AGRICULTURE AND STEWARDSHIP:
FARMING WITH WILDLIFE
Farming is an important land use and major contributor to the economy in the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys. Farmers have long been stewards of important wildlife habitat, and have a critical role in conservation and stewardship.
Okanagan Similkameen Stewardship provides assistance and support to landowners, including farmers, who contribute to wildlife habitat stewardship, conservation and restoration while maintaining agricultural production on their properties.
If you would like more information about our initiatives on farms or information on other existing agricultural programs in the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys that may be useful on your working property, please contact us.
Clean water : plants in natural areas help filter sediments and pollutants out of water
Soil retention & erosion control: trees and shrubs provide a natural protection against wind and dust. These buffers play a valuable role in erosion control and soil retention as the plants' roots hold soil in place.
Bank stability : Plant roots help slow water and anchor soil in stream banks, slowing and even preventing erosion.
Flood control : Wetlands act as sponges, slowing flood water and giving that water a chance to enter groundwater.
Homes for pollinators and beneficial insects : retaining natural areas on your farm will help ensure pollinators, beneficial insects and wildlife have a home.
Frost Protection: wetlands provide frost protection, which can protect tree fruits in early spring. Water in wetlands helps regulate temperature around them- reducing fruit loss in "frost pockets"
Keep strips of native trees and shrubs
Establish a buffer with native plants. A buffer zone is a permanent strip of plants between sensitive habitats and pasture/cropland. They provide places to find food and shelter for wildlife, including endangered species and pollinators. Strips along water bodies are recommended to be 30 m wide by provincial Riparian Areas Regulation. Check out our guide: "Caring for Your Shoreline" for ideas!
Use local, native plants
Consider planting clumps of native flowering plants and adding water sources to enhance habitat for pollinators. Many local native plants, like yarrow, are suitable for planting between rows and in buffers. Check out our guide: "Attracting Native Pollinators" for ideas.
WHAT DO NATURAL AREAS DO FOR YOU?
HOW TO ENCOURAGE BENEFICIAL WILDLIFE
Benefits of Wildlife on Farms
Wildlife provides many benefits to agricultural properties including pollination, composting of organics to provide nutrients for crops, filtration of water and pest management. Further, keeping strips of native plants along creeks and rivers can help with flood and erosion control.
Enhancing and conserving natural biodiversity can often increase productivity of farms by encouraging pollinators and beneficial predatory insects. Agricultural properties, in turn, can provide valuable habitat for the region's wildlife while taking advantage of the benefits that stewardship of wild areas provides.
Natural areas can also reduce the need for pesticides because native plants attract beneficial insects and other wildlife that eat agricultural pests and also help with pollination.
Native plants attract native pollinators, which are considered more efficient pollinators than regular honeybees (Farming for Bees, Xerces Society 2015). Effective pollination is essential for many local crops and is vital to producing one-third of all the food we eat.
Native bees are estimated to contribute 1.2 billion dollars per year to the value of Canadian crop yields. In addition, many pollinators, such as hover flies, wasps, and lacewings, are also
voracious predators of unwanted insects.
Pesticides can be a very effective tool to manage insect pests, but can kill off useful predators as well as pests creating ever increasing needs for pesticides.
Install nest boxes
Install nest boxes for insect-eating songbirds like swallows and bluebirds or for birds-of-prey like kestrels, and owls to encourage them near your farm. These birds will help to naturally manage insect and rodent populations. Some plans are available here.
All wildlife, from bighorn sheep to snakes, need to move around the landscape. Leaving habitat corridors on your property can help reduce human conflict and road mortality by allowing wildlife to move safely between larger areas of habitat and/or overwintering dens.
Reduce pesticide use
Pesticides should be reduced or eliminated where possible to support beneficial insects and pollinators. Pesticide drift pollutes water, damages plants, and threatens the health of aquatic insects and amphibians. Be sure to read guidelines on safe usage around water and never apply pesticides or herbicides on windy days or when rain is in the forecast.
