While golf courses are often known for their natural beauty, they are at times criticized for infringing on the local environment and putting the needs of golfers before stewardship of the local lands.
The Salmon Arm Golf Club, however, has flipped this equation on its head with a dedication to not only protecting the natural areas surrounding the course but also working to enhance and build upon them. An Aug. 16 tour of the grounds, led by environmental technician Val Janzen, showcased some of the club’s work.
In 2014 the club attained its Audubon certification, part of an international program that encourages golf courses to make environmental education and stewardship a priority. The certification is based on how a course maintains wildlife and their habitat, its use of chemicals, water conservation efforts, water quality management and community outreach and education.
While balancing the needs of fragile ecosystems on one hand and golfers on the other presents challenges, the club continues to make strides.
“Everything is not always perfect or easy to do,” Janzen says. “Sometimes concessions have to be made for golfers; after all we are a golf course.”
Some of the club’s efforts include protecting stands of heritage trees and native plants which are important for local wildlife to move freely, feed and raise their young. By seeding native plants around the forest’s edge they create buffer zones which separate wildlife and plant ecosystems from the heavy traffic of the course.
“These buffer areas help to retain moisture and limit foot traffic,” Janzen says. “And they create these magical little pathways that help showcase the diversity of species and provide a place for birds, frogs and other animals to lay eggs or nest.”
One important project the club is working on is stewardship of Canoe Creek, looking at what can be done to manage water levels and restore it to its former status as a salmon tributary.
“We used to mow right up to the edge of the creek, it was like a ditch with a stream flowing through,” Janzen notes. “We created a buffer around the creek, making a habitat zone. It has become a key area for wildlife to go back and forth for water, and we are planning to expand the buffer zone a few feet each year.”
The club has stopped using water from the creek altogether, and has also been monitoring water temperatures each year, noting they have fallen over two degrees since creating the buffer zone. Over the past 50 years human development and loss of vegetation has caused the creek to become too warm for salmon to spawn within its waters, making any drop in temperature a positive trend.
In addition, to reduce the impact of golfers digging through the creek to retrieve their lost balls, the course started a program which offers to replace lost golf balls and simultaneously provide golfers with information about the club’s efforts, why they are important and how they can help.
Another initiative taken by the course involved creating a small protected nesting area for turtles to lay their eggs in a safe place away from human traffic.
While the work of environmental stewardship in the golf world faces many challenges, such as bordering on a large industrial zone and a busy highway, along with heavy human traffic on both the club’s golf courses, the club is committed to keeping up its efforts.
“Not long after I first got into the golf business almost 30 years ago, I realized that the golf course protects nature,” says Tim Kubash, superintendent of turf care. “I came to realize the primary attraction was the forest and our legacy is to have a forest to hand down.”