A view of Wigwam Flats from the surrounding hillsides.

A view of Wigwam Flats from the surrounding hillsides.

Conservation property an important link

The Nature Trust's latest purchase at Wigwam Flats links several conservation areas near Elko

The purchase of a five-acre property south of Elko by the Nature Trust of B.C. might seem small, but it represents a significant conservation effort.

“It’s such an important purchase. It’s really small in terms of the size of the property, but it’s in such an important strategic location,” said Rob Neil, the trust’s Kootenay conservation land manager.

The Nature Trust announced last week that it has purchased the last remaining piece of privately owned property on Wigwam Flats, south of Elko and north of the confluence of the Wigwam and Elko Rivers.

The five-acre property was purchased from the Tregilges family, which has had a connection to the property since the 1930s.

It concludes a 37-year history for the Nature Trust, which purchased the first piece of land at Wigwam Flats in 1977.

“There is a total of 60 acres that has been purchased between 1977 and 2014,” said Neil.ww

Phoebe Tregilges, born in Cokato in 1921, purchased the property when she was a teenager and passed it on to her children. Her son John approached the Nature Trust about buying the final, five-acre parcel this spring.

“John contacted us recently and asked if we would be interested in purchasing the last five-acre piece his family owned. So we pursued that and it has been a really good partnership with John and his family,” said Neil. “The family loves that property, they love the history, they love their mother’s involvement in the land and what they did as early pioneers.

“It’s a stunning setting; it’s really spectacular. So the esthetic part is as important to them as the wildlife part.”

The Nature Trust’s property at Wigwam Flats is close to two other conservancies: Sheep Mountain, another asset of the Nature Trust of B.C., and Mount Broadwood, owned by the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

“You’ve got this huge complex of properties and land and it’s just renowned for wildlife,” said Neil.

The Wigwam Flats property is important to Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, a blue-listed species, which use it for winter range, for lambing in the spring and for breeding in the fall.

“It also supports mule deer, whitetail deer, elk, and the predators who prey on those species. So we have the full suite of wildlife that inhabit that area.

“Ecologically, it’s amazing because we have this natural mosaic of grasslands, open forests, closed forests — it’s very diverse. That translates into a better opportunity for wildlife to survive and thrive there over time.”

The Columbia Basin Trust was an important financial partner in the purchase, Neil said, along with community groups including the East Kootenay Wildlife Association, Elkford Rod and Gun Club, Fernie and District Rod and Gun Club, Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program – Columbia, Kootenay Wildlife Heritage Fund, Southern Guides and Outfitters, Sparwood and District Fish and Wildlife Association, Wildsight Society, and Irene and Agathe Teske. Additional support for the project was provided by the Kootenay Conservation Program.

“There has been huge public support for the acquisition of those properties. I can’t express my appreciation to all the people who contributed, both personal and financial support,” said Neil.

The Nature Trust is preparing a management plan for the area that will cover Wigwam Flats and Sheep Mountain. It will guide public use of the area and identify issues such as invasive weeds that need to be addressed. There will be a public consultation aspect for that management plan in the future, Neil said.

“Ultimately, our long-term goal is to establish a wildlife management area designation of this whole geographic area. So we are looking into the future and hopefully we can get there.”

In the meantime, the Nature Trust is encouraging light use of the property for recreation.

“We do encourage people to come there and enjoy everything that property has to offer. Our emphasis is not on recreation – we like people to leave a light footprint. So we encourage people to walk there or ride a horse there. Certainly people are part of the equation in terms of long-term management,” said Neil. “We are not setting it up just to protect it and exclude people from enjoying all the characteristics and attributes of our properties.”