Vaseux–Bighorn National Wildlife Area Management Plan

Vaseux-Bighorn National Wildlife Area Management Plan
Cover page photos: Vaseux-Bighorn National Wildlife Area Management Plan
© Environnement Canada et N.K. Dawe


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Manning Cooper and Associates, Mike Sarell, Anthea Bryan, Kelly Chapman, Allison Haney, Sue Robertson and Leanna Warman drafted earlier versions of this management plan. Special thanks to Mike Sarell and Jason Emery for their expert input into the plan.

Copies of this plan are available from Environment Canada’s Canadian Wildlife Service, Pacific and Yukon Region.

Environment Canada Protected Areas

Environment Canada Protected Area

ISBN: 978-1-100-17972-8
Cat. No.: CW66-292/2011E-PDF

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© Environment Canada and N.K. Dawe

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About Environment Canada Protected Areas and Management Plans

What are Environment Canada Protected Areas?

Environment Canada establishes National Wildlife Areas (NWAs) and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries (MBSs) for the purposes of conservation, research and interpretation. These areas are established to protect migratory birds, species at risk, and other wildlife and their habitat. NWAs are established under the authority of the Canada Wildlife Act and are, first and foremost, places for wildlife.

What is the size of the Environment Canada Protected Areas Network?

The current Protected Areas Network consists of 54 NWAs and 92 MBSs comprising almost twelve million hectares across Canada.

What is a Management Plan?

Management plans provide the framework within which management decisions are made. They are intended for use by Environment Canada staff to guide decision making, especially with respect to permitting. Management is undertaken in order to maintain the ecological integrity of the protected area and the attributes for which the protected area was designated. The Canadian Wildlife Service prepares a management plan for each protected area in consultation with the public and other stakeholders.

The management plan specifies activities that are allowed and identifies other activities that may be undertaken under the authority of a permit. Management plans may also specify how and where to make habitat improvements. As well, they must respect Aboriginal rights and allowable practices specified under land claims agreements. Furthermore, measures carried out for the conservation of wildlife must not be inconsistent with any law respecting wildlife in the province in which the lands are situated.

What is Protected Areas Management?

Management includes monitoring of wildlife, maintaining and improving wildlife habitat, periodic inspections of facilities, enforcement of regulations, and the maintenance of signs and other infrastructure. Research is also an important function of protected areas; Environment Canada staff carry out or coordinate research at some sites.

Each protected area is managed in accordance with the specific characteristics of the site and local area, but the same overall management strategy is applied in each protected area, i.e., protect and maintain habitat vital for wildlife and improve habitat when necessary for wildlife use.

Reviews of Management Plans

All NWAs administered by Environment Canada have a management plan. These plans are reviewed 5 years after approval of the first plan, and every 10 years thereafter.

Further Information

To learn more about Environment Canada’s protected areas, please visit our website at Protected Areas or contact the Canadian Wildlife Service.

Vaseux-Bighorn National Wildlife Area

The spectacular Vaseux-Bighorn National Wildlife Area (NWA) in British Columbia is home to 30 species listed as at risk in Canada. This NWA’s native grasslands support some exceptional and enigmatic species, and it is located within one of Canada’s most biologically diverse regions. The habitats are unique because the valley is the northern extension of the Great Basin Desert, the only true desert in Canada.

Vaseux-Bighorn NWA surrounds Vaseux Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS), a federal migratory bird sanctuary established in 1923. The NWA is part of a network of federal, provincial and private protected areas in the Okanagan Valley of B.C. that together help to protect a substantial amount of nationally important wildlife habitat.

This NWA was established in 1979 to protect prime winter range for a remnant herd of California Bighorn Sheep that was on the verge of disappearing from the valley. Since that time, sheep populations have rebounded as a result of conservation efforts. Concurrently, as a result of continental changes to populations and habitat, many of the other species found in Vaseux-Bighorn NWA have since been assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) as species at risk, and subsequently have been listed under the federal Species at Risk Act.

The South Okanagan and Similkameen River valleys are part of a contiguous grassland ecosystem that extends northward from the Great Basin Desert of the western United States. The low-elevation valley bottoms form an important migration corridor that extends up into the northern interior Chilcotin Plateau grasslands and beyond. The NWA is important habitat for local wildlife and is part of a continuous habitat corridor for migratory species.

The NWA includes habitats that extend from wetlands and riparian thickets around Vaseux Lake, rising up to arid terraces dominated by Antelope Brush, and finally to rugged cliffs and hillsides dominated by exposed rock, talus slopes and Ponderosa Pine. Old Ponderosa Pine and Douglas Fir parklands in the area create habitat for cavity-nesting birds, including Lewis’s and White-headed Woodpeckers. Grasslands dominated by Antelope Brush, Sagebrush and Bluebunch Wheatgrass provide suitable habitat for species such as Behr’s Hairstreak and several bird species including the Long-billed Curlew. Extensive wetlands surrounding the Okanagan River’s channel and dyke system at the north end of Vaseux Lake provide excellent migratory bird habitat.

The soils and climate of the Okanagan are conducive to agricultural production in the landscape surrounding the NWA. Habitat loss to agriculture, residential development and recreation are the main landscape-level threats to the integrity of the surrounding ecosystem. This makes the protection, management and connectivity of the remaining habitat in the valley, including within the NWA, critically iv important. Habitat change resulting from the invasion of exotic and alien plant species is the main sitespecific threat to habitat and species within the NWA.

Environment Canada’s Canadian Wildlife Service is continually working to conserve the important and special elements of Vaseux-Bighorn NWA by actively managing habitat for species at risk and other wildlife. To protect the NWA, all activities within the NWA are restricted unless otherwise posted or permitted.

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