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Most people don't even know Canada has a desert - the Okanagan is an anomaly in a country known for snow. But the Okanagan Desert is threatened - scientists and indigenous people are now working to protect the ecosystem.
Driving into the town of Osoyoos, British Columbia, visitors notice the landscape becomes drier. The lodgepole pines and Douglas fir trees that dominate the Okanagan Valley's forests become sparse. If you look closely enough, you may even spot a cactus. Known as the hottest place in Canada, Osoyoos is surrounded by the Okanagan Desert, a semi-arid region that is home to hundreds of plant and animal species unique to the area.
The desert, which is actually an antelope-brush ecosystem, is one of the country's most endangered habitats. Only 50 square kilometers 5, hectares of the antelope-brush area remains - less than 9 percent of its original size. Agricultural development such as vineyards pose the biggest threat to the remaining antelope-brush ecosystem Encroaching agricultural projects and housing developments threaten the last tracts of grasslands.
To ensure the region's survives human-caused pressures, conservationists and indigenous people are working to protect the ecosystem. Saving the grasslands A few kilometers north of Osoyoos, a wooden boardwalk snakes through 67 acres of antelope brush at the Osoyoos Desert Centre. Nearly 10, people visit the site each year - some of whom have never heard about Canada's only desert.
Installing a boardwalk through the desert helps educate the public about the ecosystem "[People] are often surprised - and delighted - to find out such an environment exists in Canada," said Denise Eastlick, the society's executive director. Ecological restoration - that is, facilitating recovery of a degraded or destroyed ecosystem - is also rejuvenating the habitat. This includes the strategy of eliminating invasive species that threaten native plants. Volunteers gather each spring to remove plants such as knapweed and Russian thistle from the property.
Nonnative species are also a problem - but conservationists are using them against each other.