The Kootenay Conservation Project is now in year three of federal Environment and Climate Change Canada funding to protect and restore species-at-risk. The KCP funding focuses on four biodiversity areas in the Kootenays, Bonanza Biodiversity Corridor in the Slocan Valley, Creston Valley, Columbia Valley Wetlands, and the Wycliffe Wildlife Corridor near Cranbrook. This initiative is known as Kootenay Connect.
Nicole Trigg of the KCP explains that the Kootenay Connect project is addressing two crises — loss of biodiversity and accelerating climate change — at the local level.
Co-led by Marcy Mahr of KCP and independent biologist Dr. Michael Proctor of the Trans-Border Grizzly Bear Project, Trigg says Kootenay Connect consists of a regional team of 26 organizations and specialists are working together with a collective goal to recover and sustain biodiversity across 10,000 km2 of Kootenay landscape by focusing on habitat connectivity and habitat restoration in the four focus areas.
“Kootenay Connect is all about ecological connectivity,” said Marcy Mahr, Kootenay Connect Project Manager with KCP. “Although parks and protected areas have been essential for conservation, they are generally not large enough or sufficiently interconnected to sustain essential ecological processes and the diversity of habitats required by wide-ranging fish and wildlife that migrate and move in order to spawn, breed or overwinter. By focusing on the land and water surrounding and connecting existing protected areas, and by bringing together a team of biologists, land managers, land trusts, and stewardship organizations into the same tent to collectively problem-solve across areas of expertise and geographies, Kootenay Connect is ensuring that efforts to recover biodiversity and adapt to climate change are adding up to something greater.”
A wide range of projects have been completed in the first years of the funding, including installing artificial tree bark to mimic old growth conditions for roosting bats to help keep these at-risk species on the landscape; adding more basking logs in important areas for endangered western painted turtles; removing vegetation and opening up and connecting wetland channels in the Creston Valley to improve water distribution for endangered Northern Leopard Frogs, work that has resulted in the highest egg reproduction in a decade for the only naturally breeding population left in BC; monitoring water levels of wetlands vulnerable to climate change in the Columbia Wetlands; and identifying important bird nesting areas and ungulate mineral licks to prepare applications for the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development requesting new designations of Wildlife Habitat Areas and Wildlife Habitat Features.
The work has also focused on sustaining a wide spectrum of species including 31 federally-listed species at risk and 35 species of concern such as the Northern Leopard Frog, Western Painted Turtle, Western Toad, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Great Blue Heron, Northern Myotis (plus 12 other species of bats), American Badger, American Beaver, Mountain Goat, Grizzly Bear, and Wolverine.
According to Mahr, the Kootenay region is turning out to be just the right landscape size for combining local on-the-ground ecosystem restoration and other conservation measures and scaling them up into a regional approach that will help reverse species extinction and enhance ecological connectivity.
“Our ability to make a big conservation impact is possible because of the long-term relationships between people in our region, fostered by KCP, that is making sharing and collaboration easier than in other places. We’re connecting people to connect habitat for wildlife. Kootenay Connect is creating a culture of collaborative conservation with large landscape scale results that ultimately contribute globally,” said Mahr.
To learn more about this regional initiative, visit the Kootenay Connect webpage on the KCP website (https://kootenayconservation.ca/kootenay-connect/) for project highlights including short informational videos, reports, and maps.