Compliance, enforcement and management issues have come to light in South Okanagan protected areas that allow tenured grazing.
“This is a protected area that has very sensitive and important ecosystems to the public,” BC Forest Practices Board chair Keith Atkinson says.
Public complaints in January and July 2021 triggered an investigation into grazing practices and land use in the South Okanagan and White Lake Grasslands Protected Areas. The complainants expressed concern over environmental damage and lack of government oversight.
While the protected areas were established in 2001 to protect rare and endangered plants, habitat and ecological and cultural values, grazing tenure agreements made prior to the designation were permitted to continue within the territories of the Lower Similkameen, Osoyoos and Penticton Indian Bands.
The investigation reviewed the planning and practices of three of the seven ranches with grazing tenures in the protected areas: Elkink Ranch Ltd., 69 Ranch Partnership and Clifton Ranch.
Elkink Ranch Ltd. was out of compliance with legal requirements to follow the grazing schedule in its range plan, remove livestock before deterioration to plant communities occurs, protect riparian and upland areas, and maintain range developments, the board says. The ranch holds a grazing tenure near Mt. Kobau.
The land used by 69 Ranch Partnership had livestock damage to riparian areas around Blue Lake, investigators found, but the livestock did not belong to the range holder.
Clifton Ranch complied with all legal requirements, investigators concluded.
The BC Ministry of Forests also fell out of compliance through unsound construction practices and inadequate enforcement of livestock use within the protected areas, the board found.
In the South Okanagan Grasslands Protected Area, the ministry lacked authorization to build 19 kilometres of barbed-wire fencing and two water diversions. One of the diversions caused environmental damage, investigators found.
In addition, efforts to revegetate the excavated area resulted in the use of a seed mix known to compete with and potentially overtake native plant communities.
“That was an unfortunate finding,” Atkinson says. “We’re proposing they do a collaborative First Nations and government management plan to put in place the process and steps needed to prevent this from happening.”
Government enforcement of range use at the Chopaka East, Chopaka West and Kilpoola sites of the South Okanagan Grasslands Protected Area and the White Lake Grasslands Protected Area was not appropriate, the board found, as too few inspections were conducted, and enforcement actions did not achieve compliance.