The South Okanagan-Similkameen is made up of ecologically vibrant landscapes, encompassing many sensitive ecosystems and species at risk. These environments and populations are now, more than ever before, defenseless against destruction and degradation from human presence: rapidly increasing population, housing and subdivision expansion and the expansion of vineyards.
The area has suffered many ecological losses already, including the burrowing owl, sharp-tailed grouse, and white-tailed jackrabbit. More than half of the antelope brush ecosystems in the area have been lost, with less than 10% of historic grasslands habitats remain in their natural state.
As a result of local population growth, housing and subdivision development has greatly advanced. This hard development leaves the land unable to return to its once original state or able to support it’s natural balance and functioning. While the community growth and progression can bring many positive things to the region, it is also inadvertently converting vast areas of untouched grassland habitat into disturbed and unnatural landscapes.
The growing population has put a high demand on the surrounding environment. The region’s wine tourism has also greatly increased with a growing trend of grape growing. Many of these new vineyards have converted previously untouched grassland habitat to vineyards. This change brings about a wide array of environmental concerns. Some of these include depletion of nearby wetlands, alteration of ground water levels, and widespread use of pesticide and fertilizers leaking into natural ecosystems. Soil erosion and fragmentation of endangered species’ habitats is also a pressing conservation concern, as a result of human presence.
Ranching and Agriculture
Ranching, the other major agricultural practice in the Okanagan-Similkameen, has caused great stress and alterations to the natural landscape over the last century. These bunchgrass dominated grasslands developed under low-intensity grazing of small native populations of elk, deer and bighorn sheep. This type of grazing is much different than the prairie grasslands that evolved to sustain large bison herds and are more resilient to high trampling. The high intensity of the current and historical grazing pressures negatively influence the natural balance of these fragile ecosystems through wide-spread soil disturbance and compaction, leaving the land more susceptible to invasive plants to colonize. Some of these noxious eurasian species include knapweed, sulphur cinquefoil and cheatgrass.
These agricultural practices continue to have powerful influences on the natural balance of the Okanagan-Similkameen. These practices can negatively impact water and soil quality; both very important factors in the success of future agriculture in the region.
Although the park concept area is currently in a natural state, it is unlikely that this area will remain this way for much longer. In order to maintain the high quality of life and experience in the Okanagan-Similkameen for our visitors and future generations, we must ensure that a significant portion is protected. The proposed national park area is one of the last remaining strongholds of pristine in-tact bunchgrass ecosystems in British Columbia. Let’s not loose our chance to protect it while we still have it.