Columbia Valley Local Conservation Fund wins award

The fund received one the 2017 peer-nominated Species and Ecosystems at Risk (SEAR) Local Government Working Group awards

The Columbia Valley Local Conservation Fund, a program run under the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK), recently won a prominent award.

The fund received one the 2017 peer-nominated Species and Ecosystems at Risk (SEAR) Local Government Working Group awards, which are given out by the group to local governments that demonstrate exemplary work on a species and ecosystems at risk.

The RDEK (or more specifically, the five RDEK directors from the Columbia Valley) were one of six local governments to winthe honour this year, with the winner announced during the SEAR Local Government Working Group Symposium held recently in Victoria.

“The award acknowledges the RDEK Columbia Valley directors and our collective will to continue funding local conservation projects in the Columbia Valley. We understand the need and have seen the efficacy of the projects,” RDEK Area G directorGerry Wilkie told The Echo. “In the past nine years, the fund has generated $1.65 million and leveraged a further $16million in partner funding toward conservation land securement, and supported over 60 projects focused on habitat restoration, water quality monitoring, species at risk recovery, local climate change education, and incentives for ecosytem protection on agricultural land.”

The fund is almost a decade old, having come into existence in 2008. A referendum question was added to municipal election ballots that year, asking Columbia Valley residents if they supported such a fund, and voters gave it their approval.The money in the fund comes from a $20-a-year parcel tax, which is used for conservation projects or land acquisition for conservation purposes. The fund was originally given a nine-year lifespan, but in 2016, the Columbia Valley RDEK directors voted to remove that expiry clause and keep the fund going indefinitely.

In total, the fund raises about $220,000 a year, and that money has been used toward dozens of projects, including many familiar to valley residents such as the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s purchase of Lot 48, multi-year funding for water quality monitoring on Lake Windermere by the Lake Windermere Ambassadors, reintroduction of the northern leopard frog in the Columbia Valley wetlands, the conservation covenant on Shaugnessy Ranch Land, and restoration work on AbelCreek.

“It’s a small player the money the fund puts into a given project is normally just a fraction of the total price, but it often starts the ball rolling because it shows local buy-in, allows the project to proceed, and allows other groups to then leverage much larger amounts of funding for the project,” said Taft. “There is a cap on administrative costs and it must be used foron-the-ground projects. It can’t be used for studies.”

All proposals seeking money through the fund are evaluated by a technical scientific review committee, ranked based ontheir merit and then the final decision on what gets funding is made by the Columbia Valley RDEK directors.

“So it’s a mix of scientific expertise, but with oversight from elected officials,” said Taft. “When the fund was set up, it wasunique and it has since been modelled in other parts of the province. It’s leading for B.C.”

The SEAR award is not the first time the fund has been recognized, as it was a top three finalist for a B.C. Real EstateFoundation Award in 2013, although it did not ultimately win.