Tue, 26 Nov 2013
Tags: Education

Okanagan-Shuswap Schools Use HCTF Funding to Connect Students with the Outdoors


Thanks to Alice Hucul of the North Okanagan-Shuswap District for sending us the following story about how local schools are planning to use their CEAF and PCAF grants to support hands-on environmental learning.


This fall, four schools in the North Okanagan-Shuswap District were successful in earning grants from the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation. M.V. Beattie, South Broadview, Carlin Elementary Middle School and Eagle River Secondary School had their proposals approved for funding. M.V. Beattie’s program received a Public Conservation Assistance Fund (PCAF) grant while the other three received funding from the Conservation Education Assistance Fund (CEAF). The grants are being used by the schools for different activities but have one common theme – all will help expand the classroom to include outdoor learning for students!

North_Okanagan_Shuswap_HCTF_Grant_2.JPGAt M.V. Beattie, the $3,200 PCAF grant is helping change a wet “problem area” on the school grounds into a replica of Shuswap River, and will become a place where students can study wetlands. Retired principal and outdoor activist Kim Fulton (aka Dr. Fish) has been helping M.V. Beattie with this project. He explains wetlands are one of the most threatened, undervalued, and misunderstood ecosystems in B.C. By re-creating a wetland system on the playground, classes will study its evolution, and come to know its beauty and ecological benefits. Hopefully, present and future decision makers will be better equipped to make informed choices for fish and wildlife. Principal Denise Brown says that, in future, a solar powered waterfall will be added into the existing wetland. “The movement of the water is important to the environment and the aesthetic value will be appreciated by our students and the community in general. Often the children spend their break times in the wetland exploring and watching nature.”
A public trail will be constructed to go right past the wetland, allowing the community at large to enjoy and also develop a better understanding and appreciation of the function and beauty of wetlands.

South Broadview Elementary received a $3,500 CEAF grant, which will be used to fund experiential outdoor learning opportunities taking place throughout the school year. Thanks to the grant, the 85 students in Grades 4 & 5 will be travelling to some 25 different sites to enhance their classroom learning. In September, students visited Gorge Creek, where they photo documented the ecosystem and plant and animal interactions, witnessing decomposers in action. They also had to analyze simple food chains and create a presentation. Later in the year, students will visit the Salmon Arm landfill, the sewage treatment plant and the water treatment plant. To learn about the strategies municipalities are implementing to reduce their ecological footprints, students will observe first-hand what is happening to waste and water in their community. The teachers have tied this grant in with the school district’s action research initiative, which gives schools some seed money to do a project which helps develop student engagement in learning. With the addition of the CEAF grant, the school was able to add in some further outdoor learning opportunities including cross country skiing, snowshoeing, biking and a trip to the Kingfisher Interpretive Centre.

Carmen Dawkins’ Grade 4-5 Class at Carlin Elementary Middle School received a $486 CEAF grant which will be used to connect students with local habitats. Dawkins explains her school is starting to explore the local and larger watershed, using the Shuswap Watershed Project as a guide. “We will give students two different field experiences to increase their knowledge of this watershed: one at White Lake, which includes following its outlet to Shuswap Lake, and the other at Adams River, which also flows in to Shuswap Lake but at a different location,” Dawkins says. “First-hand experience under the leadership of knowledgeable adults is a way to build community and further connect our students with local habitats. We will use local professionals who work in the field of biology and individuals who are developing expertise through participation in various local ecology projects or groups. We will travel to two different farm locations to illustrate to students how White Lake flows in to the Shuswap. We will visit the Adams River to expand students’ understanding of how broad the Shuswap Watershed is.”
“Learning about the turtles and the Turtle Study project at White Lake serves to educate students and parents that as a community we can all contribute to the health of our watershed. Having similar field experiences will build community within our student body,” she adds.

Eagle River Secondary in Sicamous received a $1,500 CEAF Grant to offset the transportation costs for various field trip opportunities. Principal Scott Anderson says the grant will allow the school to provide an even richer outdoor experience for students.
“We support a great deal of field trips to support and enhance learning activities in the ‘real world’, but this grant has been critical in increasing the number of trips, the complexity of activities, and the number of students we’re able to accommodate. Without the grant we would not be able to support to nearly this degree.”

