This project supports and expands upon the RDCO (Regional District of the Central Okanagan) initiative to plan for Ecosystem Connectivity in the Central Okanagan (for more info, see the "Planning for Ecosystem Connectivity Workshop Report" below). OCCP is coordinating an Action Team to use the recommendations from the connectivity workshop to refine the proposed path of one pilot corridor, and develop a list of strategies to implement corridors across public and private lands in the RDCO and adjoining areas.

Background & Project Description

© Quentin Burgess on Unsplash

Ecosystem connectivity describes the interconnected network of habitat patches and migration corridors that sustain all life. Maintaining ecosystem connectivity is essential for species survival, movement, and genetic diversity, as well as for the ecosystem functions which support essential food, air, and water systems for people. In the Okanagan Valley, we are facing our final opportunity to keep connectivity in the low elevation ecosystems, which are the most important for biodiversity, and most threatened. The fast rate of development in the Okanagan is paving over, and fragmenting the low elevation areas bit by bit, and cutting off the remaining pathways for wildlife movement.

The overall objectives of this project to date have been to identify locations of ecosystem connectivity corridors that, if conserved or restored, will contribute to maintaining ecosystem connectivity in RDCO, and to connect the plans made here throughout the Okanagan (from south of US Border to North Okanagan). In 2015, Dr. Lael Parrott and a team of graduate students from UBC Okanagan collaborated with RDCO and OCCP to use digital mapping and modelling to identify the most likely location of wildlife movement corridors in the valley. Maps highlighting the modelled corridors were reviewed by an Advisory Committee of government and NGO volunteers at a workshop hosted by RDCO and OCCP on November 24, 2015 (see the workshop report and appendices). Input from the Advisory Committee included identifying perceived opportunities and barriers for the proposed corridors, prioritizing corridors for protection, and providing additional resources and advice on implementation and policy.

The Action Team identified the protection of a 65km by 1km corridor between Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park and Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park as a priority for the region. To develop specific guidelines and recommendations to protect ecosystem connectivity, the Action Team used existing mapping, resources, and expertise including connectivity and environmental mapping done by various organizations including RDCO, OCCP, SOSCP (South Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Program), UBCO (University of British Columbia, Okanagan), the Province of BC, and TCWG (Transboundary Connectivity Working Group), as well as a guide produced through OCCP entitled "Designing and Implementing Ecosystem Connectivity in the Okanagan" (2014).

These recommendations are intended to be used to inform landowners, government planners and decision-makers, First Nations, and NGOs in the central Okanagan and neighbouring jurisdictions when developing land use plans and policy (e.g., Regional Growth Strategies, Official Community Plans, Neighbourhood Plans, and development plans).

Key Messages about Ecosystem Connectivity

  • Connectivity, comprised of physical and functional links between ecosystems, is necessary to support biodiversity
  • Bee on a dandelion
    © Ryan Hodnett
    A connected network of ecosystems supports ecosystem services, provides opportunities for animal and plant movement across the landscape and sustains natural areas close to populated areas
  • Ecosystem connectivity tends to be reduced where people work and live (e.g. low elevations; flat terrain; areas near water)
  • The building blocks of a connectivity strategy include ecosystem patches linked by connective elements such as landscape and linear corridors. Buffer zones to limit impacts of adjacent land use may also be added. Where corridors are not possible, effective connectivity for some species can sometimes be achieved by small ecosystem patches (stepping stones corridors)
  • Ecosystem connectivity supports the delivery of ecosystem services and particularly helps conserve riparian areas, water purification and flood control areas
  • Ecosystem connectivity also moderates impacts of climate change on temperature, carbon dioxide storage and overall biodiversity
    Badger outside its burrow
    © Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • Ecological connectivity supports genetic diversity; connectivity also supports movement opportunities that wildlife and plants require for their reproduction and survival
  • Ecological  connectivity  supports  a  cost  effective  way  to  protect  species  at  risk,  reduce  wildlife  conflicts  and  address  challenges created by man-made barriers
  • Ecological Connectivity combines benefits for ecosystems and species with benefits for people

February 2020 Update

16km section of Wildlife Corridor incorporated into Official Community Plan
Source: District of Lake Country Official Community Plan

This multi-year initiative has brought together local and provincial governments, conservation organizations, industry, and First Nations to identify and implement actions to protect a major ecological wildlife corridor in the Central Okanagan.

OCCP coordinated a leadership team and a 20-member advisory team to develop land use guidelines and stewardship activities for protecting the corridor across public and private lands. The teams worked with the District of Lake Country staff to develop Natural Environmental Development Permit Areas Guidelines and Corridor Mapping that incorporated a 16km section of the corridor into their new Official Community Plan. [See the Community Plan]

Crossborder Connections

This project also connects with two crossborder ecological corridor projects; (1) the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative and (2) the Sagelands Heritage Program by Conservation Northwest. Phase two of the project involves the teams working with various governments and landowners to develop actions and enhance protection measures for corridors across the Central Okanagan and adjoining areas.

January 2021 Update

City of Kelowna 2040 Official Community Plan, draft version
Source: City of Kelowna Official Community Plan

In 2020, land use guidelines and mapping of the main corridor were incorporated in the draft City of Kelowna 2040 Official Community Plan. An additional secondary corridor connecting Knox Mountain to the main corridor through Glenmore highlands was also included in the OCP. The City of Kelowna 2040 OCP includes policies and guidelines that aim to protect long-term ecological connectivity and the integrity of the parks crossed by the main and secondary ecological corridors.

Next Steps

For 2021, funding will allow the Action Team to develop a detailed Action Plan that contains strategic opportunities to protect the corridor in the long-term and how to achieve them. The Action Plan will guide protection actions to implement in the next few years. The Action Plan will, among others, contain specific actions related to land use planning, policies, stewardship activities, land securement, education, outreach, research, protection, and connection to major regional, provincial and international corridors.

Additional Resources

Planning for ecological connectivity across scales of governance in a multifunctional regional landscape by Lael Parrott, Catherine Kyle, Valerie Hayot-Sasson, Charles Bouchard & Jeffrey A. Cardille [PDF]

Designing for Ecosystem Connectivity [PDF]

BRAES Connectivity Booklet [PDF]

Planning for Ecosystem Connectivity Workshop Report (Nov 2016) [PDF]

Ecosystem Connectivity Workshop Report Appendices [PDF]