By James Rose
The four of us met early one Sunday morning at the start of October. From the Hewitt Road intersection where we met, we drove north past Edgewater a few kilometres. Our plan was to do a short walking tour of the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC) Luxor Linkage Conservation Area.
Luxor Linkage forms part of a connectivity corridor for large animals moving through the Columbia Valley from the Rockies to the purcells. At 960 acres of land, it is a critical part of a natural corridor for wildlife stretching from the wetlands, across Highway 95 and into the mountains. 4.7 kilometres from one side to the other.
Both Kindersley and Luxor Creeks flow through the land, and at this time of year, Luxor is known to have spawning Kokanee salmon. When the Columbia River Treaty was signed in 1964, it paved the way for the coordinated effort to construct mega-dams on the Columbia River in Canada and the United States. The dams, of course, brought B.C. cheap, plentiful hydropower. Then, and to this day. The dams also are used for flood control and irrigation.
They also prevent salmon from the pacific from spawning up the river like they once used to. They used to travel as far as the river’s headwaters at Columbia Lake. When the major Canadian dams were built, like the Mica Dam north of Revelstoke in the early 1970’s, the government stocked the resultant Kinbasket Reservoir with Kokanee Salmon. Spawning Kinbasket Kokanee, our day’s raison d’être.
At Luxor’s parking lot, I let my dog out of my car. He, the picture of happiness as we traipsed our way through the spacious forest. The people joining me, they knew of a route to arrive to a bluff offering a sweeping vantage of Luxor Creek, the wetlands, and the Purcell mountains to the west. Between Columbia Lake and Donald is one of only two free-flowing reaches of the Columbia River above Portland, Oregon. The other is a small section around the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in the state of Washington.
We had trouble finding the right path. Obscuring our way was plentiful earth-toned wild grass. It was growing in over narrow old pathways with flagging tape leading in spasmodic directions. My dog Guille, well, he was happy to follow us wherever we made our wrong turns. As long as we walked in a general due west direction, we knew we’d arrive to the north-south running Luxor at some point.
Eventually, we came to a downward sloping knoll. Guille took off down the hill, and it was quite the sightseeing a French Bulldog fly through grass twice his size. He flushed out five or six big bald eagles. Were they feeding on something? Could that mean a bear may be close? Luxor Linkage was identified by the NCC as a prime parcel of land to provide the big beasts, the grizzlies, room to roam. Grizzlies travel far distances. It’s in their DNA, and facilitating their free movement encourages biodiversity.
Biodiversity. It’s a word we hear often, but do we really know how critical it is to maintain in the environment? I asked wildlife biologist Richard Klafki, Program Director of NCC’s Rocky Mountain division, for a metaphor. “Understanding the importance of maintaining biodiversity can be compared to an airplane losing rivets mid-flight. An airplane can lose a few and still fly, but once it loses enough, the whole thing will fall apart.”
Down the knoll, we walked. We couldn’t find whatever was the eagles’ object of desire. Thankfully, no sign of a grizzly. What we did find, however, was a nice path leading out to the very bluff we had been looking for. At the edge of the buff, with a wall of small hoodoos directly below, an expansive view of the valley before us was on display. Below, there was Luxor. And speckled throughout the small gently flowing creek, there were our Kokanee. Cherry red. Bordering the western edge of the creek was a rail line. Beyond, vast wetlands ecology. Over sixty acres of wetlands are in Luxor Linkage.
Eagles stoically perched themselves in the tall Douglas firs around us. Kingfishers greeted us from their many nests in the hoodoo. There must be swallows in there too, we concluded. Endangered American badgers, westslope cutthroat trout, bull trout, mountain whitefish, burbot, northern pikeminnow, ducks, seagulls, mountain goats, cougars, wolves, bobcats, bears and many other species, they all call this land home.
In other words, we were enjoying this parcel of land with an abundance of wildlife. I asked my hiking partners what it all meant to them and their thoughts on the Nature Conservancy. Said one: “Well, just having public access to this land, it’s such a gift to be able to get out and appreciate it.”
“Sure glad the Nature Conservancy found a way to buy it,” said another after looking through his binoculars. Through his lens, he spotted several swans. Tundra or trumpeter? Hard to tell.
The Nature Conservancy of Canada uses a rigorous science-backed methodology for determining which parcels of land, should they come available, be preserved. “Our fundamental role is to use a science-based planning framework for identifying ecologically significant private land for conversation,” said Klafki, who lives in Invermere. He grew up in Golden and worked in the town’s sawmill before going back to school to become a wildlife biologist.
The Columbia Basin Trust and other institutions like BC Hydro’s Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program funnel money towards trust organizations like the NCC and the Nature Trust of British Columbia to help purchase land and/or contribute to land stewardship.
Under Klafki’s direction, the NCC purchased with several funding partners two adjoining parcels of land to form the Luxor Linkage Conservation Area in 2015 and 2016. The land was, for the longest time, an abandoned Christmas tree farm operation. Densely forested. When the then owners listed the land, part of the land’s marketeing literature including the promise of boundless recreational opportunities for motorized off-roading. A place for the toys.
The Kootenay Conservation Program (KCP) provided a venue to facilitate the NCC with purchasing the land. Founded in 2002, KCP’s goals include coordinating private land conservation efforts. “We offer that role of ensuring it’s a collaborative effort,” said KCP’s Nelson based program manager Juliet Craig. Craig’s team immediately grasped the importance of preserving the land. “More often, you see parcels of land in the high country protected. Luxor was unique in that there was an opportunity to preserve critical valley bottom habitat.” KCP plays an important role in the Luxor Linkage story.
The organization came up with the idea for the Columbia Valley Conservation Fund. Launched in 2008, funds are used for a variety of conservation needs throughout the Columbia Valley. Funding applications are considered each year. The deadline for this year is the end of October. For Luxor Linkage, a portion of CVCF money is invested towards the stewardship plan to restore the land to what it would look like a spacious old growth forest – ideal for large mammal passage.
“We’re happy with our stewardship progress,” Klafki said. “We’ve restored 10%-15% of the property, and we could do more in one year, but doing 30 hectares per year enables us in four to five years can get into maintenance mode.”
It’s clear, Richard Klafki and his team are dedicated to the mission of the Nature Conservancy of Canada. “We’re in it for the long haul,” Klafki said.
A point of clarification: Salmon migration to the Columbia mainstem in BC was not blocked by the Columbia River Treaty dams, but rather by Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams in the U.S. decades before the Treaty.