Just over 40 hectares of land south of Fernie has been acquired by the Nature Conservancy of Canada that will protect a wildlife corridor used by grizzly bears, elk and other wildlife.
The acquisition of the Fitzen Farm, which was partially donated and partially sold by Deb de Hoog, will connect a vast expanse of provincial land to the west, with additional NCC-protected lands to the east.
de Hoog is the granddaughter of the original homesteaders — Charlie and Ruth Fitzen, who lived and farmed on the property for much of the last century since 1913.
“I’m delighted that the Nature Conservancy of Canada has protected this property, and I think my grandpa would have been really happy to know that the land went to conservation,” said Deb de Hoog. “We need to go forth as if we are borrowing land from future generations, and leave it better than when we found. I think that is what the Nature Conservancy of Canada is doing.”
The sale, publicly announced in honour of World Environment Day, included funding contributions from the federal government’s Natural Areas Conservation Program, Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, the BC Conservation Foundation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Fitzen Family and Elllen Almond Stuart.
“I am thrilled to see this important wildlife corridor be protected for future generations of Canadians,” said Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change. “Through the Natural Areas Conservation Program our government is working with the Nature Conservancy of Canada and their partners to protect Canada’s biodiversity and conserve key ecosystems for a healthy environment and economy.”
The newly protected area, known as the Morrissey Meadows, is frequented by grizzly and black bears, whitetail and mule deer, elk and moose as they travel across the Elk Valley. The Elk River winds through the property as well, which creates wetlands that provide spawning and rearing grounds for fish.
According to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, grizzly bear, American badger, little brown myotis, bull trout and west slope cutthroat trout can be found within the Fitzen Farm property.
“The safe movement of large mammals through the valley-bottom land is essential to their long-term viability in the Elk Valley,” said Richard Klafki, Canadian Rockies Program Director for the Nature Conservancy of Canada. “We were excited by the opportunity to close a gap between provincial land and other NCC conservation lands. Building connectivity between protected and provincial land is a key strategy for strengthening conservation in this region.”
Klafki said there was a study done five years ago looking at various lands within the Elk Valley that held significant ecological values, with the Fizen Farm being identified as one such area.
de Hoog had the property up for sale but Klafki said negotiations took about a year and half until a deal was reached, after the Nature Conservancy of Canada was tipped off by a provincial government ministry.
A community event will be held on Morrissey Meadows on Saturday, June 23, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The public is invited to join NCC staff and project supporters for a celebratory barbecue on the new conservation area.