“To date we have taken kids to pick vegetables from farms that were then donated to local food banks, participated in shoreline cleanups, science field trips to identify local plants and their traditional First Nations uses, the Encountering Wildlife program at the Kamloops Wildlife Park, local walking trail maintenance and cleanup, GPS mapping/ex-ploring/geocaching of local wilderness areas.”

All those involved would like to thank the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation and anglers, hunters, trappers and guides who contribute to the Trust, for making a significant financial contribution to support these projects.

Thu, 31 Oct 2013
Tags: Education

South Park School Shares Their Story

South Park CEAF Grant Video

We received this wonderful video from South Park Family School in Victoria, BC, showing us how they used their HCTF Education GO grant (formerly CEAF grants) to get students outdoors and experiencing nature.


Thanks to teacher Kathy Inglis for putting this piece together: it looks like the students had a fantastic time, even in the rain!

Interested in applying for a GO grant for your school? Visit hctfeducation.ca for more details!



Tue, 29 Oct 2013
Tags: Wildlife

BC’s Wild/ Domestic Sheep Separation Program

A rare photo showing a bighorn ram amongst a flock of domestic ewes in Arizona’s Dome Valley. Photo Credit: Bob Henry

The November rut is a magnificent display of strength and agility, a refined ritual that has been practiced by bighorns for centuries. The sights and sounds of these iconic B.C. mammals vying for dominance evoke a sense of respect for the ruggedness of a species that Theodore Roosevelt referred to as “one of the noblest beasts”.

Yet the rut can be a treacherous time for bighorns, far beyond the risk of injury from their intra-species tussles. For these highly social animals, the real danger can lie with the company they keep.

Wild sheep share a number of similarities with their domestic cousins: they will use the same forage and water sources, and can even interbreed. Where bighorn range and domestic sheep operations overlap, it’s understandable that a randy ram might find a large flock of domestic ewes worth a closer look. Unfortunately, these forays can have deadly consequences. Even nose-to-nose contact between the two species can result in the transfer of a pathogen lethal to wild sheep. And because it takes time for animals to become symptomatic, an infected (but visibly healthy) bighorn that returns to its herd will spread the disease, potentially decimating an entire population.


For nearly a century, domestic sheep interactions were a suspected cause of bighorn die-offs, and the disease transfer mechanism was irrefutably confirmed through marked protein experiments in 2010. The culprit was found to be Mannheimia haemolytica, a pneumonia-causing bacterium commonly carried by domestic sheep. Domestics have evolved resistance to this particular strain and rarely show symptoms, but wild sheep are highly susceptible and often die within days of contracting it. In B.C., mass bighorn die-offs have been documented since the early 1900s, with the last major die-off occurring in the Okanagan in 1999. M. haemolytica-induced herd mortalities have occurred in the United States as recently as August of 2013.

Provincial wildlife veterinarian Dr. Helen Schwantje is no stranger to the issue: she began studying disease transfer from domestic to wild sheep as part of her Master’s thesis in the 1980s. Since then, she has witnessed many developments in the science used to pinpoint the pathogens causing die-offs, but says researchers still haven’t come up with a silver bullet. “We haven’t developed effective vaccines to prevent these deaths in bighorns, nor do we have an effective method of delivering vaccines to these wild animals,” Schwantje says. “In the absence of a medical solution, wildlife agencies in North America recommend that wild and domestic sheep populations be completely separated to avoid disease transmission.”

Schwantje was one of the original architects of the B.C. Sheep Separation Program, developed in response to pneumonia die-offs in the East Kootenay. The program aims to achieve effective separation between the two species through education, stakeholder consultation, policy development and on-the-ground action. The Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation has supported the Sheep Separation Program for nearly a decade, and in more recent years, the Foundation has funded the program’s provincial coordinator position. Jeremy Ayotte took on the role in July, and is already working hard to move the program forward: “Shortly after I started the job, I put out an invitation to bring together some of the stakeholders, both to introduce myself and to provide a forum to exchange ideas. The response was amazing. The Wild Sheep Working Group is made up of a real diverse bunch of participants: domestic sheep producers, regional biologists, hunters… a great group of passionate, knowledgeable people wanting to work towards a solution.

