By: Gordon Wilson
DL492 Earth Day 2022 Grassland Habitat
Seeing the patch of black mud is a jolt in a rolling sea of new spring green on the hills north of Grand Forks—the damage caused by a vehicle driving off into the grasslands recently purchased by the Southern Interior Land Trust to conserve habitat.
But on Earth Day, Apr. 22, a group of students from Perley Elementary School accepted seedling trees, a small shovel and detailed instruction from Interfor professionals, then went off into the damaged areas to take on the responsibility of restoration.
Both silviculture supervisor Jamie Hibberson and environment and land use superintendent Randy Waterous of Interfor organized the day and not only helped the students out in their task, but rewarded them with hotdogs for lunch.
Tramping through muddy areas where tires had churned up the budding wildflowers and fresh grasses, the grade six and seven class of Sarah Mace spread out with their shovels and yellow pine seedlings and worked all morning.
In all, they planted nearly 300 seedling trees with the intention of returning often in the future to watch them grow and provide shade for Chocolate Lilies and Arnica, and habitat for the wide variety of birds which call this grassland home. Mature trees, even once they die and begin to decay, provide vital homes, shelter and foraging for more than 70 species of birds and wildlife, insects, fungi, mosses and lichens
“It was an inspiring day, to watch all these young people talking to their little trees and encouraging them to be happy,” commented SILT president Judie Steeves, with a grin, adding, “They really seemed to take their job seriously and realize restoring the land to its natural habitat is important.”
If further vandalism to this land is prevented, the little trees will grow tall and strong and anchor the land from melting snow, which today is flowing down the fresh tire ruts and down the track, eroding the earth and carrying it away down the hill.
In 2020, SILT bought this 109-hectare parcel of open bunchgrass with thickets of aspen and hawthorn, District Lot 492, to conserve it for a herd of bighorn sheep and the deer who are desperate for the late winter flush of green provided here.
It was found that rattlesnakes, gopher snakes, spadefoot toads, tiger salamander and badger also make this home, as well as a great variety of birds, some endangered.
The purchase was a joint effort of the family of the late Walter Mehmal; the B.C. Conservation Foundation Land for Wildlife Fund; the Brandow family; the Wild Sheep Society of B.C., the Grand Forks Wildlife Association and other donors and SILT supporters.
Later that year, an additional 35 hectares of an adjacent property, Lot A of DL 493, also at the end of Morissey Creek Road, was purchased for the same reasons, and with some of the same support, with the addition of Tom and Jeninfer Foss and the Wild Sheep Foundation of Alberta, The Habitat Conservation Trust Fund and the Government of Canada through its Natural Heritage Conservation Program.
Both acreages are open to enjoyment by the public, for hiking, birdwatching, picnics, photography and other recreational pursuits, but the use of motorized vehicles on either property is illegal.
“Our hope is that our Grand Forks Grasslands will continue to provide healthy, natural wildlife habitat forever,” Steeves added.