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Species at risk with development of naramata bench

Updated: Aug 2, 2023

Canadian Horizons` Neighborhood Concept Plan (NCP) is a document that has been repealed by the adoption of the 2019 Penticton Official Community Plan (OCP). The NCP is, however, still being promoted as the guiding document for Canadian Horizons` (CH) application for re-zoning 1050 Spiller Road; “The 121-acre site is proposed to accommodate approximately 324 single and multi-residential housing units, and will be complemented by a neighborhood park, community park, and a look-out park which will all be connected by a trail system” (Canadian Horizons NCP).

Missing from the developer's NCP is the value of the land as nesting habitat for already threatened indigenous species of songbirds. At present there are 15 red-listed birds (near extinction) and 15 blue-listed (endangered) birds in the South Okanagan in this area.

Contained in the NCP is the mention of an environmental assessment conducted by Makonis Consulting. What is not mentioned in the NCP, however, is information about the Greyback elk herd and the value of the proposed development land as both a vital winter grazing area and possible late winter calving ground for elk. A quick look at the CH proposed development in the site-map above indicates the likely desecration of the natural habitat on the 121-acre property. Compare this with the OCP proposal for hillside development:

“Planning for hillside environments should consider opportunities to integrate development into existing landscape functions whereby:

  • Environmentally sensitive Areas (ESAs) are avoided,

  • Natural areas further buffer and connect landscape features, provide recreational amenity (trail corridors) and compliment active parks; and

  • Landscape retention reduces visual impacts within development areas” (HS5 Penticton 2019 OCP).

John Grods, in his environmental assessment of the Spiller Block states, “Large dogs were noted to the north and east in the residences. More likely why we were seeing the ungulate sign, further to the central and south-west portion of the subject property”

(John Grods 1050 Spiller Road Environmental Assessment). Elk are naturally timid animals and especially shy away from wolves, and dogs. Putting 324 homes in the area will ensure more dogs and no amount of corridor will afford the elk the comfort of accessing their winter-feeding ground.

To approve the rezoning application and to allow the subdivision to proceed will certainly if not cause, at least hasten, the extinction of the Greyback elk herd.

Also missing from the CH NCP is the value of the land as nesting habitat for already threatened indigenous species of songbirds. At present there are 15 red-listed birds (near extinction) and 15 blue-listed (endangered) birds in the South Okanagan. In a year 2000 report entitled A National Treasure at Risk, Richard Cannings states, “The South Okanagan Valley is one of the 4 most endangered ecosystems in Canada.” In her report on species at risk in the Okanagan, Melody Hessing says, “The Okanagan is not only noted for the diversity and uniqueness of its plant and animal species, it is also the region with the most endangered, threatened and rare species in the province.”

In report after report, we are warned that human encroachment is responsible for the demise of species everywhere, and that in the Okanagan, because of the population density in the valley bottoms and encroachment into the bench-lands and slopes, we are witnessing the endangerment of many species. Continued development will greatly accelerate the local extinction of amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals, some of which are unique to this area. Any development on the scale proposed by CH on the hillsides above the Naramata bench conflicts with conventional wisdom and will destroy more of the natural habitat of already threatened species. To approve this planned sub-division or any change in zoning to allow for greater density on the Spiller Block would entail disregard for the natural habitat and the wildlife that nests, grazes or hunts in that habitat.

Below, we have included a list of several reptile, bird and mammal species considered at risk, or already extirpated from the Southern Okanagan, and below are two of many environmental concerns and recommendations from Penticton’s OCP:

“Any development plan should avoid destruction of Critical Habitat for Endangered and Threatened Species under the Federal Species at Risk Act, unless Federal permits are issued to allow this.” (E12)

“Any development plan should avoid Provincial Red Listed (near extinction) ecosystems and species and to minimize impacts on Provincial Blue Listed (endangered) ecosystems and species” (E13)