“We really want to take a positive approach- a collaborative approach – rather than running around placing blame.”

Ayotte is already exploring innovative ways to allow and encourage sheep farmers to provide effective separation between their flocks and wild sheep. Traditional management plans have focused on creating buffer zones and the use of non-contact fencing, but these methods have drawbacks: buffer zones require large tracts of land (impractical on smaller agricultural properties), and double-fencing entire pastures is expensive and can interfere with wildlife migration patterns.

“One of the new management techniques we’re exploring is the idea of a refuge pasture: this would be a smaller, fenced field within a larger pasture that farmers could place their sheep in if bighorns are spotted nearby, or during times where there’s a high risk of contact, such as during the rut,” Ayotte explains. His team is also looking at potentially starting a certification program to recognize lamb producers following separation management guidelines, along the same lines as dolphin-friendly tuna. “A positive marketing angle such as “bighorn-friendly” lamb would also be a great way of increasing awareness of this issue,” says Ayotte. “I think the program’s done a good job of educating commercial producers, especially in high-risk areas, but there’s still some work to be done with small-scale landowners, who might want a couple of lambs for vegetation control or 4-H purposes. Even a single sheep in a high-risk area can pose a danger to bighorns”.

Ayotte is also working to consolidate data on program projects, sheep farming operations, and bighorn herd information so that it is kept accessible and current.

“There’s a lot of valuable data out there, collected by regional wildlife biologists and through citizen science: we’ve got great Rod & Gun Club support in many areas, where folks are annually conducting on-the-ground counts and recording any observation of sickness in the herd. Prior to receiving the funding for this coordinator position, the program didn’t have the capacity to consolidate that data and use it effectively. Now, we’re looking at ways of utilizing it to improve effective separation. We’ve had a wonderful tool donated to us by the US Forest Service that has been specifically designed to identify the highest risk areas based on knowledge of sheep habitat and behaviour, so we can focus our resources on them.” Ayotte expects these areas will coincide with ones already identified, but he thinks having a science-based tool might go a long way in getting policy in place to prevent additional domestic sheep operations from starting up in bighorn territory.



Achieving any sort of protection through policy has so far proven a difficult road: in the Okanagan and the Kootenays, sheep farming is well established, and previous attempts at using covenants and by-laws to restrict farming activity have had little effect due to ALR rules and the Right-to-Farm Act. There is, however, one area where Ayotte and his colleagues feel legislation could play a very important role: B.C.’s North, home to a significant portion of the world’s thinhorn sheep populations. “These sheep have never been in contact with domestics,” says Ayotte. “It’s chilling to think how potentially devastating this disease could be if that contact occurs.

“It’s a tough question: how much time and resources should we put into southern areas of the province where the disease is already established, versus working on preventative measures for the untouched populations of North?”


Managing livestock/ wildlife conflicts on private land is a daunting task, and the program will need to continue to foster innovation and collaboration in order to find effective solutions. But with challenge comes opportunity. “One of our goals is to monitor the different strategies we’re trialing, and then share our success stories, within the province and beyond,” Ayotte reflects. “Historically, the program’s had its ups and downs, but now that we’ve got some stability through funding, there’s a perceivable buzz: you can really feel the momentum starting to pick up.”

Additional Resources:

For more information on the BC Sheep Separation Program, contact Program Coordinator Jeremy Ayotte on 250-804-3513 or email jeremy.ayotte@gmail.com


Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agency’s Wild Sheep Working Group: This joint US-Canada association is a partner of the BC Wild/Domestic Sheep Separation Program, and their site provides information and links to resources about wild sheep management.

Wild Sheep Society of BC: an organization dedicated to promoting and enhancing wild sheep and wild sheep habitat throughout British Columbia.


Domestic and Wild Sheep: Reducing the Risk of Disease Transfer Note: This brochure is currently undergoing a refresh, and the updated copy will be posted when available

Managing Wild and Domestic Sheep: A detailed report on Managing the Risk of Disease Transfer between Wild and Domestic Sheep in the Southern Interior of BC

To report a wild and domestic sheep/goat interaction, use the RAPP line.


Wed, 25 Sep 2013

HCTF Board Visits Acquisition Properties in the South Okanagan

NCC’s Okanagan Property Manager Barb Pryce points out some key conservation features of the Sage & Sparrow Grasslands.

