Desert Society News

Winter 2015

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Dear Supporters:
This coming year the Osoyoos Desert Society will celebrate its 25th anniversary. The Desert Society was officially incorporated as a non-profit society on March 4th, 1991, thanks to the efforts of a very dedicated and far-sighted group of supporters. Since then, the support of our members, volunteers and funders has continued to play an integral role in the Society's progress.
Together, we have accomplished a great deal during the first 25 years of the Desert Society's operation. In 1998 we opened the Osoyoos Desert Centre, a 67-acre nature interpretive facility, which welcomes thousands of visitors each year to experience and learn about our incredible local habitat. Significant progress has been made restoring the habitat at the Desert Centre site, including the development of breeding sites for at-risk species like the Great Basin Spadefoot and Behr's Hairstreak Butterfly. Over the years, the Society has also conducted research projects, contributing to the knowledge and understanding of habitat restoration. We continue to serve as an important source of information for the community, including hosting popular events like our Winter Program Series.
Like any organization, we have also faced our share of challenges and hurdles throughout the years. But, through it all, the support of our members, volunteers and donors has enabled us to keep moving forward and to successfully pursue our mission. You are truly the heart and soul of the Desert Society, and your support makes a very real difference - not just to the Society, but to the local community and environment.
As always, we are enormously grateful for your many contributions and welcome your involvement. Together, we can continue to make a difference and ensure our local desert habitat survives for future generations to enjoy.
On behalf of the Board of Directors 
Lee McFadyen
President, Osoyoos Desert Society

Invasive Trees
By Lisa Scott and Jessica Hobden
Okanagan and Similkameen Invasive Species Society
In the spring newsletter, we introduced you to two of our spiniest invasive plants. In this edition, we are highlighting three of our BIGGEST invaders. Reaching heights of up to 24 metres with extensive root systems, invasive trees can wreak havoc with our sewers and foundations. They can also be a point of contention between many neighbours.
Tree-of-heaven. Photo by Lisa Scott. 
Tree-of-heaven can grow as much as 2 metres per year, with mature trees reaching an impressive 24 metres in height and 1.8 metres in diameter. Native to central China, tree-of-heaven has expanded its range considerably since its initial introductions in the early 1700s. Tree-of-heaven resembles the sumacs and hickories, but can be distinguished by the glandular, notched base on each leaflet.  It has smooth stems with pale gray bark and twigs that are light chestnut brown, especially in the dormant season. Its large compound leaves are 0.3 - 1.2 metres in length, alternate, and composed of 10 - 41 smaller leaflets. Flowers occur in large terminal clusters and are small and pale yellow to greenish. Flat, twisted, winged fruits each containing a single central seed are produced in late summer to early fall and may remain on the trees for long periods of time. This invasive tree is a prolific seed producer and can successfully compete with native vegetation. The root system is aggressive enough to cause damage to sewers and foundations.

