This submitted article from the Kootenay Conservation Program is the third in a series featuring three conservation properties in the Columbia Valley that were purchased with support from the Columbia Valley Local Conservation Fund.
Known as the “Source of the Columbia,” Columbia Lake is the primary lake at the headwaters of the Columbia River, which together with the adjoining Columbia Wetlands — one of the few remaining pristine floodplain wetlands left in North America — make up the only undammed section of the entire 2,000 kilometre-long Columbia River.
The lake is fed by groundwater from the Kootenay River as well as several tributaries on both the east and west sides of the lake, making the surrounding area extremely valuable ecologically. The lands surrounding the lake are also part of the Rocky Mountain Trench, home to one of the largest and most diverse assemblages of species in the province. These include many of B.C.’s iconic large mammals, including elk, deer, bears and cougars.
It’s for these reasons that the 204-hectare Marion Creek Benchlands conservation area, located on the west side of Columbia Lake between Fairmont Hot Springs and Canal Flats, was identified by the Nature of Conservancy (NCC) as a parcel of land with high conservation value. In 2010, NCC took steps to purchase the property. This acquisition, which was completed in 2011, was made possible by many groups and individuals who contributed to the $1.7 million required to purchase these ecologically important benchlands and protect them from residential subdivision and development.
Notably, Marion Creek Benchlands was the first conservation land purchase that the Columbia Valley Local Conservation Fund (CVLCF) contributed to after the fund was established in 2008. The CVLCF is a unique tax-based revenue that supports local conservation projects like this acquisition. Residents pay $20 per parcel per year to this dedicated fund that is administered in partnership between the Regional District of East Kootenay and Kootenay Conservation Program. Other key funders for this property acquisition included the Columbia Basin Trust, East Kootenay Wildlife Association, Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation and the Government of Canada through the Natural Areas Conservation Program.
Marion Creek Benchlands bridges two other conservation properties, which themselves are adjacent to additional protected areas. By linking these areas, an unbroken natural wildlife corridor was created along the western side of Columbia Lake that spans more than 30 square kilometres. Habitat on the property ranges from native grasslands and open Douglas-fir forests to a wetland complex of marsh and streamside habitat. Many wildlife species thrive in this area, including elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, cougar, black bear and grizzly bear. Several endangered species have been documented on the lands, including badger, prairie falcon, Lewis’s woodpecker, and dry-land sedge. The wetlands provide important habitat for migratory birds, reptiles and amphibians.
Following the property’s purchase, NCC undertook an archeological overview assessment an ecological features survey and a watershed assessment. This work informs the property management plan for the conservation area. Since the conservation of Marian Creek Benchlands 10 years ago, NCC has worked with local community groups and partners to restore approximately 50 hectares of dry open forest habitat, benefitting both wintering ungulates and species at risk.
NCC supports community activities that are complementary to conservation targets on the property and pedestrian use is welcomed.
“More than a decade later NCC continues to work with local partners and neighbours to maintain and enhance the interconnected mosaic of healthy mature forests, grasslands and wetlands along the west slopes of Columbia Lake,” said Nature Conservancy of Canada program director, Richard Klafki. “It is a resilient landscape that is adapting well to climate change.”
Learn more about this property on the NCC website: https://www.natureconservancy.ca/en/where-we-work/british-columbia/featured-projects/rocky-mountain-trench/marion-creek-benchlands.html
To learn more about the Columbia Valley Local Conservation Fund, visit kootenayconservation.ca/columbia-valley-local-conservation-fund/.