It was a perfect day for touring two of HCTF’s most recent acquisition properties: Sage & Sparrow Grasslands and Elkink South Block. Led by NCC’s Okanagan Property Manager Barb Pryce, HCTF board members got to experience first-hand the subtle beauty of these grasslands, and learn more about their incredible ecological values.

HCTF contributed $300,000 to NCC’s purchase of the Sage & Sparrow Grasslands in 2012, and then granted a further $500,000 to NCC’s campaign to purchase Elkink South Block last June. Together, the properties create over 3,100 acres of continuous rare grassland habitat that is home to a diverse range of amphibian, reptile, bird and mammal species, some of which occur nowhere else in the world. As part of the excursion, Board Members got to visit the site of the Burrowing Owl Recovery Program on the South Block property, and view some of the research sites where scientists are now conducting surveys of the many plants and animals inhabiting this rare ecosystem.

In addition to experiencing the impressive sights (and fragrant smell of sagebrush), board members were provided with some excellent information on enhancement projects taking place within the area, as well as some of the conservation challenges facing the region. A big thank-you to field trip guests Bryn White (SOSCP), Dan Peterson (MFLRNO), and Linda Hannah (NCC) for taking the time to join us and share your experiences. An especially big thank-you to our guide, Barb Pryce, for leading us through an informative and thoroughly enjoyable day in the South Okanagan.










Tue, 3 Sep 2013

Elkink South Block, Sagebrush Slopes and Sparrow Grasslands

Photo of the Elkink Acquisition,now known as South Block (image courtesy of NCC)



The South Okanagan-Similkameen region is a biodiversity hotspot, home to unique assemblages of plants and animals. The Bunchgrass Zone ecosystem of this region is found in less than one percent of BC, yet it supports a tremendous diversity and density of wildlife. Unfortunately, agricultural use and urbanization have resulted in this delicate ecosystem becoming one of the three most endangered in Canada. With thirty percent of the province’s at-risk species dependent on it, there has been a great impetus to conserve grassland properties before the ecosystem and its inhabitants are lost.

HCTF contributed $800,000 to NCC’s purchase of three properties in the South Okanagan Similkameen that contain significant amounts of grassland habitat. Sagebrush Slopes, Sparrow Grasslands and Elkink South Block added a total of 1,263 hectares of invaluable habitat to existing protected areas. Together, these parcels comprise the most extensive sagebrush community in the region. Their protection preserves migration corridors and allows wildlife to move freely between the Similkameen and Okanagan Valleys, and through to the desert areas of the western United States. Red-listed species on site include the Grasshopper, Lark and Brewer’s Sparrows, Lewis’s Woodpecker, American Badger and Burrowing Owl. Once the management plan for the recently-purchased Elkink South Block is in place, all three of these previously-inaccessible properties will be available to the public for hunting (non-motorized), hiking and wildlife viewing.


Tue, 3 Sep 2013

Columbia Lake: Marion Creek Benchlands and Lot 48

Lot 48, Columbia Lake. Photo by Steve Short, supplied courtesy of NCC.


Columbia Lake sits at the head of the Columbia River, nestled between the Purcell and Rocky Mountains, about 7km South of Fairmont Hot Springs. The lands surrounding the lake are part of the East Kootenay Trench Ecosection, home to one of the largest and most diverse assemblages of species in the province. These include many of BC’s iconic large mammals, supported by a mosaic of habitat types that include native grasslands, Douglas-fir forests, and long stretches of wetland that comprise one of the last intact portions of the Pacific Flyway.

In 2010 and 2011, HCTF was approached by the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) to help secure both the Marion Creek Benchlands (204 ha) to the west of Columbia Lake, and Lot 48 (127 ha) on its eastern shore. These properties were “missing links” in established tracts of conservation lands, which risked being fragmented by residential development. Both contain grasslands used as vital winter range for ungulates, including blue-listed Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep. They also provide critical habitat for non-game species, such as the red-listed Badger, and are used as movement corridors by wildlife including Grizzly Bear and Elk. HCTF contributed $750,000 towards the purchase of these properties to protect their habitat values and ensure long-term connectivity between conservation lands, while simultaneously ensuring they would be accessible to the Foundation’s contributors.