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Bunchgrass Hills. (Photo by Steve Ogle)

Bunchgrass Hills. (Photo by Steve Ogle)

Extensive area of grasslands south of Kamloops now protected

June 28, 2023

 

Project boosts habitat connectivity and builds climate resilience in one of BC’s most highly threatened landscapes

Over 6,100 hectares of a highly at-risk ecosystem will now be protected forever, thanks to a new conservation project south of Kamloops, BC. The vast expanse of native grasslands at Bunchgrass Hills Conservation Area fits into a broader mosaic of conservation lands in the area, offering vital habitat and connectivity for the species that live in the Thompson-Nicola region and within the traditional territories of the Secwepemc, Nlaka’pamux and Syilx Nations.

Named Bunchgrass Hills for the many varieties of bunchgrass that flourish here, the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC’s) latest project constitutes one of the largest private grassland conservation achievements in the province. Its rolling hills are covered in bluebunch wheatgrass and other native grasses, and are punctuated by Douglas-fir woodlands and scattered wetlands.

Formerly part of the historic Stump Lake Ranch, the conservation area will continue to support sustainable cattle grazing, while being managed for conservation. Bunchgrass Hills is NCC’s fourth collaboration with conservation-minded ranchers in the area, conserving more than 10,000 hectares in this area to date. Click here to view a map of Bunchgrass Hills and NCC's other conservation projects in the area.

NCC acknowledges the importance of working with the First Nations in whose territories these lands are situated. NCC will take time to understand the land’s Indigenous cultural values so that key cultural interests can be prioritized alongside ecological values in the ongoing stewardship of the conservation area.

Bunchgrass Hills secures substantial, diverse and connected habitat for dozens of species iconic to BC’s interior, including several listed on the federal Species at Risk Act, such as the Great Basin spadefoot toad (threatened), Great Basin gopher snake (threatened), American badger (endangered) and Lewis’s woodpecker (threatened). Sharp-tailed grouse leks (mating sites) are known to occur in the area, which indicates these grasslands are important breeding grounds for this provincially at-risk species. Waterfowl feed and breed in the numerous wetlands on the conservation area, while mule deer and other ungulates find important winter habitat here.

Protecting large intact grasslands bolsters local climate resilience and contributes to provincial and national targets to protect 30 per cent of BC and Canada’s land by 2030. This project demonstrates the important contribution that private land conservation is making to public climate and biodiversity goals.

NCC recognizes the generous contributions from its conservation partners that made this project possible. The Province of British Columbia provided funding through the Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship. The Government of Canada contributed funding through the Canada Nature Fund. Several private foundations and individuals contributed funding to ensure the project’s success.

Quotes

“Bunchgrass Hills is a truly spectacular example of one of British Columbia’s most rare and at-risk ecosystems. Grasslands may have a tiny footprint in this province, but they give back to us in huge ways. They provide essential habitat for wildlife, they filter water, clean air and store carbon, and they support local communities. Thanks to its size and the quality of its grasslands, Bunchgrass Hills truly moves the needle on grassland conservation in British Columbia.” – Danielle Cross, Interior Program Director, Nature Conservancy of Canada

“Grasslands are an integral part of the province’s Interior ecosystems, and the Bunchgrass Hills Conservation Area is significant for its ecological attributes. This is a great example of conservation financing that brings together the resources of government and individuals to achieve important conservation goals and protect valuable ecosystems, which is critical in this time of climate change and biodiversity loss.” – Nathan Cullen, Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship

“Protecting and conserving nature is one of the most important steps we can take to curb biodiversity loss while also fighting climate change and advancing reconciliation. Grasslands such as these play a vital role in healthy ecosystems, storing carbon to help fight climate change and contributing to the recovery of species at risk in British Columbia. By working with partners like the Nature Conservancy of Canada, we are making progress toward our goal of conserving a quarter of land and oceans in Canada by 2025, working toward 30 percent of each by 2030.” – The Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Facts

  • Native grasslands cover less than one per cent of BC’s land base, yet they support more than 30 per cent of the province’s species at risk.
  • Bunchgrass Hills Conservation Area contains more than 100 hectares of wetlands and small lakes. The freshwater systems here are fed by the South Thompson, Nicola Lake and Lower Nicola River watersheds.
  • The conservation area includes ecosystems within both the Bunchgrass and the Interior Douglas-fir biogeoclimatic zones, which are two areas of conservation concern. This landscape evolved to rely on frequent low-intensity wildfires, which burn back encroaching shrubs and trees and keep the grasslands open.
  • Sustainable grazing by cattle can play a role in grassland ecosystem health, as it can increase biodiversity by creating a mosaic of habitats across a landscape that supports different species.

Photos and video

Photos by Fernando Lessa and Steve Ogle | Video by Fernando Lessa and Steve Ogle 

About

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is the country’s unifying force for nature. NCC seeks solutions to the twin crises of rapid biodiversity loss and climate change through large-scale, permanent land conservation. As a trusted partner NCC works with people, communities, businesses and government to protect and care for our country’s most important natural areas. Since 1962, NCC has brought Canadians together to conserve and restore more than 15 million hectares.

The Canada Nature Fund supports the protection of Canada’s biodiversity through the creation of protected and conserved areas and through initiatives that help to recover species at risk. The Fund is available to not-for-profit and Indigenous organizations, provinces and territories, and others.

Learn More
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Media Contact:

Lesley Marian Neilson
Communications Manager
British Columbia Region
250-661-2969

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Funding provided by Environment and Climate Change Canada