birds and terrestrial wildlife.”

A broad plan focuses on the foothills of the Steeples mountain range

Places like Tamarack Lake, Little Shoe, Horseshoe and Big Hill lie at the base of the Steeples mountain ridge in the East Kootenay, in Peckham’s Range Unit. Here, the Rocky Mountain Trench Natural Resources Society is undertaking a five-year project on Crown land to improve habitat on 60 hectares of forest, 7,000 square metres of wetland ecosystems and 163 hectares of grasslands. Activities include grass seeding, manual thinning of the forest and managing invasive plants.

“The plan will result in tangible benefits for wildlife through restoration of grassland, wetland and forest ecosystems,” said Marc Trudeau, Coordinator/Project Manager. “It will enhance forested wintering habitat for bighorn sheep; grasslands to the benefit of elk, deer and livestock; and overall ecosystem health and function around the wetland.”

Columbia Basin Trust supports the efforts of the people in the Columbia Basin. To learn more about the Trust’s programs and initiatives, and how it helps deliver social, economic and environmental benefits to the Basin, visit ourtrust.org or call 1.800.505.8998.