Stop and
smell the sage

Come visit is a truly magnificent and nationally significant project in the South Okanagan Similkameen

B arb Pryce, the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC’s) program director for BC’s southern interior, likes to visit the Sage and Sparrow property in all seasons to witness its ever-changing, beautiful canvas.

“The vibrant colours that wash across the rolling hills change with the seasons,” says Barb. “There’s a pale green from the grass across the landscape in the spring that transforms into a bright yellow as the balsamroot blooms as summer approaches.”

In summer, visitors can enjoy a multi-sensory experience, as the strong scent of sage wafts through the air in one of the four most endangered ecosystems in Canada.

A picturesque landscape

The vibrant purple lupines and red scarlet gilia provide pops of colour, and the aspen groves and Saskatoon bushes turn from green to yellow to orange as fall arrives. Then a thick blanket of white snow covers the area.

“When spring comes again, the iconic sound of meadowlarks can be heard calling their excitement to be home again,” describes Barb. “It’s a sign that life is coming back to the lands after the quiet of winter.”

The meadowlark’s low and bell-like call is one of many that visitors may hear while exploring Sage and Sparrow. Just 16 kilometres from Osoyoos, BC, and sitting right on the Canada–U.S. border, the area teems with wildlife. More than 50 federally and provincially designated species at risk can be found here.

“Thousands of sandhill cranes can be heard long before they are seen, as they pass over Sage and Sparrow on their annual migration to and from Alaska,” she says. “The land is buzzing with energy, with a myriad of plants and animals all going about their business.”

Today, the rolling hills look almost untouched by human presence. But back in the early 20th century, the deep valleys that run north-south in this area served as a conduit for bootleggers running alcohol during Prohibition.

“Around the turn of the century, there were several homesteads on the conservation area, and people tried to make a life for themselves here,” Barb explains. “There was even a small schoolhouse. It was a hard place to make a living though, and so people left.”

 

Species to Spot

– black bear
– burrowing owl
– Grand Coulee owl-clover
– grasshopper sparrow
– half-moon hairstreak
– mule deer
– pallid bat
– ruffed grouse
– spotted bat
– vesper sparrow
– western rattlesnake

There is one remaining homestead building on the property. It belonged to Christopher Dunham (Kit) Carr, who moved to this area from England in 1902 to join the burgeoning cattle industry.

Inspired by the view

One of Barb’s favourite spots on the property, and one of its most visited sites, is the massive, rocky cliff on the Sparrow Grasslands portion of the conservation area.

“From this site you can begin to get a sense of how big Sage and Sparrow is,” she says. “You can look east across the south block to the forested ridges of Sagebrush Slopes, while the view to the south into the United States reveals the Similkameen River as it flows towards the Columbia River.”

This awe-inspiring view is only one of many to be experienced at Sage and Sparrow. The beauty of this property is just one reason why Barb admires it so much, and feels such a close connection to the land and the species it sustains.

“When I go to Sage and Sparrow now, it feels like going home,” reflects Barb. “It isn’t just another property to me; it’s a living, breathing and vibrant piece of our planet. It feels almost like one of my children. I have a fierce sense of protectiveness over it. I’m incredibly proud and privileged to be a part of securing and conserving it, for now and for the long term.”

 

Photo Credits (Top to bottom): NCC; NCC; Allison Haskell; Dianne Bersea.

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