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Vernon home to another lost Okanagan wetland

This once was a wetland that is now filled in to make it ready for commercial development.
Image Credit: Submitted/Jack VanDyk

Development has devastated wetlands in the Okanagan for many decades.

The Okanagan Wetlands Action Plan, delivered to the Okanagan Basin Water Board in 2019, estimated 84% of low elevation wetlands had disappeared by 2014.

Now the wetland next to BX Creek south of Highway 97 in Vernon has joined the ranks of the disappeared.

“Going back to pre-settlement times, that whole area was probably marsh or a wetland,” North Okanagan Naturalists' Club president Harold Sellers told

“BX Creek had a lot of diversion and channelization early on. That’s where it flowed into Swan Lake so I’m sure that was all a marshy area, much like what you see at the south end of Swan Lake now but it was a much greater area at that time.

“The creek still flows through there but I would say there is no wetland still existing there, with the road development and the fill that has been brought in. There’s no cattail marshland like there used to be.”

This is what it once looked like in 2016 before 20 Street was extended.
This is what it once looked like in 2016 before 20 Street was extended.
Image Credit: Submitted/Harold Sellers

In 1999, the City of Vernon adopted the North Vernon Neighbourhood Plan for the area bounded by Highway 97, 17 Street, Stickle Road and Pleasant Valley Road. That area was divided by BX Creek and seen as a prime area for development.

The plan talks about the need to protect BX Creek and the provincial government’s requirement of a setback from the creek so the planners promoted the extension of 20 Street parallel to the creek as a great buffer to protect the creek and the Ribbons of Green trail that runs through it.

READ MORE: COVID made Greater Vernon the Trails Capital of B.C.

Little or no mention is made of the wetland on the west side of the creek.

“The primary goal of this Neighbourhood Plan is to stipulate a land-use configuration and supporting infrastructure that will address the owner’s development aspirations,” the plan says. “The Plan must reflect changes in contemporary retail practice, which indicate a strong market desire for ‘big box’ retailing as an important component of the community’s retail matrix. The Plan area provides an ideal area to meet that demand.”

It wasn’t until 2017 that the road was extended, partially filling in the wetland.

“They saw development opportunities and, I guess, the wetland was in the way,” Sellers said. “They extended the road through it thinking it was going to assist development. The powers that be made the decision that it was worth giving up to add more development in that area.”

Some money was given in compensation for that loss to Ducks Unlimited, who built a pond in the Swan Lake Nature Reserve and did some stream bank control.

“We didn’t gain anything as far as area of wetlands,” Seller said. “What we gained was a pond that’s used by waterfowl. That is an asset but we had a net loss of wetland."

Promised planting on native species along 20 Street by the Ministry of Highways and placement of bird and bat houses don’t seem to have ever been done, Sellers said.

Now the rest of the wetland is being filled in and going on sale for commercial development, he said.

Does that really matter?

“You’ve got less area for species to habitat,” Sellers said. “You’ve got a loss of natural flood control because BX Creek has had a long history of flooding as gravel and fill has washed down from as high up as Silver Star and towards the lake. Wetlands are well known to be natural flood control devices.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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