Wetland construction is a lot work, let’s just start with that. Not only is there a considerable amount of physical labour, but there are so many things to learn and to know to create a well-built marsh or swamp. Over the course of the five day BCWF WEP’s Wetland Restoration Workshop held in Kamloops, a small group of dedicated individuals (including myself) worked hard together to restore two sites on the Tk’emlups Indian Band Reserve…and we did it well.
This was a massive and ambitious project for Neil Fletcher (BCWF WEP Coordinator) who packed the workshop to a bursting point full of activities that would support the overarching construction process. Many great things came out of these activities, and participants gained contacts and potential for new working relationships. The workshop was in part based on the Wetlands Institute of 2010, where those involved were asked to present their own projects at the start with the hopes of gaining information and insight that they could take back home with them at the end of the week. This year’s workshop participants were all stewards in some form: from concerned community members to plant ecologists, naturalists and local band members. Each individual shared their interest in the wetlands around them, some with planned presentations and others more casually. I attended as a volunteer and photographer and was eager to learn from all individuals and their diverse and valuable skill sets.
Before getting into the construction process, our first day was centered around the planning and assessment of a future site of restoration: The Dallas-Barnhartvale Nature Park. Two of the workshop participants, Milt Stanley and Heather Toles, and visiting member from their restoration project, Jim Sloper, were eager to share this site as their pet project and gain feedback from the group on the plans that they have been building. One surprise that came out of the group’s site visit was the identification of a functioning sedge meadow by participants and plant ecologists Mark Jones (PhD Candidate, UBC) and Ian Giesbrecht (M.RM). This gave the Friends of the Dallas-Barnhartvale Nature Park some serious food for thought on one of their potential construction sites. Moving though the site and taking soil samples, the group learned where water was held in certain zones. It was determined that a dam had been created and that water flowed on site, even during dry points in the season. A pipe that was dug up earlier in the year posed questions of a history of drainage. It was also noted that a great deal of invasive plants had moved into the park, dispersed from nearby gardens or composts. Hiding out from the rain under a canopy, the group addressed the problem of invasives with a quick visit from Jo Ann Fox of the Southern Interior Weed Management Committee who brought goody bags for all. The group then proceeded to map out one of the other potential sites for construction as soon as the rain let up. Neil demonstrated how to measure slope with the use of a clinometer, survey rod and level, and distance with a rangefinder. Participants were all given the opportunity to make use of these tools and assist in the initial planning of one of the future construction sites. Day one ended at the home of Heather & Cliff Toles, where we toured their year-old restored wetland. I believe that everyone was excited to see how well the pond performs after being constructed only last year, and this was encouragement for us before we tackled the two sites in the days to come. Heather and Cliff held a lively BBQ at their home that night and the group was joined by Sarma Liepins (BC M.O.E.) and Marge Sidney (Logan Lake Working Enhancement Group). Erin Rutherford, participant and member of the South Coast Bat Action Team, gave the group a fun presentation on her work with bats and made us all aware of their inextricable link with healthy wetland sites.
An early rise the following day brought us back to our meeting room at the Chief Louis Centre’s Assembly Hall that was generously provided by the Tk’emlups IB, partners in the workshop. There we were given a presentation on wetland construction techniques by Devon Moore before heading out to the Stud’s Pasture Wetland site on Mount Lolo Road to get our hands dirty. On location we worked with Ben, our excavator, to dig our first one meter test pit. Here we discovered that the soil layer above the clay was loaded with beautiful fresh water snail shells. This find signaled that the site originally held a great deal of water. After the test pit was dug, the group determined the slope, depth and width of the wetland with Devon’s help. As the excavator went to work we all busied ourselves by removing the seed heads, and in some cases whole plants, of the invasive thistle and knapweed that inundated the site. These weeds would be buried well below the soil removed from our digs. Ian Giesbrecht presented a method for assessing the health of a wetland and we whizzed through it together to get an estimated number value for the Health of the Stud’s Pasture Wetland complex. After a lunch on the straw bales that our partner, Barry Bennett (TIB), brought out for mulching, we all headed out to our second restoration area at Strawberry Hill for a tour. We noted the intensive pugging in the soil and the problems of grazing cattle and feral horses in the area. We assessed the health of the wetland with the use of the Alberta Cow and Fish survey that Ian had presented and the site was in desperate need of a serious intervention! Ideas for how we might restore the Strawberry Hill wetland for wildlife such as bats, Sharp-tailed Grouse and/or Great Basin Spadefoot were presented by visiting expert Ernest Leupin who blew us away with his wealth of knowledge and understanding of the region. Valuable advice was given and the group left this second site with so much to consider. The day ended at Paul Lake where we met up with members of the Kamloops Fish and Game Club who set up a BBQ and boat ride for us. Although it was a cool and windy evening, we went out onto the lake and collected plant material in buckets that we would later identify and find little critters in. Don Trethewy discussed the fish and waterfowl who ate these insects and spoke to the various activities that the club has recently been involved with. Throughout the evening, Erin Rutherford used her bat detecting gear to listen in on some area bats, and the evening ended with a presentation by Odin Scholtz of the Lillooet Naturalists Society on the grasslands restoration project he has been involved in.
