Kamloops couple saves grassland habitat

It’s not everyday you read about superheroes. Phil and Arlene Theimer are two of them.
Across from the Theimers’ property on Ord Road is a four-hectare grassland called Rattlesnake Bluff. Unbeknownst to many, this parcel of land provides an excellent habitat for a diverse group of wildlife. Their neighbours include the provincially rare western rattlesnake, the great basin gopher snake, bighorn sheep, yellow-bellied marmots and birds such as the red-tailed hawk, cliff swallow and white-throated swift.
When the grassland came up for sale four years ago, Phil Theimer wasn’t interested in purchasing it. A group who needed some rip-rap, loose rocks used for construction, came one day to look at the property.
“I thought they were only looking at the rocks that had fallen down on the ground from the cliffs. I said ‘I think you have about 10 loads worth of rocks here. When that’s gone, what do you do then?’ They all smiled and shook their head, and the one fellow said ‘Phil you don’t understand. Three or four blasts of powder at the top of this cliff, and we’ll have rip-rap forever!’”
“My stomach actually turned over. I couldn’t say anything to them,” said Phil, who immediately discussed the matter with his wife. They decided the only logical thing to do was to buy the property. “The money I had invested to buy it was hard-earned money and looking at it in one way, it was a crazy thing to do, but looking back on it, it was one of the best things I ever did in my life.”
The Theimers have recently donated the property to the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC). NCC is a private, non-profit organization working to protect biodiversity in Canada.
“Without people like them who have conservation in their hearts, our jobs would be much more difficult,” said Barb Pryce, NCC’s Okanagan program manager. “They were thinking about contributing to conservation in a much bigger way than themselves.”
Rattlesnake Bluff is unique as its topographic features support a wide variety of local biodiversity. It’s also a habitat to several rare and at-risk species in the province.
Kamloops Naturalists Club president Tom Dickinson said biodiversity conservation is important both for ethical and functional reasons. “From an ethical point of view, I think it behooves us to . . . maintain some habitat for those species because we’re the main cause for the alteration and disappearance of habitats they need,” he said.
From a practical perspective, he explained that ecosystems only operate in a balanced way when all species are protected.
Five organizations came together to help fund the Rattlesnake Bluff project: the Natural Areas Conservation Program, Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, British Columbia Conservation Foundation, the Highland Valley Enhancement Fund and the Kamloops Naturalist Club.
Funds collected will go towards a stewardship endowment fund that will protect the beauty of Rattlesnake Bluff.
“Around April, the white-throated swifts show up by the hundreds and they fly right into the crevices. It’s just amazing to see,” described Phil. “You can see them coming right at dawn and they swoop again in the evenings, the whole flight of them.”
“To say that we love this site is really an understatement.”

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