Vaseux-Bighorn National Wildlife Area

Five California Bighorn Sheep in a field with and forest behind.
Photo: Neil Dawe © Environment Canada.
Vaseux-Bighorn National Wildlife Area, California Bighorn Sheep.


Mountainous landscape with a lake.

Photo: Dave Smith © Environment Canada.

Vaseux-Bighorn NWA, Landscape.

The Vaseux-Bighorn National Wildlife Area (NWA) is located in the south Okanagan–Similkameen region of British Columbia. The NWA was established in 1979 to protect habitat for species deemed, at the time, to be special and important; including the charismatic California bighorn sheep, which was considered endangered. The Vaseux-Bighorn NWA provides significant habitat to species at risk as well as many species of migratory birds and other wildlife. The NWAis a dynamic natural system influenced by erosion, flooding, fire, grazing, and other natural processes. The NWA is important not only as habitat for local wildlife but also is part of an important habitat corridor for migratory species.

The Vaseux-Bighorn NWA officially became a federal property in 1979. The wildlife area took its name from the Vaseux Lake reservoir and the area’s keystone wildlife species, the California Bighorn Sheep. The Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) manages several separate units of land which comprise the Vaseux-Bighorn NWA. In addition to private land holdings, the NWA is also adjacent to Vaseux Lake, a federal Migratory Bird Sanctuary (est. 1923), and other conservation land holdings protected by the province, Nature Trust of British Columbia, The Land Conservancy of British Columbia and the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

The NWA includes habitats that extend from wetlands and riparian thickets around Vaseux Lake up to arid terraces dominated by antelope bitterbrush, and finally up to rugged hillsides, dominated by exposed rock and ponderosa pine. Old ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir parklands in the area create habitat for cavity nesting birds including Lewis’s and White-headed Woodpeckers. Grasslands dominated by antelope-brush, sagebrush and blue bunch wheatgrass are unique to this area and provide suitable habitat for species such as Behr’s Hairstreak and several bird species including the Long-billed Curlew. Extensive wetlands surrounding the Okanagan River channel and dyke system at the north end of Vaseux Lake provide excellent migratory bird habitat.

More information is provided on Vaseux-Bighorn NWA in the summary table below.

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Management Plan (PDF; 759 KB) (HTML)

A Bobcat climbing up a rock.

Photo: Neil Dawe © Environment Canada.


National Wildlife Areas (NWAs) are protected and managed according to the Wildlife Area Regulations under the Canada Wildlife Act. The primary purpose of NWAs is the protection and conservation of wildlife and their habitat. For this purpose, and according to the legislation, Environment Canada can prohibit all activities in a NWAthat could interfere with the conservation of wildlife. Consequently, most NWAs are not accessible to the public and all activities are prohibited. Nonetheless, Environment Canada has the ability to authorize some activities, whether through public notice or the issuance of permits, as long as these are consistent with the management plan goals for the NWA. For more information, consult the NWAs Management and Activities section.

Access to the majority of the Vaseux-Bighorn NWA is restricted, the bulk of the NWA being closed to public access for the purposes mentioned. However, walk-on and non-motorized boat access to the adjacent Vaseux Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary for wildlife viewing are permissible without a permit. Public access is allowed on designated trails, and on the wildlife viewing tower and boardwalk. Some activities may be permitted as per the management plan conservation goals. Public notices listing the authorized activities in the wildlife area are posted at access points. For some types of activity, additional federal or provincial permits may be required.

More information on access and permitting for Vaseux-Bighorn NWA can be obtained by contacting the Environment Canada regional office.

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Map of the Area

Map of the Vaseux-Bighorn National Wildlife Area boundaries

Map showing the Vaseux-Bighorn NWA

Long description for the Map

Map showing the Vaseux-Bighorn National Wildlife Area boundaries.

Legend / Légende:

National Wildlife Areas
Réserves nationales de faune

Migratory Bird Sanctuaries
Refuge d'oiseaux migrateurs

This map is for illustrative purposes only and should not be used to define legal boundaries. Vaseux-Bighorn National Wildlife Area can also be viewed using Google Maps. Please note that the Google map is a complementary source of information and does not represent the official map or site name.

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Summary Table

This table provides summary information for the Vaseux-Bighorn NWA
Protected Area designationNational Wildlife Area
Province/territoryBritish Columbia
Latitude/longitude49°17'N / 119°33'W
Size in hectares (ha)812 ha, comprised of several discontinuous parcels
Reason for creation of protected areaHistoric: protection of critical winter range for California Bighorn Sheep.
Current: the area supports an appreciable assemblage of rare, vulnerable, threatened or endangered species.
Date created (Gazetted)1979 – Legal description
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management CategoryIV – Habitat/Species Management Area
Additional designations
  • Overlaps Vaseux Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS)
  • Part of Vaseux Lake Area Important Bird Area (IBA)
Keystone or flagship speciesCalifornia Bighorn Sheep.
Listed Species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA)30 species listed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), 28 listed on Schedule I of the Species at Risk Act including the threatened White-headed Woodpecker, Lewis's Woodpecker, Pallid Bat, and Behr's Hairstreak, as well as the special concern Long-billed Curlew and Peregrine Falcon.
Main habitat typePonderosa Pine & Bunchgrass zones
Faunistic and floristic importanceRare plant communities (identified by the B.C. Conservation Data Centre as red or blue-listed): Antelope Brush, Needle-and-Thread Grass, Water Birch, Red Osier Dogwood, Bluebunch Wheatgrass, Arrow-Leaved Balsamroot, and Ponderosa Pine–Bluebunch Wheatgrass communities. 
Invasive speciesRiparian  (e.g. purple loosestrife), aquatic (e.g. Eurasian Milfoil), upland (e.g. Sulphur Cinquefoil, Reed Canary Grass, Cheat Grass, Purple Loosestrife, Smooth Brome, Bull Thistle, Diffuse Knapweed, Hound's Tongue, St. John's Wort.
Additional linksCalifornia Bighorn Sheep
Main threats and challengesNWA is anticipated to be under a high level of threat in the future due to population growth, recreation pressure, and alien and invasive plant species.
Management AgencyEnvironment Canada (Canadian Wildlife Service)
Public access and usagePublic access allowed only on designated trail: wildlife viewing tower (Vaseux Lake Bird Observatory) and boardwalk.

Note: If there is a discrepancy between the information presented on this web page and any notice posted at the NWA site, the notice prevails as it is the legal instrument authorizing the activity.

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Contact Information

Environment Canada – Pacific and Yukon Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Protected Areas and Stewardship
5421 Robertson Road
Delta, BC
V4K 3N2
Toll Free: 1-800-668-6767 (in Canada only)