A group that coordinates conservation efforts on private land is expanding its reach to both sides of the Purcell Mountains.
The East Kootenay Conversation Program — soon to drop the East from its name — has already been working in West Kootenay for the past few years, according to program manager Dave Hillary.
“It’s evolved to the point where people are saying you should just have one conservation program, regardless of whether it’s East or West Kootenay,” he says. “We’ve got more ties that bind than differences.”
The program’s chief goal is increasing private land conservation to protect species and landscapes, but it is not a land trust itself. Rather, it finds willing partners for specific projects.
Hillary says they were involved with the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s purchase of the Darkwoods forest on the south shore of Kootenay Lake in 2008, and the province’s acquisition of the Valhalla Mile on the west side of Slocan Lake in 2009, in partnership with the Land Conservancy of BC and Columbia Basin Trust.
“That was really a request from the Trust to help them understand and prioritize how important that project was in the scheme of everything else,” he says. “We’ve played that role historically and will continue to play it in a more meaningful and formalized way now.”
Hillary adds the Trust is supporting them financially as they prepare to double their service area and potential partners, which presently number more than 50 — including other non-profits, forestry companies, and all levels of government.
The program boasts more than $100 million in conservation investment on over 300,000 hectares of high value land since 2002. It has supported 28 projects over the last two years.
While the name change won’t take effect for a few more months, Hillary says the “philosophical underpinnings” for the expanded organization are already in place.
“The reality is we’re changing the name and geographic scale of the operation, but the demands have always been in both East and West Kootenay.”
Hillary will be also moving from Invermere to Nelson in July, which is as much a personal decision as a program decision.
This story will appear in the West Kootenay Advertiser on May 31.