Cattails and lily pads, red wing blackbirds and common yellow warblers, painted turtles and Columbia Spotters – a marsh is an ecosystem that bewilders. But with so many reasons to stay inside, people are not exposed to the image of a wetland bursting into life, only an unwelcoming, dark and dreary swamp.
Wetlands play a significant role in B.C. ecosystems (and if you could put a price on them, they would cost a pretty penny). They have the capacity to sequester carbon, slow rushing water, filter out sediments, and control floods. Wetlands comprise only 5.6% of the land base of B.C. and are disappearing quickly due to encroaching development. Fifty percent of wetlands in the Columbia Basin have been lost due to dams.
Fact: Did you know water-tolerant species such as cattails absorb high concentrations of nutrients from their surroundings and provide nesting habitats for songbirds? Super cool.
That’s what we think at the BC Wildlife Federation – which is why we’ve taken measures into our own hands by getting on the road and travelling to the West Kootenays to teach community stewards how to assess the value of their wetlands. In Castlegar, we held the 2.5 day Wetlandkeepers course, which you can read about here (A Great Mix: WetlandKeepers in Castlegar) and shortly afterwards we travelled to Nelson where we partnered with the Nelson and District Rod and Gun Club to host the Map our Marshes workshop.
The Map our Marshes workshop took place on June 9th, 2012, and consisted both of classroom and field components. Neil Fletcher, Wetlands Education Program Coordinator, kicked off the workshop by introducing wetland functions, values and classifications. He then jumped into GPS theory, and later when the group got hold of the handheld GPS units, we were able to go from theory to practice. After learning functions such as tracking and creating waypoints, the group was ready to get muddy. We relocated to Grohman Narrows Provincial Park, just 5 minutes west from Nelson’s downtown core, for the field component.
The Grohman Narrows wetland is a combination of shallow-water, swamp and bog wetland classes, and is home to a number of species, including sedges, mountain alder, and common spike rush. The wetland serves as a critical habitat for painted turtles (a species at-risk), which we saw sun bathing on logs in the wetland’s open pool. The presence of weedy species such as bracken fern, common horsetail and meadow buttercup suggests prior disturbances to the landscape. In fact, the area used to be farmed as an apple orchard prior to park designation. Digging into the history of the site we learned that a few years ago a B.C. government ecologist of 35+ years lost his job fighting against a roadside truck repair development that would have significantly altered the habitat of the painted turtles at Grohman Narrows. The issue went to the Courts, and luckily the ecologist won the case.
We threw on waders and gumboots and tracked the perimeter of the open pool and swamp with handheld GPS units The gift of Spring ensured that the wetland was at its highest water mark and by the end of the mapping exercise, our boots were soaked,but our brains were full of newly acquired wisdom and we looked as though we had slept with a hanger in our mouth – smiles from ear to ear all around! We then went back into town in order to upload the data onto both GoogleEarth and the Community Mapping Network’s BC Wetlands Atlas.
The enthusiastic crowd of biologists, students, hunters, and other curious Nelson residents were grateful for the free workshop with many eager to use their new skillset right away to map other wetlands in the region and upload them to the Community Mapping Network. BC Wildlife Federation offered the course for free to members of the community and surrounding areas thanks to our program sponsors: Columbia Basin Trust, BC Hydro’s Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, Wildlife Habitat Canada, Government of Canada, Government of BC, and Shell.
One thing we can all take away from this experience is: as government programs for the environment continue to disappear, citizen-science projects like the Community Mapping Network inversely will grow in their importance as a form of reliable data for mapping and monitoring ecosystems.
To read the live tweets from the Map our Marshes workshop in Nelson, click here.
To see photos of the workshop, click here.