Columbia National Wildlife Area

Columbia National Wildlife Area (NWA) is in southeastern British Columbia (BC). It provides important wetland habitat for migrating waterfowl.


Columbia NWA has four separate units: Wilmer, Spillimacheen, Brisco, and Harrogate. The NWA is located in the southern part of BC’s Rocky Mountain Trench, which separates the Rocky Mountains to the east from the Purcell and Selkirk Mountains in the west.

The NWA contains wetlands and lowland coniferous forests. It is part of a larger wetland system: the Columbia Wetlands. The Columbia Wetlands support a variety of wildlife and contain important resting and breeding habitats for waterfowl and migratory birds of the Pacific flyway.

Image of a Black tern nesting
Black tern in Columbia NWA. Photo: Neil Dawe

In the late 1960s, the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) became interested in properties within the Columbia Valley. Many unprotected properties had important waterfowl habitat. CWS started negotiations to acquire goose production areas near Wilmer in 1970. By 1976, CWS purchased around 405 ha. In 1978, those lands became the Wilmer NWA. In 1977, the Nature Trust of BC began to acquire properties in the Columbia Valley based on CWS’ recommendations. By 1984, the Nature Trust had purchased approximately 529 ha at Spillimacheen, Brisco, and Harrogate. CWS is currently leasing these properties. Together with the Wilmer property, they collectively form Columbia NWA.

There is more information on Columbia NWA in the summary table below.

Landscape habitat of Columbia NWA
Columbia NWA. Photo: Blair Hammond


CWS manages the four units of Columbia NWA. These areas provide important wetland habitat for migrating waterfowl. The NWA is also important for other wetland-dependent wildlife, fish, and plant species. This is especially the case for species considered rare, threatened, or endangered.

Under the Canada Wildlife Act, NWAs are protected and managed in accordance with the Wildlife Area Regulations. The primary purpose of NWAs is to protect and conserve wildlife and wildlife habitat. For this purpose and according to the legislation, all activities in a NWA that could interfere with the conservation of wildlife can be prohibited. Consequently, most NWAs are not accessible to the public and all activities in these NWAs are prohibited. However, some activities may be authorized through Schedule I.1 of the Wildlife Area Regulations or the issuance of permits as long as they are consistent with the management plan goals for the NWA. For more information, consult the NWA Management and Activities section.

Access to the Columbia NWA is not restricted and activities may be permitted in accordance with the conservation objectives of the NWA management plan. Any authorized activities are listed in Schedule I.1 of the Wildlife Area Regulations; signage is also posted at access points. Additionally, certain types of activities may require federal or provincial permits. Some seasonal activities such as hiking and wildlife viewing will be permitted provided that they do not result in negative impacts to the conservation values of the area.

Authorized activities listed in Schedule I.1 of the Wildlife Area Regulations for Columbia NWA:

  1. wildlife viewing
  2. hiking on designated trails
  3. operating a vehicle, other than a snowmobile or an all-terrain vehicle, on designated roads and trails and in designated parking areas

More information on access and permitting for Columbia NWA can be obtained by contacting the Environment and Climate Change Canada regional office.

Map of the area

Map of Columbia NWA
Map of Columbia NWA
  • Long description

    This map shows the area near Edgewater in southeast British Columbia. It shows the boundaries of the four units of Columbia NWA. The NWA units are on the west side of Highway 95. They are, from north to south, Harrogate Unit, Spillimacheen Unit, Brisco Unit, and Wilmer Unit. The first three units are northwest of Edgewater. Wilmer Unit is south of Radium Hot Springs. The scale on the map is in kilometers. Permanent water, intermittent waters, roads and highways are all indicated on the map. A small inset national map shows the NWA’s location in Canada.

This map is for illustrative purposes only. Do not use it to define legal boundaries.

Summary table

Summary table of Columbia NWA
Category Information
Protected Area designation National Wildlife Area (NWA)
Province/territory British Columbia
Latitude, longitude 50°49'N, 116°16' W
Size 1,002 ha
Reasonfor creation of protected area It was created to preserve and manage key areas for waterfowl.
Date created (Gazetted) 1978 - Legal description
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category Ia - Strict NatureReserve
Additional designations
Keystone or flagship species
Listed Species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA)
Main habitat type Wetlands
Invasive species
  • leafy spurge
  • knapweed
  • Canada thistle
  • purple loosestrife
  • burdock
  • common tansy
  • hoary cress
  • alyssum
  • wild caraway
  • hounds tongue
  • absinth wormwood
  • toadflax spp
  • hawkweed spp
Main threats and challenges Recreational activities, illegal dumping
Management agency Environment and Climate Change Canada (Canadian Wildlife Service)
Public access and usage

Authorized activities listed in Schedule I.1 of the Wildlife Area Regulations for Columbia NWA:

  1. wildlife viewing
  2. hiking on designated trails
  3. operating a vehicle, other than a snowmobile or an all-terrain vehicle, on designated roads and trails and in designated parking areas

Note: If there is a discrepancy between the information presented on this web page, any notice posted at the NWA site and the law, the law prevails.

Contact us

Environment and Climate Change Canada - Pacific region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Protected Areas Program
5421 Robertson Road
Delta BC
V4K 3N2

Toll-free: 1-800-668-6767 (in Canada only)

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