The federal environment minister said the expansion of a conservation area in southeastern British Columbia will help protect critical habitat for species-at-risk such as grizzly bears and help British Columbia whether the effects of climate change.
Catherine McKenna, federal minister of the environment and climate change, made these comments Wednesday in Saanich, where she and her provincial environment minister George Heyman said both government would contribute a combined total of $14.65 million towards the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC). B.C.’s share is $7.65 million.
This funding allows the national land trust to add some 7,900 hectares to the Darkwoods Conservation Area by adding the area around the Next Creek, with the understanding that NCC will continue to fundraise over the coming months to help meets larger restoration and stewardships goals.
The area extends from Kootenay Lake into the centre of the conservation area and represents the last missing piece in a large conservation puzzle that extends over 1,100 square-kilometres. In fact, on the map the area appears like the middle of a donut hole, prompting several jokes about Timbits.
McKenna said the expansion will help protect 39 species-at-risk and represents a piece of Canada’s ongoing response to protect the natural environment in light of climate change, with such areas acting as carbon sinks.
“Climate change is having an impact across the country, and across the world,” she said, pointing towards the current wildfires in California that have killed dozens and destroyed hundreds of homes. “We need to take climate action, and nature is also part of the solution. Protecting areas like this [acting as carbon sinks] are incredibly important as we move forward to tackle climate change.”
It also promises to create a contiguous conservation area to benefit local grizzly populations, and other endangered species.
Michael Proctor, lead Canadian researcher with the trans-border Grizzly Bear Project, praised the purchase.
“Over the past 15 years, human-caused mortality of grizzly bears has declined, their numbers are increasing and connectivity between bear populations [is] re-establishing,” he said. “NCC has been at the centre of this success story.”
John Lounds, NCC’s president, said the provincial and federal funding will help the national land trust meet its larger goals.
“This investment announced today is a catalyst today that is really going to change the course of the Canadian Rockies,” he said. “Darkwoods is an amazing place, a project of global significance.”
It is the world’s only temperate inland forest with an amazing ecological diversity that continues to yield new insights, he said.
Wednesday’s announcement drew several dignitaries to the Swan Lake and Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary, but also generated a question: why hold an announcement concerning the Rockies in Saanich?
Darkwoods is already snowed in, and closed for the season.