Siberian elm. Photo by Lisa Scott.
Siberian elm was introduced to North America in the mid-1800s for its hardiness, fast growth and ability to grow in various moisture conditions. Its native range includes Northern China, eastern Siberia, Manchuria and Korea. Siberian elm grows readily in disturbed areas with poor soils and low moisture. It reaches heights of 9 - 18 metres with an open rounded crown and slender, spreading branches. Its bark is dark gray and shallowly furrowed on a mature tree. Leaves are small, elliptic and toothed, with a short point at the tip. The fruit is winged, round and smooth, and hangs in clusters. The abundant, wind-dispersed seeds allow this tree to spread rapidly, forming dense thickets that displace native vegetation and reduce forage for wildlife and livestock.  
Russian olive is native to Europe and western Asia and was introduced in the late 1800s. It is now extensively naturalized and continues to be promoted and sold at plant nurseries.  In the Pacific Northwest, it has become a major problem in riparian woodlands, threatening even large, hardy native trees such as cottonwoods. It can grow up to 9 metres in height and is typically thorny. The upper surface of its lance-shaped leaves is light green in color and covered with silvery star-shaped hairs, and the lower surface of its leaves is silvery white and densely covered with scales. Russian olive produces an abundance of yellow-red, olive-shaped fruits that are readily eaten by many species of birds, which help to disperse the seeds. Russian olive can form dense stands that alter vegetation structure, nutrient cycling and the hydrology of a system.
What you can do
Russian olive. Photo by Lisa Scott.
To effectively control these aggressive trees, seedlings can be hand-pulled when the soil is moist. Once they become firmly established, the most effective control method is the cut-stump herbicide treatment. This method is both labour intensive and expensive, but can be highly effective. Bulldozing, mowing and brush cutting can also be effective, but only if all re-sprouts are continually cut and removed which will likely take many consecutive years of treatment. Girdling may also be an inexpensive and useful technique for controlling these undesirable trees. Girdling involves manually cutting away bark and cambial tissues around the trunks of trees. This control method should be undertaken using an ordinary axe in the spring when the trees are actively growing. Note that hardwoods are known to re-sprout below the girdle unless the cut is treated with herbicides. Anyone dealing with invasive trees should consult with a professional before attempting these control techniques.
For further information on invasive species go to or contact the Program Coordinator for the Okanagan-Similkameen, Lisa Scott, at or
Fire as a Tool for Grassland Restoration
By Dr. Suzie Lavallee
Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences
Faculty of Forestry, UBC
Prescribed burn on West Vaseux property, March 29, 2013.
Photo by Suzie Lavallee.
Mounting studies in fire ecology suggest that fires are responsible for maintaining grassland ecosystems and are important drivers on the landscape. With the heavy suppression of fires over the past seventy years, the impacts on our grasslands are becoming apparent. These impacts, which include increased forest cover and ingrowth of shrubs, are being noted in many of BC's grasslands, leading to calls for restoration. The question remains: if fire is a major force in naturally maintaining grassland ecosystems, can it be used as a tool for restoring grasslands?
Research from the Northwest United States suggests that the time of year (spring versus fall burns), burn intensity, and amount of fuel present (i.e. woody materials) are key factors in the use of prescribed fires as a restoration tool. Spring burns tend to favour native species of grasses that are perennial and regrow from belowground reserves. Prescribed burning for habitat restoration must be kept at low intensity to ensure that firefighters remain in control of the burn. Low intensity fires can be created by careful reduction of woody fuels through thinning and by igniting during intermediate moisture conditions.
Less is known about the impacts of low intensity prescribed fires to iconic species such as Arrow-leaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata), ecologically-important species such as Antelope-brush (Purshia tridentata), and important traditional food plants such as Saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia). Although ungulates are known to use severely burned areas several years after fires for the increased forage and line of sight, there is not much information on how low intensity prescribed burns will influence their use of habitat. Other species, such as woodpeckers and songbirds, may also change their use of an area as their food sources and habitat structure change with a low intensity burn.
Arrow-leaf balsamroot regrowth post fire.
Photo by Lori Daniels.
In partnership with the Ministry of Forests (MoF) and the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS), students in the Natural Resources Conservation program at UBC Forestry travel to the South Okanagan each year to study these questions. In March 2013, a small prescribed burn was carried out by MoF firefighters on the CWS property on the west side of Vaseux Lake where thinning had been done in 2003. This area, in addition to an adjacent area, also thinned in 2003, burned in 2004 by MoF firefighters, are a part of the long-term monitoring project to examine how successful prescribed burns are at restoring habitat. To provide contrast to these areas, they survey a third part of the property that has not been burned in over 80 years and has never been thinned to reduce tree density.
Early indications from the monitoring suggest that there are some important benefits to be gained from low intensity prescribed burns. In the weeks following the prescribed burn, the response of Arrow-leaf balsamroot was remarkable, with the growth of enormous leaves and many flowering heads. Even two years after the prescribed burn, the number of plants is increasing. Similar benefits have been noted for Saskatoon berry, which showed a moderate increase after the 2013 burn.  For other native plants, the story is not quite so clear. While some of the older Antelope-brush died in the 2013 prescribed burn, we have not yet recorded new germination of plants in this area. However, comparisons with the 2004 burn suggest that in the next 3 - 5 years, we should see tiny Antelope-brush starting to grow.  The rate at which Antelope-brush are dying in the area with no thinning or burning emphasizes the need for restoration - our studies indicate that  Antelope-brush are dying much faster where no management had occurred. This evidence suggests that without intervention, we stand to lose this important species.

