Two conservation groups busy at work in the valley that deserve far more attention than they receive are Ducks Unlimited Canada (totally separate from Ducks Unlimited in the U.S.) and The Nature Conservancy of Canada. Both of these groups have been around for a long time — next year is DUC’s 75th anniversary, while NCC is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
DUC started out as a group wanting to preserve wetlands so that there would be more ducks for hunting, and for this reason, some people tend to shy away from them. I’ve never been a duck hunter myself, but the statistics show that one of the very few bird groups that has increased in population over the past 50 years is waterfowl (i.e. ducks).
Most other bird groups have experienced severe declines or at best stayed even. So while some DUC members are hunters, their work has been so beneficial overall that the waterfowl population has been increasing much faster than the hunters shoot them. Not only that, but wetlands are critical habitat to many other birds and different types of wildlife. In fact, wetlands are critical to our environment and to us. In Canada, wetlands are disappearing at the rate of about 80 acres per day — that’s 45 square miles of precious habitat lost every year — mostly due to human activities. In the Okanagan, it’s estimated that about 85 per cent of all the original wetlands have been destroyed or badly altered since Europeans first arrived here. A classic local example of this destruction of wetlands is the Red Wings housing development on the north edge of Penticton — only one of many examples.
The Nature Conservancy of Canada, interestingly enough, was started in Ontario 50 years ago when a small group of citizens took umbrage with a plan to destroy a local swamp and bog. By 1968 the group had saved Cavan Swamp and Bog — a total of 3,400 acres of invaluable wetlands. Since then NCC has saved over 2.6 million acres of valuable habitat across Canada, of which about one-third is in B.C. Here in the valley, they have been involved in seven projects, generally as a silent partner so that not too many local people have heard about them. That’s a real shame as they do fantastic work — in B.C. their first project was in the Boundary Bay wetlands near Vancouver, but they have been involved in projects in the Chilcotins, the Cariboo, on Vancouver Island and in the Kootenays to name just a few. And most of their projects do not involve wetlands, but other habitat types such as grasslands, forest, etc.
Interestingly enough, a joint project of these two organizations began just a few weeks ago here in the South Okanagan where they are working to restore 162 acres of wetlands at the north end of Osoyoos Lake. While 162 acres is small in the grand scheme of things, this is critical wildlife habitat that has lost its habitat value through decades of heavy agricultural use. Right now you are likely to see some large machinery digging away, but when the work is finished, the lost oxbows of the river will be restored, and quoting Barb Pryce, local NCC manager, “Reclaiming its natural systems … will significantly enhance the conservation value of this internationally significant land.” The land is deemed so important that some of the funding for the restoration work is coming from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
You can help fund such projects by taking part in DUC’s Penticton Chapter’s 25th anniversary dinner and fundraiser on Nov. 3 at the Lakeside Resort in Penticton. Well known author, biologist and birder extraordinaire Dick Cannings will emcee the event, while local politician and deputy leader of the B.C. Green Party Julius Bloomfield will be the auctioneer for the night. This promises to be a great evening of fun with all sorts of great gifts to bid on, great food from the Lakeside and of course some great local wine. Tickets are $45 per person but only $40 if purchased before Oct. 21. Contact Tim Baxter at 250-488-0163 or go online at www.ducks.ca/event.
The South Okanagan Naturalist Club’s next meeting is Oct. 25, 7:30 p.m. at the Penticton United Church. Professor Karl Larsen of Thompson Rivers University will present a program on our two native squirrels and the environmental havoc being wrought by the invasive eastern grey squirrel which has spread over much of North America. Non-members are welcome. For more info go to www.southokanagannature.com.
Bob Handfield is the vice-president of the South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club. The views expressed are his own.