Volunteers are participating in a two-day event this week to restore a species of at-risk plant in protected grasslands near Kamloops, B.C.
As part of a project funded by Environment Canada, the Grasslands Conservation Council of B.C. and around 20 volunteers are transplanting about 1,000 bluebunch wheatgrass plants salvaged from a city park to the Red Hill area of the Lac Du Bois Grasslands, a 150-square kilometre protected area north of the city.
Earlier in the summer, volunteers sprayed and removed a number of invasive plant species — including spotted knapweed, sulphur cinquefoil and chicory — from the grasslands to make way for the wheatgrass.
The wheatgrass plants were taken from Kenna Cartwright Nature Park in the west of Kamloops, where they had been uprooted due to construction.
According to B.C. Parks, the province established the Lac Du Bois Grasslands in 1996 to preserve at-risk wildlife and maintain the diversity of habitat for grassland-dependent animal species.
The Grasslands Conservation Council says Lac Du Bois accounts for only one per cent of B.C.'s land mass, but it's home to more than 30 per cent of the province's at-risk animal and plant species.
They include the burrowing owl, western rattlesnake and California bighorn sheep, and rough fescue, giant wildrye and alkali saltgrass, as well as bluebunch wheatgrass.
Threat of invasive species
Catherine Tarasoff, who teaches invasive plant ecology and management at Thompson Rivers University, says bluebunch wheatgrass has roots that help keep water deep in the soil and maintain the health of other plants.
Invasive species can cause the wheatgrass plants to die by crowding them out and draining water from them.
Grasslands Conservation Council general manager Mike Dedels says many of the invasive species were brought to the province by European settlers more than 100 years ago — and they still pose challenges to biodiversity in grassland areas.
"It's always very serious — very few grasslands in B.C. are free of invasive plants," Dedels said. "They decrease values for [wildlife] habitat and forage."
Tarasoff says plant species in Lac Du Bois are also at risk because any person can enter the grassland area, though some areas are restricted for all-terrain vehicles.
"They're accessible for recreation," she told CBC's Jenifer Norwell. "Because of their accessibility, it also puts them at risk of abuse or overuse."
Dedels says his organization's staff and volunteers will focus on restoring bluebunch wheatgrass in the Red Hill area this year, but will expand the project to other parts of Lac Du Bois in the coming years.