Throughout the province, agricultural conversion and urban expansion alone have eliminated over 50 percent of this rare and unique grassland community, and thousands of hectares are being lost to development and encroachment every year. Without appropriate information, effective tools, collaborative action and partnerships between government (provincial, regional, local), First Nations, industry and conservation organizations, grasslands will continue to be lost at an alarming and unprecedented rate.
Prioritized objectives from the recently completed Mitigating the Fragmentation and Development of BC’s Grasslands: Problem Analysis and Strategic Plan identified collaborative efforts between government, key stakeholders and the GCC as the next step towards grasslands conservation. As a result, the GCC has begun the Planning for Change Initiative, which builds upon the recently completed provincial grassland GIS data in conjunction with the current Priority Grasslands Initiative to deliver a more comprehensive and targeted extension program to all levels of governments.
The Planning for Change Initiative will provide municipal, regional, provincial and First Nations’ governments with the appropriate tools and information for planning in areas within, or adjacent to, grasslands, including mapping data and conservation strategies from the Priority Grasslands Initiative and tools such as the Green Infrastructure and Sensitive Ecosystems Bylaws Toolkit. Grassland portfolios with site specific descriptions are being developed and include priority grassland maps and documents that fully describe characteristics of each site (e.g. ecological importance and risks of development). Regional strategy documents will be developed that include targets and recommendations.
The GCC firmly believes that the use of these tools will mitigate the loss of priority grasslands within and adjacent to grassland communities; as growth and development seem inevitable, the GCC will ensure that decision makers have as much information as possible when planning within and around grassland communities. The GCC also recognizes that it is important to develop important relationships and feedback loops between the staff, politicians and the GCC to continually affect change. This will be accomplished through workshops held regionally in grassland areas and relationship building between government and the GCC.
The Planning for Change Initiative began in 2006. Over the course of its three year program the initiative will:
- establish an extension plan with planners and decision-makers in the central and south Okanagan, the Cariboo and the East Kootenay to distribute and build upon the information collected during the BC Grasslands Mapping Project and the Priority Grasslands Initiative
- plan and coordinate a series of workshops and meeting for the general public to disseminate information about priority grasslands, regional issues, conservation targets and other recommendations
- extend and present the same information to key stakeholders including municipal, regional and provincial government representatives
- work with the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) to define grasslands conservation issues on a provincial scale to help mitigate fragmentation and development of these areas
In 2007, the first three workshops were successfully held in Vernon, for the city and its surrounding districts, in Kamloops and in Penticton. In 2008, two more workshops were held in Williams Lake, for the Cariboo Chilcotin, and in the East Kootenays. These workshops were facilitated by HB Lanarc (formerly Holland Barrs Planning Group), with content provided by Deborah Curran in conjunction with the GCC. More workshops are planned in and around grassland communities throughout BC in the future.
Okanagan Collaborative Conservation Program
An additional component of the Planning for Change Initiative is involvement with several other partners in the Okanagan Collaborative Conservation Program (OCCP). Modeled after both the South Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Program and the East Kootenay Conservation Programs, the OCCP aims to provide the north and central Okanagan with a venue for collaboration and information sharing between conservation groups, government, industry and concerned individuals who all have a stake in how the Okanagan valley is changing. The OCCP has recently completed its prospectus and is in the process of signing on partners. The GCC is a founding partner and will continue to maintain a role in the facilitation of the OCCP. For more information on the initiative, please visit: www.okcp.ca