Students take part in boots-on-the-ground educational field program to help restore disappearing Antelope-brush ecosystem

OSOYOOS, BC – This spring over 125 students in the South Okanagan headed outdoors to take part in a boots-on-the-ground educational field program to help in the conservation and restoration of our endangered Antelope-brush habitat. The program provided a unique learning opportunity for students giving them hands-on experience in scientific field work while teaching them key environmental sustainability concepts such as biodiversity and connectivity.

“This program used an action-based stewardship approach to help students learn about Antelope-brush ecosystems and engage meaningfully as part of the solution,” says Allison Dietrich, teacher and coordinator of the Antelope-brush restoration field trips. “Stewardship is a shared community responsibility and teaching our youth how to care for their environment is one of the most important ways we can invest in their future.”

To deliver the multi-faceted program, several South Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Program partners worked together including Nature Trust of BC, Okanagan and Similkameen Invasive Species Society, Okanagan Similkameen Stewardship, Penticton Museum, Anona Kampe, Penticton Indian Band knowledge-keeper and Osoyoos Desert Centre. The students focused their field work on three Nature Trust Antelope-brush properties near Vaseux Lake where they planted approximately 150 Antelope-brush seedlings and have continued to water and monitor them over the course of several weeks.

During the field visits students also learned about key aspects of conservation and restoration work including animal tracking, scat and skull identification, identifying and eliminating invasive plants, snake smart practices and learning about local plant species. Some classes took part in a traditional ecological knowledge and storytelling session with knowledge-keeper, Anona Kampe and students also visited the Osoyoos Desert Centre to get a closer look at a recovering Antelope- brush habitat and to learn more about the at-risk species that rely on it for their survival.

“One of the most powerful parts of this project was the diversity of perspectives and learning experiences that the students were exposed to. There was also a lot of opportunity for participating teachers to extend this project and take it in different directions to meet their individual learning outcomes,” continues Dietrich.

The educational field program is part of a larger multi-year project involving a team of strategic partners working together to create an updated Antelope-brush conservation, restoration and management plan for the South Okanagan valley. Operating under the auspices of the Osoyoos Desert Society, the project is being led by retired biologist Orville Dyer who has been studying and researching the Antelope-brush ecosystem for over 20 years.

“Preservation of this habitat is essential to sustaining biological diversity in British Columbia. This project builds on over 30 years of efforts to conserve and protect antelope-brush habitat by south Okanagan conservation partners,” says project lead Orville Dyer. “Continuing this work now is critical to understanding how to best move forward to conserve and restore this endangered natural resource.”

“We are very pleased this initial pilot program has been so successful. There is definitely interest from all of the teachers involved this year to take part in stewardship education projects next year and in years to come,” says Dietrich. “Several teachers have opted to extend the program to a full year program starting this September and we are also hoping to expand the program to involve even more students.”

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For more information contact: Jayme Friedt, Managing Director Osoyoos Desert Centre
CELL 250.488.9894

incl. Backgrounder

photo credit Photos provided by Osoyoos Desert Centre and Allison Dietrich

  • Photo 1: Snake Smart talk with Okanagan Similkameen Stewardship biologist Lia McKinnon
  • Photo 2: Storytelling session with knowledge-keeper, Anona Kampe
  • Photo 3: Planting Antelope-brush seedlings at Nature Trust property
  • Photo 4: Conservation walk at Osoyoos Desert Centre with tour guide Connor Baerg
  • Photo 5: Conservation walk at Osoyoos Desert Centre with tour guide Larissa Thelin
  • Photo 6: Planting Antelope-brush seedlings at Nature Trust property

BACKGROUNDER

The South Okanagan valley is one of the four most endangered ecosystems in Canada. The Antelope-brush needle and thread grass ecosystem is globally imperiled and is provincially red listed. In Canada, nearly all of this community occurs only in the south Okanagan. It supports 42 species that are listed by the Species at Risk Act (SARA).

Statistics from 2019 show that over 68% of antelope-brush habitat has been destroyed by urban and agricultural development and only 13% of the remaining habitat is formally protected. Sites that have been protected are degraded due to fragmentation, invasive species, tree encroachment and wildfire, and impacts on this ecosystem are expected to worsen as climate change progresses.

Year one of the Antelope-brush conservation and restoration project focused on gathering research, making use of new GIS mapping and developing a written action plan with priorities, timelines and outreach. Year two and beyond will involve implementing the recovery action plan, ongoing evaluation and a final project evaluation and report.

Partners include Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources and Rural Development, Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, Canadian Wildlife Service, Parks Canada, BC Parks, South Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Program, Osoyoos Desert Centre, Nature Trust of BC, Penticton Indian Band, En’owkin Centre, Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of British Columbia, Nk’Mip Cultural Desert Centre, Nature Conservancy of Canada, Okanagan Similkameen Stewardship Society and Okanagan and Similkameen Invasive Species Society.

Funding for the Antelope-brush conservation and restoration project has been provided by Environment and Climate Change Canada, South Okanagan Conservation Fund, South Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Program and Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation.

Republished by permission of the Osoyoos Desert Centre