BRITISH COLUMBIA

B.C. conservation area expands, helping dozens of at-risk species

03/26/2015 06:21 EDT | Updated 05/26/2015 05:59 EDT
VANCOUVER - There's nowhere else in Canada like the sage steppes of British Columbia's southern Interior.

The vast area is home to as many as 50 at-risk species and now a large patch of that is being protected by the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

The conservancy's purchase of 130 hectares of land expands the grassland Sage and Sparrow Conservation area to 1,350 hectares and connects two provincially protected areas that flank it.

Barb Pryce, the conservancy's southern Interior program director, said in an interview Thursday the purchase closes the gaps for the protected area.

"Having larger pieces that are connected has a higher value to biodiversity than having little postage-stamp places scattered around," she said.

Most of the land is what's known as dry bunchgrass or sage steppe, an ecosystem unique in Canada, and the new section includes a lake and a mature Douglas fir forest.

"We're pretty excited that there's a lake on the property," Pryce said. "Water in this arid landscape is always a critical feature for species diversity."

The new area also contains aspen and dry forest, making for a mosaic effect and further enhancing its diversity, she said.

Less than one per cent of B.C. is grassland, but 30 per cent of the province's species at risk depend on that grassland for all or part of their life cycle, she said.

Some of the species include the pronghorn antelope, swift fox, burrowing owl and the ferruginous hawk, a large bird of prey.

In the Sage and Sparrow area, Pryce said, there are four species of snake — the racer, night, great basin gopher snake and western rattlesnake.

Pryce said some of the area's species at risk are unique to the grasslands, not found anywhere else in Canada or the world.

The nature conservancy will do a thorough species inventory to find out exactly which plants and animals live in the newly-acquired area.

The land was family owned for decades, known as Kit Carr after its original homesteader, and purchased for $750,000 with a combination of federal money and private donations.