On Saturday we all arrived on site at the Stud’s Pasture wetland to discover how much had been built. The slope of one deep pool was reconsidered and reconfigured before the final ephemeral pool was dug. A group of us collected Fox Tail Barley seed to use on site, and then raking, shaping, planting, seeding and mulching ensued. Odin Scholtz and Ian Geisbrecht took over the planting design and the group put in a lot of muscle to green the dirt pits that had been dug. A media representative for the Shuswap Tribal Council, Walter Quinlan, was on site to help out and capture the events for members of the Tk’emlups band to admire. The day was broken up with a visit from Jocelyn Garner, a TRU Masters Candidate who has been doing research on the area’s Great Basin Spadefoot. We learned about their habits and habitat, and then were quizzed on frog and toad calls. We got much of our planting done that day and all went home tired. A private performance of music (Swampstock 2011!) after a dinner party at Sue & Diane’s place made it all worthwhile.
Sunday split the group as there was much work to do. Most of our crew went back to Stud’s Pasture to complete the planting of the two wetlands. I went up Strawberry Hill along with Neil and Devon to begin construction there. We suffered the cold wind without breakfast but made a lot of progress with the removal of fencing and debris, the reshaping of the existing pool and the creation of a small shallow pool adjacent that would function as a watering hole for cattle. After a cattle ramp was built by our excavator, everyone made their way up to the site and we worked together to lay down geotextile and peg it in place before gravel and dirt was laid on top. The rest of the afternoon was a whirlwind of planting and seeding and mulching, punctuated by Neil’s demo on installing shallow groundwater monitoring wells and Erin’s talk on bat house installation.
After the workshop had ended, our work was still ongoing. The following day brought classes from two local elementary schools. Students in a french immersion class at South-Sahali Elementary School lead by Jennifer Dundass and parents came for a tour of the original Stud’s Pasture wetland and a discussion related to wetland curriculum that they’d covered that week. Students from the Sk’elep School then arrived with three elders (including Flora Sampson, the school’s Secwepemctsin Elder in Residence) and joined in on planting and mulching activities. The children made the final leg of work easy and they enjoyed the work they did immensely! When the plants had been sufficiently watered and mulched, we settled in for a performance by the visiting elders. The Secwepemc welcoming song that the three of them sang to the group and to the wetlands moved and excited the group. We learned to say “Kukwtsétsemc“, and would like to say it again for the culture they brought to the project! Afterward, the kids all learned about frogs and bats from Neil before playing some games to burn off all their energy, including “Camouflage” and “Bat and Bug”. Everyone left feeling positive about their contribution to the creation these beautiful wetlands and many children excitedly vowed to stop by and visit in the future. On their way out, one of the fathers brought out a Pacific Chorus Frog that was found in the newly constructed wetland, and this gave us great hope for the future!
To see a collection of the photographs I shot during the workshop, visit our Flickr slideshow!
Thanks to all of the participants and contributors who made the workshop a success. We’ll look forward to monitoring and sharing the progress of these new sites, particularly in the Spring when we expect a great deal of water to pool in our newly built swamps!
This project was funded with the help of the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund and restoration work also received funding from the South Thompson Wildlife Stewardship Committee. In kind support came from the Tk’emlups Indian Band, our hosts and partners in the project.