Program aims at conservation

A monumental effort is under way to protect and enhance the Okanagan’s environment.

About 20 groups agreed Wednesday to work together as part of the Okanagan Collaborative Conservation Program.

“It’s a momentous event,” said Marni Williamson, president of the Allan Brooks Nature Centre, which hosted the official signing ceremony.

“It signifies the melding of the Okanagan Valley to save the environment we’ve got.”

The program will co-ordinate and facilitate conservation efforts, establish conservation goals and create the resources needed to maintain its activities. It covers from Peachland to Enderby.

Among those signing the agreement were the City of Vernon, the District of Coldstream, the North Okanagan Regional District, the Central Okanagan Regional District, the Ministry of Environment, the Sustainable Environment Network Society, the Grasslands Conservation Council and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

“It’s critical for our region to share resources and expertise,” said Jerry Oglow, NORD chairman.

Oglow believes a balance must be found between the environment and social and economic needs.

The first to sign the agreement was Coldstream Coun. Bill Firman, who says his community has not put enough priority on the environment.

“We have a development plan but not a conservation plan. It’s not implemented in the decisions we make,” he said.

The Okanagan Collaborative Conservation Program is based on similar initiatives in the South Okanagan and Kootenays.

“They have shown successes. This model has used those programs as examples,” said Buffy Baumbrough, a Vernon councillor who served as master of ceremony for the event.

The Okanagan has one of the fastest growing populations in the country, but it is also a significant corridor for wildlife.

“It is one of the three most endangered ecosystems in the country and it is a challenge to respond to that,” said Baumbrough.