Save B.C.'s Richest Habitat
The South Okanagan and Lower Similkameen area is out of this world! It is one of Canada's four most endangered habitats. (The others are the Garry Oak meadows of Vancouver Island, the tall-grass prairies of Manitoba and Ontario, and the Carolinian Zone of south-western Ontario.)
Many species that live happily in the South Okanagan and Lower Similkameen aren't found anywhere else in Canada, and some 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.
The hot, dry climate of the region is very popular with people too. Since European settlers first arrived, four species have been extirpated because of habitat loss and over-hunting — the Sage Grouse, Sharp- tailed Grouse, Burrowing Owl, and the 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 — species like 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 much of this rich habitat from being damaged. A lot of people, including developers and municipal employees, have no idea that the area is so important to so many species. Thirty-one percent of British Columbia's threatened and 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 amazing South Okanagan and Lower Similkameen. The following guidelines will help make your effort a success:
- List all the species you can that are found in this area. Which are common? How many are rare? Are any found in your community?
- Don't forget plants. Many vulnerable, threatened, or endangered plant species grow in the South Okanagan and Lower Similkameen.
- Check out the different ecosystems, such as grasslands, lake-shore forests, and dry forest savannas in the area. What species depend on what habitats
- Research, research, research! Contact your provincial wildlife agency, the B.C. Conservation Data Centre, and the Nature Trust of British Columbia. Talk to local naturalist groups.
- Publicize your findings in as many ways as you can. For instance, organize an event in your school or community; hand out a one-page factsheet to friends, neighbours, businesses, developers, landowners, churches, and community groups; or make a presentation to your municipal council.
Down With Dangerous Exotics
The sea birds of British Columbia's Queen Charlotte Islands are disappearing. Why? The culprits, as it happens, are raccoons. These furry bandits, which are not native to the islands, love to gobble up the eggs and chicks of ground-nesting birds. Over 50 years ago, eight raccoons were released here for the benefit of local trappers. Now, there are so many of these nocturnal, bushy-tailed mammals that they could wipe out the entire bird population of the islands.
The European Starling, which came to North America over 100 years ago, has taken over many of the nesting sites of native species like the Eastern Bluebird. The European Earwig is another example of an unwelcome guest that has made itself too close for comfort in Canadian gardens. Among the most recent exotic troublemakers are Purple Loosestrife and Zebra Mussels.
No matter where you live in Canada, you can help curb the spread of harmful non-native species. Here's how:
- Find out if there are any exotic invaders in your area.
- Research these species and prepare an information campaign for your school or community.
- Compile a list of dos and don'ts with the help of an expert.
- Always consult an expert before transplanting any species. For instance, many trees are not native to much of the Prairies and could cause problems for wildlife if they are introduced.
Repel Rascally Raccoons
Raccoons are very comfortable living near people. In Ontario cities, there are usually eight to 16 of these mammals per square kilometre. In some areas, that number can be as high as 85! In rural areas, the population density ranges from four to 20 raccoons per square kilometre. What do you think the population density of these creatures is in your area?
Cute and pesky, raccoons sometimes make their dens in houses, cottages, garages, and sheds. Occasionally, they can cause serious property damage. It's always wise to keep a safe distance from any wild animal, but now the risk of raccoon rabies in southern Ontario makes it especially important. If you have raccoons around that are making a nuisance of themselves, or if you live where raccoon rabies is a threat, show the following checklist to your parents:
- Cover up possible entrances — uncapped chimneys and openings in attics, roofs, and eaves. Sprinkle flour around possible entrances and look for footprints later to see where raccoons are getting in. Stuff rags or paper in suspect holes, then check to see if they are removed.
- Be sure all raccoons or other animals have left before sealing up any holes, especially between May and July, when young are being raised.
- Block entrances with sheet metal or place heavy rustproof screening over air vents and chimneys.
- Use a h2 bungee cord or heavy weight to keep lids secure on composters and garbage cans.
- Dispose of garbage as frequently as possible.
- Hang ammonia-soaked cotton rags near den entrances.
- Trim tree branches or modify other structures that the animals might use to get to the roof.
Two unusual species are found in no other spot in the country but the tall-grass prairies of south-central Manitoba. Without this unique habitat, the Powesheik Skipper Butterfly and the Western Prairie Fringed Orchid could disappear from Canada. Many other species depend on Manitoba’s tall-grass prairies as well. Some, like the Long-tailed Weasel and Grey Tiger Salamander, are protected. A few spots of tall-grass habitat are found in Ontario as well. One thing’s for sure – so little of this unique prairie ecosystem is left that every patch is a priceless gem. It is the most productive kind of grassland in all of North America.
The tall-grass prairies of Manitoba and Ontario are each made up of different blends of native wildflowers and grasses. However, they share trademark species, such as Big Bluestem and Prairie-clover. Big Bluestem is what puts the “tall” in tall-grass. It is tasty to grazing wildlife and can grow as high as the average ten-year-old (1.5 metres)! It also has an unusual purplish colour.
Tracking Down Tall-Grass
If you live near a tall-grass prairie, why not get acquainted? Find out what species are typical of this habitat in Ontario and Manitoba. Go on a tall-grass trek in search of a patch that hasn't yet been found by biologists. If you find one, be sure to contact your provincial wildlife agency.
Some likely spots to find tall-grass remnants are: farmsteads; abandoned and existing railway lines; cemeteries; undeveloped road allowances; native pastures and hay lands; and areas difficult to reach with farm machinery.
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