01/12/2012 01:40 EST | Updated 03/13/2012 05:12 EDT

Nature Trust protects South Okanagan grasslands

The Nature Trust of B.C. has secured a 809-hectare swath of grassland in the South Okanagan worth $3.5 million.

The property in the Twin Lakes area, south of Penticton, is home to many endangered plants and animals. The deal will be finalized next month.

Nature trust president Doug Walker says the land is essential habitat for bighorn sheep, deer and many smaller mammals and birds.

"This probably is the second largest parcel that we have acquired in our history. It ranks, as far as ecological value, as very, very high."

Walker says the property was once part of a ranch and will link other conservation areas together, creating a total of more than 2,000 hectares protected by the B.C. Nature Trust in the South Okanagan.

"You're able to do much more with the long-term management of the property than say a smaller parcel. So, you're able to monitor the impacts of climate change and the impacts over time," said Walker.

But, he assures, the public will still be able to use the land for hiking, fishing and hunting.

"We'll be developing a management plan that will look at the conservation values, enhancements of habitat, protection of wildlife, as well as the recreation opportunities for people to use the property in different ways."

There has been much resistance in the South Okanagan-Simikameen to proposals by Parks Canada to create a national park in the area, because of fears that would restrict hunting, ranching and fishing activities.

The Nature Trust is a charitable, non-profit land conservation organization which aims to protect the natural biodiversity of wildlife and habitats in Canada. The Nature Trust now has 450 land titles across the country, including many in the Kootenays.

In November the Nature Trust and its partners paid $700,000 for Silver Tip Ranch, a 137-hectare property southeast of Cranbrook, in the East Kootenay region of B.C