The South Okanagan and Lower Similkameen area is out of this world! Unfortunately, it's also one of Canada's four most endangered habitats, alongside the Garry Oak meadows of Vancouver Island, the tall-grass prairies of Manitoba and Ontario, and the of southwestern Ontario.
Many species that live in the South Okanagan and Lower Similkameen aren’t found anywhere else in Canada - and some of them may not live anywhere else in the world. The area forms a rough rectangle between the Similkameen and Okanagan rivers, running south from Keremeos and Penticton down to the U.S. border.
Since European settlers first arrived in this hot, dry, climate, four species have been extirpated because of habitat loss and over-hunting: the sage grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, burrowing owl, and white-tailed jack rabbit. A fifth species, the eastern short-horned lizard, may also have been extirpated. Today, land developments continue to squeeze many other rare species out of their homes, such as the white-headed woodpecker, sage thrasher, flammulated owl, Nuttall's cottontail, desert night snake, and spotted and pallid bats.
There are no laws to protect this rich habitat from being damaged. Many people, including developers and municipal employees, have no idea that the area is critical to so many species. A whopping 31 percent of British Columbia's threatened or endangered vertebrates depend on this tiny slice of the province to survive.
You can be a huge help to wildlife by educating the public - and yourself - about the South Okanagan and Lower Similkameen area. These guidelines will help make your effort a success:
• Find out more about the incredible diversity of species found in this area. Which are common? Which are rare? Are any of them found in your backyard and community?
• Remember to include plants in your research; many vulnerable, threatened, and endangered plant species grow here.
• Find out about the different ecosystems, such as grasslands, lakeshore forests, and dry forest savannas in the area. Which species depend on which habitats?
• Research, research, research! Contact the B.C. Conservation Data Centre, the Nature Trust of British Columbia, and the provincial wildlife agency. Talk to local naturalist and fish and wildlife groups as well.
• Publicize your findings in as many ways as you can. You might organize an event in your community; hand out a one-page fact sheet to friends, neighbours, businesses, developers, landowners, churches, and community groups; or make a short presentation to your municipal council.