Columbia National Wildlife Area


The Columbia National Wildlife Area (NWA) is situated in the southern part of the spectacular Rocky Mountain Trench. The trench stretches almost uninterrupted from the border with Montana in the south to the Liard Plain in the north, and separates the younger Rocky Mountains to the east from the older Purcell and Selkirk Mountains to the west. From its outlet on Columbia Lake to Donald Station 180 kilometres (km) to the north, the Columbia River flows slowly, gradually dropping only a few meters over this distance. It is the only free-flowing stretch of the Columbia River and its slow meanders form extensive wetlands over 27,430 hectares (ha) of the valley bottom. The Columbia Wetlands are internationally recognized for their diversity and variety of wildlife and as important resting and breeding habitats for waterfowl and migratory birds of the Pacific flyway.

Columbia National Wildlife Area. Photo: Blair Hammond

Currently, the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) manages four units in the Columbia NWA, namely: Wilmer, Spillimacheen, Brisco, and Harrogate. The NWA is maintained as wetland habitat for the primary benefit of migrating waterfowl with secondary benefits for other wetland-dependent wildlife, fish, and plant species, especially those species considered rare, threatened, or endangered. The basic management strategy permits, as appropriate, active intervention to achieve desired wildlife management objectives and obtain optimum habitat diversity for the benefit of wetland-dependent wildlife, fish, and plant species.

In the late 1960s CWS became interested in acquiring properties in the Columbia Valley, that were not otherwise protected and which had high waterfowl values. The first priority was for goose production areas near Wilmer. Negotiations to acquire those properties began in 1970, and by 1976 approximately 405 ha of land had been purchased. In 1978 those lands became the Wilmer NWA. In 1977, The Nature Trust of British Columbia began to acquire properties in the Columbia Valley, based on recommendations from CWS. By 1984 the Nature Trust had purchased approximately 529 ha at Spillimacheen, Brisco, and Harrogate. Those properties are currently leased to CWS, and together with the Wilmer property form the Columbia NWA.

More information on Columbia NWA is provided in the summary table below.


NWAs are protected and managed according to the Wildlife Area Regulations under the Canada Wildlife Act. The primary purpose of NWAs is the protection and conservation of wildlife and their habitat. For this purpose, and according to the legislation, Environment and Climate Change Canada can prohibit all activities in a NWA that could interfere with the conservation of wildlife. Consequently, most NWAs are not accessible to the public and all activities are prohibited. Nonetheless, Environment and Climate Change Canada has the ability to authorize some activities, whether through public notice or the issuance of permits, as long as these are consistent with the management plan goals for the NWA. For more information, consult the NWAs 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. Public notices listing the authorized activities in the wildlife area are posted at access points. For certain type of activity, additional federal or provincial permits may be required. Some seasonal activities such as hiking, canoeing, and wildlife viewing will be permitted provided that they do not result in negative impacts to the conservation values of the area.

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
  • Long description

    Map showing the area near Edgewater in the southeast of British Columbia. The boundaries of the four units of the Columbia NWA are shown. The protected area units are located on the west side of Highway 95 and are, from north to south, Harrogate Unit, Spillimacheen Unit, Brisco Unit and Wilmer Unit. The first three units are located to the north of Edgewater and Radium Hot Springs with the Wilmer Unit being located to the south. The scale on the map is in km. Permanent water, intermittant waters, roads and highways are all indicated on the map. A small inset national map situates the NWA in Canada.

This map is for illustrative purposes only and should not be used to define legal boundaries.

Summary table

Protected Area designation NWA
Province/territory British Columbia
Latitude/longitude 50°49' North / 116°16' West
Size 1,007 ha
Reason for creation of Protected Area To preserve and manage some key areas for waterfowl
Date created (Gazetted) 1978-84 - Legal description
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category Ia - Strict Nature Reserve
Additional designations
Keystone or flagship species
Listed Species under the Species at Risk Act
Main habitat type Wetlands
Invasive species Canada Thistle - occasional in map unit 3
Main threats and challenges None recorded
Management Agency Environment and Climate Change Canada (Canadian Wildlife Service)
Public access and usage Some seasonally accepted activities such as hiking, canoeing, and wildlife viewing

Note: If there is a discrepancy between the information presented on this web page and any notice posted at the NWA site, the notice prevails as it is the legal instrument authorizing the activity.

Contact us

Environment and Climate Change Canada - Pacific and Yukon Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Protected Areas and Stewardship Unit
5421 Robertson Road
Delta, British Columbia
V4K 3N2

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

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