This project supports and expands upon the RDCO (Regional District of the Central Okanagan) initiative to plan for Ecosystem Connectivity in the Central Okanagan (for more info, see the "Planning for Ecosystem Connectivity Workshop Report" below). OCCP is coordinating an Action Team to use the recommendations from the connectivity workshop to refine the proposed path of one pilot corridor, and develop a list of strategies to implement corridors across public and private lands in the RDCO and adjoining areas.

Background & Project Description

Ecosystem connectivity describes the interconnected network of habitat patches and migration corridors that sustain all life. Maintaining ecosystem connectivity is essential for species survival, movement, and genetic diversity, as well as for the ecosystem functions which support essential food, air, and water systems for people. In the Okanagan Valley, we are facing our final opportunity to keep connectivity in the low elevation ecosystems, which are the most important for biodiversity, and most threatened. The fast rate of development in the Okanagan is paving over, and fragmenting the low elevation areas bit by bit, and cutting off the remaining pathways for wildlife movement.

The overall objectives of this project to date have been to identify locations of ecosystem connectivity corridors that, if conserved or restored, will contribute to maintaining ecosystem connectivity in RDCO, and to connect the plans made here throughout the Okanagan (from south of US Border to North Okanagan). In 2015, Dr. Lael Parrott and a team of graduate students from UBC Okanagan collaborated with RDCO and OCCP to use digital mapping and modelling to identify the most likely location of wildlife movement corridors in the valley. Maps highlighting the modelled corridors were reviewed by an Advisory Committee of government and NGO volunteers at a workshop hosted by RDCO and OCCP on November 24, 2015 (see the workshop report and appendices). Input from the Advisory Committee included identifying perceived opportunities and barriers for the proposed corridors, prioritizing corridors for protection, and providing additional resources and advice on implementation and policy.

Phase 2 of this project will inform the development of a set of specific recommendations for protecting ecosystem connectivity along the top ranked priority corridor, from Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park to Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park. This phase of the project will utilize existing mapping, resources, and expertise to identify specific locations of natural corridors in the Central Okanagan where conservation or restoration is realistic, based on existing and forecasted land use. Existing resources include connectivity and environmental mapping done by various organizations including RDCO, OCCP, SOSCP (South Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Program), UBCO (University of British Columbia, Okanagan), the Province of BC, and TCWG (Transboundary Connectivity Working Group), as well as a guide produced through OCCP entitled "Designing and Implementing Ecosystem Connectivity in the Okanagan" (2014).

The resulting recommendations, maps, and models will be a decision support tool that can be used to prioritize locations, establish scientifically supported corridor specifications, and propose protection mechanisms across all land tenures. These recommendations are intended to be used to inform landowners, government planners and decision-makers, First Nations, and NGOs in the central Okanagan and neighbouring jurisdictions when developing land use plans and policy (e.g., Regional Growth Strategies, Official Community Plans, Neighbourhood Plans, and development plans.

Key Messages about Ecosystem Connectivity

  • Connectivity, comprised of physical and functional links between ecosystems, is necessary to support biodiversity
  • A connected network of ecosystems supports ecosystem services, provides opportunities for animal and plant movement across the landscape and sustains natural areas close to populated areas
  • Ecosystem connectivity tends to be reduced where people work and live (e.g. low elevations; flat terrain; areas near water)
  • The building blocks of a connectivity strategy include ecosystem patches linked by connective elements such as landscape and linear corridors. Buffer zones to limit impacts of adjacent land use may also be added. Where corridors are not possible, effective connectivity for some species can sometimes be achieved by small ecosystem patches (stepping stones corridors)
  • Ecosystem connectivity supports the delivery of ecosystem services and particularly helps conserve riparian areas, water purification and flood control areas
  • Ecosystem connectivity also moderates impacts of climate change on temperature, carbon dioxide storage and overall biodiversity
  • Ecological connectivity supports genetic diversity; connectivity also supports movement opportunities that wildlife and plants require for their reproduction and survival
  • Ecological  connectivity  supports  a  cost  effective  way  to  protect  species  at  risk,  reduce  wildlife  conflicts  and  address  challenges created by man-made barriers
  • Ecological Connectivity combines benefits for ecosystems and species with benefits for people.

Additional Resources

Designing for Ecosystem Connectivity [PDF]

BRAES Connectivity Booklet [PDF]

Planning for Ecosystem Connectivity Workshop Report (Nov 2016) [PDF]

Ecosystem Connectivity Workshop Report Appendices [PDF]