North Okanagan conservation group wants O'Keefe Range protected | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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North Okanagan conservation group wants O'Keefe Range protected

The O'Keefe Range Land.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED: Harold Sellers
September 03, 2020 - 1:15 PM

The North Okanagan Naturalists’ Club is proposing the recently listed O'Keefe Range Land be turned into a conservation area.

The 2,310-acre site, which is still owned by the descendants of the O'Keefe family and sits to the west of Vernon, was recently put on the market for $28.8 million.

"This is a huge opportunity to preserve an outstanding example of increasingly rare natural grasslands," North Okanagan Naturalists’ Club president Marnie Williamson said in a media release.

Former Naturalists’ Club president Harold Sellers says the not-for-profit organization has written to the Premier and the local MLA and hopes various levels of government can come together with other conservation organizations to protect the site.

In June, a petition was launched to turn Chelsea Estates, a 234-acre property next to Ellison Provincial Park, into a provincial park, a proposal the provincial government said it couldn't afford.

However, Sellers said there are different options available to protect the O'Keefe Ranch, and making it a provincial park is just one of them.

"Making it a (provincial) park would be just one of several options... it's probably too large of a property and too big of a price tag (for) just a single level of government to deal with," Sellers said. "But there's potential there for a variety of government and (non-government organizations) and concerned citizens to give it some kind of protection so it will stay in its natural state... It could become a sub-regional park under the Regional District... it could also remain in private ownership but with a conservation easement on it."

Sellers said the one possibility is that it could be purchased by a land conservancy, such as the Nature Conservancy of Canada, the B.C. Land Trust or the Land Conservancy of B.C.

The property is mostly covered in grasses and shrubs typical of the Okanagan’s arid environment, according to the Grassland Conservation Council of British Columbia and while grasslands cover only one per cent of the province, they are home to 30 per cent of the province's species at risk.

Sellers said those animals include badgers, several species of sparrow and amphibians. The O'Keefe Range Land is no doubt home to several varieties of snakes and may contain the at-risk spadefoot toad.

Naturalists’ club studies of the area done in 1993 and 2002 concluded that “abundant habitat exists for species dependant on rugged grasslands.”

Only around 10 per cent of the site is in the Agricultural Land Reserve, making the remaining land ripe with development potential. The club sees this as a huge opportunity to preserve the land.

Sellers said because cattle still graze on the land, the club would not be calling for an end to cattle grazing.

"We just want to protect it," he said.

"The North Okanagan Naturalists’ Club calls for focused and determined efforts by governments, conservation organizations and citizens to purchase the available property, for all to cherish and enjoy for perpetuity. Our members ask all who share our vision to contact your government representatives and urge them to lead an innovative plan to buy the lands and preserve the native grasslands," the club said in a statement.

For information about the North Okanagan Naturalists' Club go here.

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