The Okanagan valley has been recognized as one of the most ecologically diverse regions of Canada. This valley has more threatened, endangered and rare species than any other part of British Columbia. The Sensitive Ecosystem Inventory has identified a cross-section of species at risk in the Okanagan. They represent a range of different habitats within the area. There are, however, many other threatened and endangered species likely occurring in the area. Check out the BC Ministry of Environment Five-Year Plan for Species at Risk in B.C.
In BC, each species and ecosystem is assigned to the red, blue or yellow list based on their conservation status rank to help set conservation priorities.
For more information on the species listed below or their provincial listing, please visit the BC Ecosystems Species Explorer .
Species of Concern in the Central Okanagan
Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta)
The only native freshwater turtle species in British Columbia, the painted turtle is a Blue listed species. It requires wetlands and ponds for hiding and foraging that are adjacent to upland areas with suitable soil for nesting. Many of these habitats are threatened by alteration or destruction by development and other human activities. They are often visible on warm days, swimming in shallow water or basking on logs along the lakeshore.
Western Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus)
A Blue listed species, the Western Rattlesnake prefers dry, usually rocky and rugged landscapes with sparse or scattered tree cover. They are at risk largely due to habitat loss and have been in conflict with humans since the early European settlers. They are found throughout the Okanagan, requiring terrain with suitable hibernating sites in such areas as rocky ridges with crevices or deep talus slopes to escape freezing winter temperatures. They remain close to their hibernacula, returning each autumn for the winter
Kokanee Salmon (Onchorhynchus nerka)
Kokanee salmon are sockeye salmon that spend their entire lives in fresh water, without ever going to sea. They are a Yellow listed species in British Columbia. However, they are very susceptible to industrial, agricultural and urban development due to their dependence on clear flowing streams for spawning. In 1996, concern for their future led to the formation of the Okanagan Lake Action Plan. This plan attempts to address all of the physical and biological factors that influence Okanagan Lake and the kokanee populations. The Okanagan lake population is in severe decline due to decreasing lake productivity, degraded stream habitats and competition for food with the introduced Mysis shrimp.
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
The Great Blue Heron is considered vulnerable in British Columbia, and is a Blue listed species. The primary threats to the herons include increasing urbanization in close proximity to key foraging and nesting areas. This species nests in colonies along the margins of lakes and streams, and in the southern interior of BC, they most often nest in black cottonwood trees. Great blue heron nests and eggs are protected from destruction under the international Migratory Birds Convention Act of 1994. It is recommended that no human activity take place within 300 m of a colony during the nesting season. This will ensure the birds will remain with their eggs until hatch
Gopher Snake (Pituophis deserticola)
In British Columbia, this Gopher Snake is Blue listed (there is a similar species (spp. catenifer) that has been completely removed from British Columbia). These reptiles mostly inhabit grazed grasslands, although they are known to live in scrublands, farmlands, wetlands and woodlands. They over winter in hibernacula, often with other snakes. They are a slow moving species and very vulnerable due to increased road networks. Habitat degradation has largely resulted from urban development, forestry and agriculture.
Badger (Taxidea taxus)
With less than 1000 of them estimated to remain in British Columbia, the badger is considered a Red listed species. The key habitat for badgers includes grasslands and open pine or fir forests along major valleys. Many such habitats have been greatly modified by development of towns, rural subdivisions, ranches, orchards, golf courses and highways.
Swainson's Hawk (Buteo swainsoni)
Saison’s Hawks are elegant aerial hunters that are at great risk in BC. They are Red Listed due to the low number of breeding pairs found in the province. Urban and agricultural development has led to loss of grassland habitat in these areas is a major cause for concern. Additionally, they face pressures of shooting and pesticide use in their Argentine wintering grounds.
California Bighorn Sheep (Ovis Canadensis)
California Bighorn Sheep are found in alpine desert grasslands associated with mountains, cliffs, foothills and river canyons. They are a Blue listed species and known to inhabit both sides of Okanagan Lake. The California Bighorn Sheep are not protected by legislation other than the general provisions for all vertebrate wildlife under the Wildlife Act.
Flammulated Owl (Psiloscops flammeolus)
The Flammulated owl inhabits mature and old growth montane forests, using old cavities in trees for nesting. Its dark eyes distinguish it from all other small owls in British Columbia, which have yellow eyes. They are Blue listed in British Columbia, and are protected under the Wildlife Act of 1982.
Lewis Woodpecker (Melanerpes lewis)
The Lewis Woodpecker is usually found in mature ponderosa pine forests and riparian groves of black cottonwoods. They use dead trees for nesting and feeding and may be found in older orchards and treed urban areas. They are protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act of 1994 and are Blue listed.
Townsends Big-eared Bat (Corynorhinus townsendii)
Townsends Big-eared Bats are of special concern in Southern British Columbia because they are confined to small areas of low elevation, similar to where humans live. They are Blue listed and, like other bats, they form colonies in the summer, and hibernate in caves or mines for the winter. Unlike other bats however, they do not hide in crevices and are very susceptible to vandalism or other types of human intrusion. People are urged not to enter known hibernation caves between September and May, and not to disturb colonies.
American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana)
The American Avocet’s are large white shorebirds with long necks and slender beaks. The Avocet species is of special concern and is Blue listed mainly due to immediate threats to their major breeding areas and habitat. Many of their breeding sites are transitory, and while they are noted as a species at risk, their small population is expanding. You can sometimes find American Avocet’s in one of the Regional District of Central Okanagan’s local parks at Robert Lake Regional Park. This wetland is the perfect spot for waterbirds and shorebirds.
For more information on Species at Risk in the Central and South Okanagan visit:
Okanagan Similkameen Stewardship
Stewardship Centre for British Columbia (SOS)
Grassland Species at Risk
Okanagan Collaborative Conservation Program (OCCP)
Okanagan Biodiversity Strategy