Students from Giant’s Head Elementary School in Summerland have participated in some of the planting work at the Okanagan Crush Pad property in Garnet Valley. (Submitted photo)

Students from Giant’s Head Elementary School in Summerland have participated in some of the planting work at the Okanagan Crush Pad property in Garnet Valley. (Submitted photo)

Summerland winery works to protect habitat

Okanagan Crush Pad and Okanagan Similkameen Stewardship have been working at Garnet Valley property

  • Mar. 2, 2019 12:00 a.m.

By Jayme Friedt

Right from the start, landowners Christine Coletta and Steve Lornie, proprietors of Okanagan Crush Pad Winery, had a vision for the 126 hectares of land they purchased seven years ago in the Garnet Valley.

With intentions to convert the property to a vineyard their goal was to alter the natural terrain as little as possible and run a completely organic operation.

The result is a design with vines planted between large swathes of natural corridors left untouched for wildlife to roam.

The vineyard is also home to three-hectare organic garden and a pond lying at the centre of it all.

Once the vineyard was well on its way, Coletta and Lornie turned their attention to another section of their property.

Running along the west side of Garnet Valley Road was a riparian floodplain. The land had formerly been used as hayfields and, left untouched for many years, it was becoming more and more challenging to manage.

“It was a constant struggle battling invasive weeds,” Coletta said. “You would be doing so much in terms of artificial farming to make this a hay field. We really felt the only way to tame this area would be to apply a lot of chemicals and herbicides and It just stood against everything that we were doing on the rest of the property. It didn’t make sense.”

She said they were inspired by the previous owners, the Dietz family, who had fenced off and restored a different section of riparian land on the property, namely a spring-fed, year-round creek.

This area and another small gully are now protected by a Do Not Disturb registered covenant.

“We wanted to restore what man took away some 60 years ago,” Coletta said. “We contacted Okanagan Similkameen Stewardship to see what could be done.”

In partnership with OSS, restoration on the riparian floodplain began in the spring of 2016 with approximately 700 trees and shrubs planted.

Work continued the following fall when the south section was planted with 600 additional plants. The vision is to create a riparian forest with some side channels left open for wildlife.

“What we do is look at the riparian area next to the site we’re rehabilitating,” said Alyson Skinner, OSS executive director. “Here we planted mostly water birch and red-osier dogwood and added in native willow, rose, snowberry and other shrubs that would be found along the shoreline. About 92 per cent of the water birch-dogwood plant community has been lost to agriculture and development in the Okanagan so restoring these areas is critical.”

Coletta and Lornie are thrilled with the results and have noticed more wildlife as well as many different species of birds coming back to the area, including the yellow-breasted chat, which is rare in Garnet Valley.

“The original plans also included a couple of ponds, but the last two years this area has really flooded so nature took care of that for us. It will be more like an ephemeral wetland, which is a wetland that that dries up seasonally. These habitats are really important, and a lot of species at risk rely on them like the Great Basin Spadefoot who use seasonal wetlands as breeding habitat and rearing grounds for tadpoles,” Skinner said.

In fall of 2018, OSS and their team put in another 1,800 shrubs and trees through the floodplain, making it the most plants OSS has ever put into one project.

Having that many plants come over several days was a good challenge for the group but with the help of some dedicated and hard-working volunteers they got the job done. The planting has also been used as a teaching tool for the next generation of stewards.

“Four kindergarten classes and their families from Giant’s Head Elementary School joined us on site to learn about wetlands and how to take care of them,” Skinner said.

“We had three stations for their field trip: one where they learned how wetlands work like sponges to filter out pollutants like oils on the roads; another where they got to explore the floodplain and look for birds; and a third where they helped us plant native trees and shrubs. Some of the children even returned on our community planting day, recruiting their parents and other family members to help out as well.”

Planting is the beginning and over the next few years, OSS will continue to manage the site to ensure the plants survive.

“The easiest part of restoring habitat is the planting itself,” Skinner said.

“The real works comes with managing invasive species around your plantings and making sure that everything is watered and ticking along so there’s still work to do. We’ve had incredible support from the community. A lot of the volunteers live in the Garnet Valley and we hope they become stewards as well.”

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