Krista Watts showcased a map of previous ecosystem enhancement projects in April. The program accepts proposals from throughout the Columbia Basin. /ABIGAIL POPPLE

By Abigail Popple, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, RMG

Simpcw Resources Group is trying to secure funding for a whitebark pine restoration project on Crown Land just south of Valemount. The organization is in the midst of applying to the Columbia Basin Trust’s Ecosystem Enhancement program, which funds projects that improve ecological health and native biodiversity in the Basi.

Applicants to the program gathered last Wednesday to discuss their ideas with each other and the Trust’s Environmental Lead, Krista Watts.

Since the program was established in 2017, the Trust has funded 31 ecosystem enhancement projects throughout the basin, according to Watts. This year, seven projects are up for consideration, including two whitebark pine restoration proposals: the Simpcw Resources Group proposal, which focuses on the area surrounding Valemount, and another project pitched by the Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation of Canada, in the ecosystems surrounding the Arrow and Slocan Lakes.

Both projects aim to help whitebark pine populations recover from blister rust, a fungal infection that spreads rapidly and kills trees in a matter of years, according to the Canadian Forest Service.

Simpcw Resources Group plans to combat the disease by raising and planting rust-resistant trees in the subalpine ecosystems near Valemount, and starting a seedbank to promote genetic diversity in the whitebark pine population, according to the proposal submitted for discussion at Wednesday’s meeting.

Mandy Ross, an Ecosystems Biologist at Simpcw Resources Group, told meeting attendees the project would likely take several years – Simpcw Resources is hoping to be approved for a five-year funding track to support the project as it gets off the ground. 

“The idea is we collect cones from stands that have been affected by blister. We find one tree that’s in really good shape, and it’s highly likely that that tree has some natural resistance… and we collect those (cones), they’re inoculated in the nursery to make sure they’re resistant, then planted back outside again,” Ross said. “We predict this will be quite long-term given this is a slow-growing species, but it’s also part of a wider set of alpine and subalpine projects we have going on.”

The advisory committee in charge of the Ecosystem Enhancement Program will determine which projects will be invited to the final phase of the application process on July 17th. Those invited to the final round will submit their final applications by October 16th, and funding agreements will be finalized this December.

Ross did not respond to The Goat’s interview request.