Species at risk in the Kootenays will continue to be helped by a large-scale habitat conservation project thanks to a boost in federal funding.
Managed by the Kootenay Conservation Program (KCP), the Kootenay Connect Priority Places project began in 2019 as a four-year project with a $2 million grant from Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Community-Nominated Priority Places (CNPP) program. Kootenay Connect includes over 30 partners collaborating on over 50 restoration projects benefiting species at risk and the habitats they need for survival.
KCP recently learned the project will receive an additional $1.95 million, which will extend this habitat restoration work another three years.
“Kootenay Connect is providing on-the-ground solutions to address the loss of biological diversity in our region,” said Marcy Mahr, KCP’s Kootenay Connect Manager. “From rolling grasslands and open dry forests to rich wetlands and towering stands of old growth cedar-hemlock, all of these habitats are essential to the day to day, seasonal, and long-term survival of the species who call the Kootenays home.”
Four landscapes totalling one million hectares have been the focus of Kootenay Connect: Bonanza Biodiversity Corridor (north of New Denver), Creston Valley, Columbia Valley Wetlands, and the Wycliffe Wildlife Corridor (north of Cranbrook).
In the Bonanza Corridor, the funding has assisted in identifying over 55 species at risk, that includes a wide range of lichens, fungi, birds, amphibians and aquatic species. In the Creston Valley, 16 hectares of open fields were protected to provide breeding habitat for bobolinks, and an additional 12 hectares of riparian habitat were protected from cattle with wildlife-friendly fencing. In Wycliffe, between Kimberley and Cranbrook, over 80 hectares of dry open forests have been enhanced through forest thinning techniques to promote resilient ecosystems that benefit species at risk such as American badger, Lewis’s woodpecker, and Williamsons’ sapsucker. And in the Columbia Wetlands, the funding has supported wetland research such as quantifying the importance of beavers to maintain water for thousands of hectares of wetlands.
CNPP funding will now be extended until 2026 to support conservation and restoration projects in the current areas as well as three additional hotspots for biodiversity. This funding boost will expand the Kootenay Connect project area to 16.6 million hectares, which is about 20% of the Kootenay Region.
“We’re going to see new conservation projects that address the habitat needs of more species at risk along the Slocan River, in the Duncan Lardeau Valley at the north end of Kootenay Lake, and around Columbia Lake,” explained Mahr. “It’s an exciting time for enhancing and connecting more wildlife habitat with big implications for biodiversity in the Kootenays.”
Future projects in the three new targeted landscapes include restoring riparian areas, conserving wetlands vulnerable to climate change, using beavers to help reconnect floodplains, protecting turtle nesting sites and installing more basking logs, protecting mineral licks for mountain goats, and replacing fencing to be more wildlife-friendly.
“This is a critical time for conservation work locally, and also globally. Kootenay Connect is moving our region toward doing our part to protect 30 per cent of Canada’s land and water by 2030, the recently agreed upon global conservation goal to minimize our planet’s ongoing biodiversity loss,” said Dr. Michael Proctor, Kootenay Connect Science Advisor. “We look forward to a network of healthy interconnected ecosystems that support a rich array of wildlife and important ecosystem services.”
To learn more, visit https://kootenayconservation.ca/kootenay-connect/ where you’ll find a database of reports, maps and videos.