A man, Jef Vreys, smiles in a grey Nature Trust of BC hat and a burgundy hoodie in front of a scenic Okanagan view.

Jef Vreys is a man on a mission. He loves nothing more than grasslands, and Jef has devoted his career to protecting their valuable biodiversity. The Master’s student knows his calling, and he is ready to make a real difference for conservation.

This is why The Nature Trust of British Columbia has awarded Jef the Brink/McLean Grassland Conservation Fund for 2023. This fund promotes applied research, habitat restoration, and other stewardship activities that will assist the management of the land, plants, and animals of BC’s grasslands. The fund celebrates the work of Dr. Bert Brink and Dr. Alastair McLean, who dedicated their lives to ensuring the health of BC’s Southern Interior grasslands.

“I’m very excited to be selected for this,” he said. “I’m definitely ecstatic to get the chance to receive the funds that I can put towards my work.”

Vreys is currently pursuing his Master’s Degree at University of British Columbia Okanagan. His research focuses on restoration and monitoring of Antelope Brush grassland ecosystems in the South Okanagan. Jef and his team plan to develop long-term monitoring methods for these ecosystems that can inform future restoration methods.

“It kind of gives us a baseline of where a lot of these properties are at for their ecological integrity. From there, we’re going to start conducting a couple of restoration projects, and see how that goes.”

Antelope brush with yellow flowers in a scenic shot of the Okanagan. In the background, there is a desert landscape.

Antelope Brush in the South Okanagan | ©Graham-Osborne

This way, Jef and his team can compare previous conditions and new conditions once these projects are underway. They are hoping to collaborate with local landowners, BC Parks, the federal and provincial governments so that future Antelope Brush-related projects are conducted with synchrony. Part of their research involves tracking biodiversity through large-scale transects, requiring drone flights for which the Brink/McLean fund will likely be used.

Jef has always cared deeply about nature, and wanted to work with wildlife from a very young age. After his undergraduate studies, he joined the Fish, Wildlife, and Recreation program at BCIT, where he shifted his focus more to ecosystems and their intricate connections rather than individual species. He moved to the Okanagan during the pandemic and worked for the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of BC for a time, before shifting to The Nature Trust as part of the Okanagan Conservation Field Crew.

Jef spent seven months with the Crew, rising to the occasion to become a crew lead, and working on amazing projects like maintaining habitat for cougars and creating/monitoring burrowing owl burrows. During this time, he connected with professors Orville Dyer and Darcy Henderson, the latter of whom now supervises his work at UBCO.

Two images. On the left, is a man, Jef Vreys, posing and smiling while holding a small burrowing owl in front of scenic southern Okanagan with a blue sky. The photo on the right shows two people, Jef Vreys on the left and a woman on the right, smiling in front of a Nature Trust of BC sign in a conservation area.

Left: Jef poses happily with a burrowing owl. Right: Jef and a crewmate pose in front of a NTBC sign.

“It’s been kind of one step to the next,” Jef says. “But I’ve really enjoyed everything along the way. I’m really grateful to be in the position I am right now, with a project working on something that can hopefully make a difference.”

The Nature Trust is proud to have worked with Jef in the past and to be supporting his work in this way. The sky is the limit for him, and we can’t wait to see where his career will go. Congratulations Jef, and thank you for your incredible work!