Flowering Arrow-leaf balsamroot.
Photo by Lori Daniels. 
In areas that have been burned, cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) has become very sparse. Small pockets of it persist, particularly at the base of Douglas fir trees (Pseudotsuga menziesii glauca). Native bunchgrasses and cryptogamic crust, the combination of fungi, lichens, and bacteria that protect grassland soils, showed no reduction in percent cover after the prescribed burn and remain healthy. In areas where burning was severe enough to remove the cryptogamic crust, rapid growth by fire moss (Ceratodon purpureus) has 'sealed off' the mineral soils.
For animals on the West Vaseux property, there has been little change since the burn. Ungulate and songbird use of the habitat did not differ among the three areas in our study. Woodpeckers have been quite active in the older, 2004 burn, owing to increased bark beetle activity. This suggests that low intensity burns have little impact on grasslands animals and do not pose a threat to these species.
Over the next 5 - 10 years of monitoring, we expect to start seeing more changes in the ecosystem and how it responds to the prescribed burn. Germination and growth of Antelope-brush, appearance of fire scars on trees, possible bark beetle activity, and new growth of tree seedlings are just a few of the other changes we will be looking for in the coming years.
To learn more about local fire ecology, attend our Winter Program on February 20th. 
Details in the Events section.

2016 Winter Program Series 
Hosted by the Osoyoos Desert Society
Sponsored by Watermark Beach Resort 
FIRE ECOLOGY - Movie & An Expert
February 20 ~ 2-4 pm ~ Watermark Beach Resort
Learn more about the complexity of fire management and fire ecology. In the documentary 'Disturbance,' hear from biologists, fire managers, politicians, and citizens as they discuss fire issues in the Northern Rockies. Following the film, join ecologist and noted author Don Gayton for a look at local fire ecology research and management strategies. A book signing, with a selection of Mr. Gayton's books, will be held following his talk. More information at
PLANT LIFE & FOOD FORESTS -  Movie & An Expert
February 27 ~ 2-4 pm ~ Watermark Beach Resort
Join us for 'What Plants Talk About,' a documentary integrating hard core science with a light-hearted look at plant behavior and the surprisingly intricate and busy lives plants lead. After the film, Richard Walker will talk about food forest gardening, a way to grow food and medicine plants in a sustainable way, using less water and trapping carbon. In his words, how to "garden for 1000 years." This is based on nature's systems as well as successful indigenous systems used over the ages. A book signing will follow the talk.
BATS - Movie & An Expert
March 12 ~ 2-4 pm ~ Watermark Beach Resort
Take a close-up look at the fascinating world of bats. View a documentary to learn more about bats and the mysterious white-nose syndrome decimating bat populations in North America. Following the film, Margaret Holm with the Okanagan Community Bat Program will share fascinating facts about our local bat species and what you can do to help them.
More lectures and events for 2016 are in the planning process.  Event information will be sent via email as soon as details are  confirmed. Or, check out the Desert Society's website at for updates.


Wildlife Rehabilitation
By Adrienne Clay, BSc AHT
British Columbia Wildlife Park
Fawcett Family Wildlife Health Centre
The BC Wildlife Park (BCWP) has been operating for over 45 years and is home to the largest rehabilitation center in BC's interior. The Wildlife Health Centre offers rehabilitation to wildlife that is ill, orphaned or injured. We operate throughout the year, with early summer being our busiest time. The BCWP's Wildlife Health Centre takes in waterfowl, raptors, passerines, galliforms, reptiles and small mammals - everything from flying squirrels and bobcats to quail and eagles. There are a few exceptions.  

