The South Okanagan plays a vital role in the survival of migratory birds. Every year thousands of waterfowl and songbirds pass through its rolling hills and meadows on their migratory journey. However, a region that was once dotted with an abundance of wetlands has seen a steady decline over the years. Intense pressure from urban expansion and agriculture are the main culprits. It’s estimated that 85 per cent of the wetlands in the South Okanagan have been drained or filled.
That pressure alone is concerning enough for species that rely on the area. But another threat looms over the region. The introduction of a relatively small ornamental tree by gardening enthusiasts has inadvertently affected the health of several regions in B.C.
Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) is running rampant in the Southern Interior, the Okanagan, and Lower Mainland. DUC is on the hunt to help eradicate the invasive plant before it destroys more viable habitat critical to wildlife in the regions.
What’s at stake
Sarah Nathan, DUC’s manager of provincial operations for B.C., says it’s vital to fight invasive plants before the problem becomes widespread and unmanageable.
“Since habitat is already constrained by development in this region, preventing Russian olive from encroaching on the remaining natural meadows and riparian areas, which are so important for songbird and waterfowl nesting, becomes even more critical,” says Nathan.
The Quintal floodplain is situated between Oliver and Osoyoos. It’s part of a patchwork of conservation properties containing some of the last remnant valley-bottom wetlands in the South Okanagan Valley. The tree is encroaching on meadow habitat, becoming a problem for ground-nesting birds like the bobolink.
Its appearance and resilience make it seem like it would be a perfect fit for the Okanagan. The tree dazzles with its unique silver leaves and equally eye-catching silver berries. It’s also capable of withstanding droughts, floods, extended periods of shade, and scorching Okanagan sun.
But the Russian olive, like many invasive plants, quickly choke out native plants and trees crucial to the wildlife in the region. The berries of the tree man it an attractive feeding stop for birds and mammals. The seedy diet of these animals contributes to its spread as they make their way through the South Okanagan.
The power of partnerships
Nathan says DUC in B.C. is not alone in this effort. The Nature Conservancy of Canada, and Nature Trust of BC, who own adjacent conservation land, are also working to control the Russian olive. Those lands include the Osoyoos Oxbows Important Bird Area – one of Canada’s premier birding sites.
“The public can do their part. Any sightings should be reported to the Invasive Species Council of BC,” says Nathan. “Thankfully, the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation is also playing a key role. HCTF has provided Land Stewardship Funds that have been instrumental in reducing Russian olive cover on Quintal.”
For environmentally safe gardening tips and how to choose non-invasive alternatives, visit PlantWise.