WILDLIFE AND PEST CONTROL
Wildlife can be very useful when creating pest control strategies. Because so many wildlife feed on common agricultural pests (eg mice, gophers, or starlings) allowing some wildlife and wildlife habitat to persist on the farm can actually help reduce pest control costs as these beneficial predators naturally reduce pest numbers.
Swallows, bats, and predatory insects will help control insect populations, while snakes, birds of prey (like owls and hawks), and mammals (like badgers and bobcats) all eat significant numbers of rodents each week. Retaining natural areas on the farm will help ensure these helpful predators have nearby habitat to call home.
When a pest like a mouse or rate eats rodenticide (rat poison), it first becomes sick and sluggish before dying a few days later. This makes it more likely to be caught by a predator, and if a predator eats a poisoned rodent it is very likely to become poisoned itself. This is a particular problem in the spring,when many predators like owls and badgers are bringing prey home to their families. In these cases, a single poisoned rat could kill an entire family of 5 owls in one sitting.
In addition to wild predators, rodenticides also pose a huge risk to pet dogs and cats, and even livestock, depending on how and where bait stations are set up. It is important to try and exhaust other non-chemical methods for pest control before resorting to poisons but if they can't be avoided, use first generation poisons (e.g. coumateralyl, warfarin) instead of second-generation poisons (brodifacoum, difethiolone, bromadiolone), as second-generation poisons are substantially more dangerous to wildlife and pets.
Livestock Management Practices
Ranching is one of the lowest impact land uses by agriculture within the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys. Well maintained rangeland or pasture can be very valuable to both farmers and wildlife. Good pasture management doesn't only benefit wildlife. Well maintained, evenly grazed pastures can maximize the availability of forage and growth rate of grasses, increase water permeation, reduce erosion, and reduce the spread of invasive weeds.
If you find that your pasture isn’t being evenly grazed, some ways to better spread out herds of livestock include.
· Fencing pasture into smaller sections and using rotational grazing
· Adding water sources in under-utilized sections of pasture
· Adding mineral licks in under-utilized sections of pasture
During rotational grazing, or when determining timing for allowing livestock on range in the spring, the best measure of pasture readiness is stubble height. Different grasses and forbs have different stubble heights that are required to keep them healthy and growing and different leaf stages that indicate when they are ready for grazing in the spring. Check out this Range Management resource more information.
Get to know your wild neighbours and learn when they will be on your farm. Check fields for nesting birds and consider delaying tilling/mowing if possible. Flushing bars can also be useful. These are bars mounted onto a tractor that have pieces of chain dangling several metres in front of the sharp haying implements. When haying, the chains flush wildlife before the blades arrive.
When mowing or tilling, consider changing from an outside-in cutting pattern, as this can trap fleeing wildlife in the uncut middle area until it is too late. Mowing from the inside-out, or from one side to the other, gradually shoos wildlife out in one direction haying progresses.
Good fences make good neighbours
Fencing livestock out of creeks and wetlands can dramatically improve water quality and habitat available for native species. (see centre spread for info on retaining livestock access using nose-ins)
Using round wire for the top and bottom wires of fences makes it easier for wildlife to get past.
Double fencing sheep pastures is one way to minimize potential disease transfer to wild bighorn sheep. If you have domestic sheep check with the Wild Sheep Society of BC for more tips on keeping wild sheep safe.
Chickens aren't just tasty for people. Many wild animals including owls, coyotes and raccoons would also like a chicken dinner. Be sure coops are secure and topped with mesh to reduce conflict.
Consider electric fencing to protect your chickens, bees, etc. from bears and coyotes. Learn more with this video.
JOIN OTHER RANCHERS & FARMERS!
If you are interested in learning more about the wildlife and habitats on your property, contact us to arrange a free site visit. We have partnerships with over 100 landowners in the Okanagan and Similkameen, and can assist with a variety of projects from tailored information or assessments, development of land management plans, restoration projects as well as recognition for landowners who are maintaining natural areas on their ranches and farms.