The new Fawcett Family Wildlife Health Centre opened its doors to wildlife in 2014 and was built by kind donations from private and public sponsors. The new facility has a full surgical suite, treatment room, laboratory and four separate indoor holding rooms where we can separate the various species of critters. This segregation of animals has improved the quality of their stay at our wildlife hospital and significantly decreased the stress on the wildlife. The rooms are insulated from the noise of human traffic and nature sounds play in the background. We strive to provide the best experience for wildlife and to make them as comfortable as possible during their stay with us.
Osoyoos Bobcat
This past July staff from the Osoyoos Desert Society assisted with the rescue of an orphaned baby bobcat, which was transported by conservation officers to the BC Wildlife Park. The young bobcat was successfully rehabilitated and released back into the wild this fall.
The Wildlife Health Centre has an Animal Health Technician managing the hospital every day of the week, providing the necessary nursing and care required to get the wildlife back to health. This year we have helped over 400 animals and have released 150 of them, to date.  

An orphaned bobcat that was brought to us this year and rehabilitated was recently released between Osoyoos and Keremeos.

For many of the orphans brought to us, we have specially made costumes that we wear while feeding and cleaning. Wearing costumes to disguise ourselves eliminates the imprinting of the wildlife on humans and raises them to be the wild animals they were meant to be.
Wildlife injuries are nearly always sustained through human intervention; wildlife are hit by cars, strike windows, caught by house cats or end up contaminated from a chemical spill. Kind members of the public rescue these animals in need and find the facility nearest to them. All of the rehabilitation centers in BC are non-profit and rely on the public for both donations and delivery of the injured wildlife to the centres for treatment and help.
When you see an injured animal, you can call for advice (BCWP at 1-250-573-3242 x 230 or SPCA at  1-855-6BC-SPCA). Put the animal in a box or crate with a towel or sheet over it and put them in a quiet area. Darkness is calming and loud noises are stressful for a wild animal that has been caught. Make sure you get advice from a professional and make arrangements to bring the animal to the closest wildlife rehabilitation centre.
To learn more about what to do if you find wildlife visit the BC Wildlife Park website at

As 2015 draws to a close, the Osoyoos Desert Society would like to acknowledge and thank all the  government agencies, foundations, businesses and individuals who generously supported us
throughout the past year. Your support makes our projects and programs possible.
  • BC Gaming
  • Community Foundation of the South Okanagan/Similkameen
  • Fortis BC
  • Real Estate Foundation of BC
  • Regional District-RDOS, Area A
  • Royal Canadian Legion Branch #173
  • Suncor Energy Foundation
  • Town Of Osoyoos
  • United Way of Fort McMurray
Our sincere appreciation to all the individuals who gave donations to the Society throughout the year, as well as the businesses who kindly donated services and products to support our programs and projects.
Romancing the Desert Supporters
A big thank you to our 'Romancing the Desert' supporters. The Desert Society's annual fundraiser would not be possible without the generosity of the participating restaurants and wineries, and the many businesses and individuals who donate their products and time. We  sincerely appreciate your support of our 'Romancing' fundraiser.
Volunteers and Members
As always, a very special thanks to our volunteers and members. You make it possible for the Osoyoos Desert Society to exist and continue to pursue its mission. Thank you so much for supporting our habitat conservation, restoration and education efforts!

Your support makes a difference. Memberships and donations help fund the Desert Society's
habitat conservation, restoration and education efforts.

Membership is $25 per person per year.

Members receive Desert Society newsletters and FREE admission to the Desert Centre.


Payment may be made through the secure, encrypted PayPal link, or you can click here to download a mail-in registration form.


Thank you!

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 The Osoyoos Desert Society