In addition to species at risk there is a concern for land management. Our own OCP states that: “We should retain the greatest possible hillside area in its natural condition. In addition to protecting environmentally sensitive and riparian areas, developers should retain a target of 30% of the natural landscape in its existing condition and grade and/or achieve a similar outcome through a restoration plan that mimics the natural slope and prioritizes ecologically appropriate revegetation.” (HS6)

We should not consider trading the aesthetically appealing and critical wildlife habitat for sprawling suburbia. People come here for both the natural beauty and the agri-tourism. Hillsides covered in dense subdivisions and crowded roads may not bring people a second time. The long-term investment in conservation far outweighs the short-sighted unrestrained development of the surrounding topography.

The entire North East Sector lies within an Environmental Development Permit Area and entails compliance with not only local, but also provincial and federal policy and legislation. Has CH sought documented compliance with provincial and federal policy and legislation? Who will be on the hook when legal representation from the Migratory Birds Convention Act, Species at Risk Act and Wildlife Act come seeking retribution for the extinction of wildlife species or detrimental loss of habitat?

The objectives outlined in the OCP are clearly outlined below. The CH NCP proposal conflicts with many of the objectives of the OCP, including:

  • Protection of ecosystem services, biological diversity, wildlife and important wildlife habitats, features and functions throughout the Environmental Development Area;

  • Minimizing disturbance to Environmental Development permit Areas and to ensuring that development within these areas proceeds according to specific guidelines;

  • Maintaining ecosystems connectivity within corridor areas and ensuring that development within those areas proceeds according to specific guidelines; and

  • Planning land development and new subdivisions carefully in a manner that identifies and protects sensitive ecosystems and species, consistent with applicable guidelines. What CH has to say about sensitive ecosystems is contained in the quote from page 7 of the CH NCP below.

“Sensitive Ecosystems and Species at Risk. Within the broader North East Sector area, sensitive ecosystem elements include grasslands, mature and old growth forests, and riparian areas. The Sector Plan also identifies a number of potential species at risk, including White-headed Woodpeckers, Western Screech Owls, Gopher Snakes, and Western Rattlesnakes. As identified in the Sector Plan, ecologically sensitive planning and development will provide a number of benefits, including the preservation of ecological integrity, better quality of life, payback from increased property values, and potential savings in infrastructure costs”. In reality, no residential development will preserve ecological integrity. Ecological integrity is destroyed by virtue of residential development. The CH proposed development has little proven concern for neither wildlife nor habitat, and should be opposed at all levels. The only benefits of the CH proposal would be accrued by people - quality of life, increased property values, savings in infrastructure costs (each of which is debatable), but most importantly the profits made by the developer.

Given the abundance of wildlife, the sensitivity of the habitat and the species at risk it is clearly evident that a planned subdivision on the Spiller block promises to be the tipping point for many of those species on the list. And, yet, here we are, proposing a subdivision in one of the most vital habitats for a wide range of at-risk species. We need to consider the impact of our actions on the wildlife around us; we must stop listening to development proposals and listen to experts in wildlife management and take action to preserve, rather than to destroy natural habitats. As concerned citizens and as an elected council, we can do the right thing; we must be smart about how and where we develop. The proposed Spiller Block development is not only lacking in consideration, it is destructive, both aesthetically and environmentally. It entails legal ramifications that have not been fully explored, and it may adversely affect Penticton as a destination for environmental and agri-tourism.

Species at Risk List:

Red List

  • Brewer's Sparrow

  • Burrowing Owl

  • Ferruginous Hawk

  • Grasshopper Sparrow

  • Prairie Falcon

  • Sage Thrasher

  • Lark Sparrow

  • Pallid Bat

  • Badger

  • Western Harvest Mouse

Blue List

  • Gopher Snake

  • Western Rattlesnake

  • Racer

  • Lark Sparrow

  • Long-billed Curlew

  • Swainson's Hawk

  • California Bighorn Sheep

  • Great Basin Pocket Mouse

  • Nuttall's Cottontail


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