Two young burrowing owls were released at Upper Nicola Band’s (UNB) Douglas Lake reserve this past weekend, with the conservation project marking both Earth Day, and the beginning of the initiative’s eighth year in operation.

Community members, conservationists, elected officials both past and present, and program volunteers gathered at the UNB band office on Saturday (April 22) for a ceremony and presentation regarding the burrowing owl release program that the band has taken on since 2015. Increasing the Douglas Lake grasslands’ burrowing owl population is a labour of love for volunteers and organizers, who were glad to see two birds return from their winter migration. 

“For them to return to the site is huge, and Dawn always expresses the importance of each bird,” said Loretta Holmes, senior cultural heritage technician with UNB’s owl program. Holmes, along with project biologist Chris Gill and animal health technician Dawn Brodie, run the program.

“Each bird is so valuable, there’s so few of them, and their survival rate is so small that a return bird, with that experience and everything, is huge.”

One of this year’s returning birds was born at the site, located just outside of Douglas Lake, in 2020. Limited area for habitat means the birds are endangered and need a housing boost, provided by UNB in the form of 20 artificial nesting homes for the owls to burrow into. Through UNB’s efforts, the population of burrowing owls has been maintained locally in the past number of years. Last year, UNB was home to 9 percent of the burrowing owl population. 

Upper Nicola Band is involved in a number of conservation efforts, including the management of invasive yellow perch, solar technologies, and the conservation of other endangered species. UNB’s chief, who was in attendance at the annual release, said in his address that traditional and cultural knowledge help UNB be stewards of the land.

“I’m always reminded that our people have been here for a long, long time,” said UNB Chief Dan Manuel. “When we look at our cultural and traditional knowledge, we can find the very origins of these owls. We can find their purpose here on our lands, and we can find our responsibility to these animals, these birds. We can find our connection, and define our place here, with specific land-based knowledge, that doesn’t exist anywhere [else] in the world.” 

Following a prayer, drumming song, and words by program volunteers, the two returning owls were shown to attendees while Chief Dan Manuel drummed. The pair of owls were then taken to the release site, heading back to their artificial digs, along with this year’s new releases.

For more information on UNB’s burrowing owl program, visit