An ecologically and culturally significant property near Fairmont will now be conserved by the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
On Monday, July 23, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) announced that it has successfully raised $7.2 million to purchase Lot 48 from local landowners, and create a stewardship endowment.
The 315 acre property is located on the eastern shore of Columbia Lake, about five kilometres south of Fairmont.
The native grasslands on the east side of Columbia Lake represent the largest connected expanse of prime winter range for deer, elk and other grazing animals in the Columbia Valley, as well as one of the best winter ranges for bighorn sheep in B.C.
"Protecting Lot 48 is essential to maintaining the integrity of the entire east side of the lake forever," said Nancy Newhouse, Nature Conservancy of Canada's Canadian Rockies program manager. "This is an incredible win for the conservation community in B.C., and we couldn't have succeeded without the support of so many partners."
Funding to purchase Lot 48 was provided by the Government of Canada's Natural Areas Conservation Program, Teck Resources, the Columbia Basin Trust, the Regional District of East Kootenay, the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, and the province of B.C.
"Congratulations to the Nature Conservancy of Canada for all of their efforts to acquire this ecologically important and culturally significant parcel of land," said Neil Muth, Columbia Basin Trust President and CEO. "CBT encourages long-term stewardship of the Basin's natural assets, and we're pleased we were able to help create an unbroken network of protected lands on the east shore of Columbia Lake."
Lot 48 has great spiritual significance to the Ktunaxa Nation, because their stories celebrate the east side of Columbia Lake as the cradle of human life.
Historically, Columbia Lake served as a major travel route to the prairies, a site for villages, and a site for camps and ceremonial events. The area also provided salmon, game and other food gathering.
Numerous archaeological sites have been documented on the east side of the lake, including one of the main traditional transportation routes through the valley (now referred to as the Spirit Trail).
"The east side of Columbia Lake is an integreal part of Ktunaxa history," said Kathryn Teneese, Ktunaxa Nation Chair. "It is the foundation of the Ktunaxa Creation Story, and has been used by our people for thousands of years. Lot 48 is a significant piece of the cultural landscape of that area, and the Ktunaxa Nation have continuously supported all efforts to conserve this area for future generations. We would like to commend the Nature Conservancy of Canada and all the contributors for their work and dedication to this common goal. We now look forward to the next step of working with NCC in the development of a management plan that will ensure the long term preservation of this area."
Lot 48 has been considered a regional treasure for decades, but moves to protect it didn't begin until 2005 when private owners slated plans to create a golf resort on the land.
To stop the development, the Regional District of East Kootenay tabled a rare motion to downzone the land to an agricultural use only.
The issue has gone back and forth since then, and in 2010 the private owners, who have owned the land since 1966, petitioned the regional district to work with them towards finding a solution that would both protect the land and ease their financial burden.
Since then, the regional district has worked closely with the owners, the province, the Ktunaxa and environmental groups to broker a conservation plan.
"The Regional District of East Kootenay has long recognized the cultural and environmental significance of this land," said RDEK board chair Rob Gay. "We are pleased to be able to support the purchase of Lot 48 with funding from Electoral Area F, the Columbia Valley Subregion and the entire East Kootenay region. Playing a role in the long-term protection of this precious resource is truly an honour."