British Columbia

New playground will destroy culturally, ecological significant plant, botanist says

Valerie Huff, a restorative botanist and director of the Kootenay Native Plant Society, says a new playground is set to be built on a piece of land that is home to the region’s last large patch of camas plants, which is critical to the local ecosystem. 

Camas plant critical for local pollinators and animals

Camas plants are significant both for local First Nations, and for animals and pollinators in the Kootenay region. (Valerie Huff)

The City of Castlegar is in the early stages of planning a new playground in one of its parks, but the proposed location of the structure is problematic, according to a local botanist. 

Valerie Huff, a restorative botanist and co-founder of the Kootenay Native Plant Society, said the playground is set to be built on a piece of land in Millennium Park that is home to the region's last large patch of camas plants, which are critical to the local ecosystem. 

"We've documented more than 30 different species of bees, butterflies, hummingbirds that rely on camas in the spring," Huff told Daybreak South guest host Brady Strachan.

In addition, animals like elk and mule deer eat the leaves from the plant, and small mammals feast on the bulbs.

"It's kind of a foundational umbrella plant in these open meadow ecosystems."

The plant society estimates that there is less than one per cent of the original camas population left in the Castlegar area.

"It's not that that particular patch of camas is critical, it's that all of the camas is critical to itself and to each other," Huff said.

The plant is also culturally significant — the Sinixt Nation harvested the plant for food, which was traded and for traditional ceremonies

"It was really a staple food and core to economic life and trade, so it's really critical for the cultural survival of our local Sinixt peoples," Huff said. 

At least 30 different kinds of pollinators rely on camas flowers in the spring, according to Kootenay Native Plant Society director Valerie Huff. (Eva Johansson)

The society made a presentation to city council in 2018, outlining the importance of camas and its preservation. Since then, the society has received no communication from local government. 

The society said it thinks a playground makes sense for the park, but that particular location should be off limits. 

The city and the society both noted that they have worked together in the past to preserve camas in Millennium Park. 

"When we constructed beach volleyball courts at Millennium Park & Ponds, we worked closely with the Kootenay Native Plant Society to recover and relocate all camas bulbs," a city spokesperson said in an email to CBC. 

Because the playground is still in the planning stages, the City of Castlegar declined to comment on the project. 

It did say it has requested a meeting with the plant society "to understand their concerns and possible solutions."

Huff said the city should discourage new development of any kind that disrupts environmentally sensitive areas.

"We really want the city to value nature in their midst," Huff said. "We need to value all elements of our ecosystem."

With files from Dana Kelly and Daybreak South