Celebrating ten years of stewardship!
Updated: Nov 17
This year Okanagan Similkameen Stewardship (OSS) is proud to celebrate its 10th anniversary. Through partnerships with families, businesses, and communities, OSS helps private landowners understand the dynamics of natural habitats and supports them in restoring natural spaces on their properties. In its decade long history, OSS has completed projects in locations from Enderby to Osoyoos and Princeton to Cherryville.
“One of the most important things we can do as an organization is to show people how to take care of nature, so it will take care of us,” says Alyson Skinner, OSS Executive Director. “The natural infrastructure gained from natural spaces like wetlands or riparian forests is invaluable. Nature inherently helps us control flooding, filter water, pollinate our food, store carbon, and clean the air, all sorts of things that benefit us.”
Over the past ten years, OSS has undertaken an array of initiatives including outreach and neighbourhood initiatives, one-on-one contact with landowners, community and government partnerships and collaborations, and has made significant contributions to wildlife habitat restoration and enhancement throughout the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys.
Notably, OSS has planted 29,290 native trees and shrubs, and removed nearly 14,000 kilograms of invasive plants and garbage from sensitive ecosystems over the past decade. In addition to restoration, OSS has created 25 youth internship positions- training and employing our region's future environmental biologists.
“Helping residents manage their properties is incredibly important because one-third of the Okanagan Similkameen valley bottoms, vital habitat for wildlife, are privately owned and managed,” continues Skinner. “Taking care of our natural infrastructure is a shared responsibility. Nature knows no boundaries. We need to support one another if we want to ensure connectivity of our natural areas.”
One of the cornerstones of OSS’s activities is its Wildlife Habitat Steward program. Wildlife Habitat Stewards (WHSs) are local residents who sign an agreement with OSS to become caretakers of vital habitats on their properties. In the last decade, OSS has built a committed network of 133 Wildlife Habitat Stewards across the region, working in partnership with them to steward nearly 10,000 acres of natural areas.
One of the most recent comprehensive projects OSS has done is with private landowners with properties along Eneas Creek in Summerland’s Garnet Valley. The initiative started in 2016 when Okanagan Crush Pad Winery owners Steve Lornie and Christine Coletta set aside a hayfield where OSS has since planted 2000+ native trees and shrubs. OSS rallied volunteers and assistance from Giant’s Head Elementary school to transform a fallow hayfield on the property, to a budding riparian forest along Eneas Creek. Later, Garnet Valley Ranch owners Keith and Marnie Manders joined the project, restoring the creek's natural state (see above) by fencing cattle and creating a riparian buffer with OSS's help.
Thomas and Celina Tumbach of Garnett Hollow Farm (left) also joined, preserving their riparian area along the creek. Most recently OSS led a community initiative to control invasive Yellow Flag Iris in the creek, preventing its spread and mitigating flood risks.
“This type of collaboration among several landowners in a community is a true success story,” Skinner exclaims. “We went from two WHSs in the Garnet Valley to a dedicated collective of twelve in the past few years alone. This sort of concentrated effort makes such a difference.”
“People ask, ‘What can I do?’,” continues Skinner. “There are all sorts of possibilities and opportunities for private landowners to join together to make a difference. The impact can be staggering when a community of people come together.”
Anyone in the Okanagan and Similkameen region who are interested in exploring how they can get involved in stewardship on their properties, in their backyards, and in their communities can contact OSS at email@example.com or 250-770-1467 or visit our website at www.osstewardship.ca/get-involved.