What is an Antelope-brush needle-and-thread shrub steppe grassland?

Grasslands, or steppes, are ecosystems dominated by grasses. In the South Okanagan and Similkameen our grasslands are scattered with sagebrush and different native bunch grasses such as bluebunch wheatgrass, needle-and-thread grass and sand dropseed. Antelope-brush needle-and-thread shrub steppe grasslands are a less common type of grassland, extending mainly from Osoyoos to Skaha Lake.They are characterized by the large, often gnarled looking Antelope-brush. The tiny three-lobed leaves of this shrub are a nutritious source of food for deer and bighorn sheep. In the spring, each shrub is covered with thousands of fragrant yellow flowers that fill the desert air with perfume. “The Antelope Brush was and still is very important to the syilx (Okanagan) nation. In the days of old, one of the many uses of antelope brush was that our ancestors used it as a fire starter. The leaves and small branches are very light, portable and combustible. It was always carried in the winter time to easily start a camp fire. The inner silky material from behind the bark of an old Antelope bush was burned in a Ram’s horn and a live ember was placed inside the horn and covered with leather. This provided the syilx people with a portable lighter that could carry a live ember for days. Because of its combustibility, burning as easily as grease, it was commonly called grease wood.” – Richard Armstrong

DID YOU KNOW: 68% of South Okanagan antelope-brush habitat has been destroyed since 1938!

The greatest loss has been due to intensive agricultural expansion and intensive urban development. Most of the remaining areas are in poor condition due to damage by off-road vehicles, invasive plants and intensive grazing. Immediate human actions are required before these plant communities and the species that depend on them no longer exist in Canada.The choices we make regarding land use, development and agricultural practices will have an impact on the future health of our quality of life, our unique ecosystems and the species that rely on them.

What you can do to protect the remaining antelope brush

  • Convert existing farms and orchards to vineyards rather than destroying antelope-brush habitat.
  • Direct development away from antelope-brush grasslands and work to preserve existing antelope-brush parcels in your area.
  • Butt out! Fires started from carelessly discarded cigarettes annually destroy antelope-brush habitat.
  • Where possible, restore and maintain natural habitat on your property. Visit www.soscp.org
  • Avoid introducing and spreading invasive weeds. Visit www.rdos.bc.ca and www.weedsbc.ca
  • Adopt Best Management Practices for off-road vehicles. Visit www.bcgrasslands.org
  • Work with the conservation community. Visit www.soscp.org

Retaining native habitat is good for agriculture

Antelope-brush habitat and other areas of native vegetation are a refuge for beneficial insects that prey on agricultural pests species. Research has shown that damage from cutworms is highest on extensive areas of land that has been cleared of native vegetation. Whereas vineyards and fields bordered by antelope-brush habitat and other natural habitats have significantly less problems with insect pests.

Click here to download a PDF version of this article.

Back to Spotlight on Species and Habitats