Infrared Pemberton Area

This week, our selected BC Wetlands Photo depicts the varying vegetation around one of Pemberton’s rivers. By shooting in infrared, photographer llenrap604 gives us the opportunity to distinguish the layered  plant communities of a beautiful wetland. Take a close look and admire the variety: from its swampy centre, to its open waters and the shrubby and coniferous margins with rising elevations beyond.

The Pemberton valley is a floodplain, flanked by the Ryan River on the southwest and the Lillooet river to the northeast. These two salmon-bearing rivers are catchments of so many smaller creeks that travel down the surrounding mountains and that, on a whole, make up a watershed. Some of these creeks begin high up in the alpine in deeper depressions of standing water: as in the case of Gingerbread Lake near the peak of Mount Barbour. Others are fed in large part by the snow melt in spring, and wreak havock on the rustic seed potato farms that make up this rich agricultural community.

Most of us are familiar with the value of farming on floodplains. The Nile River valley in Egypt helped to sustain one of our earliest and greatest civilizations with its fertile soils. Much of BC’s local food is produced in the very fertile Fraser River valley. The Pemberton valley and its rivers are no different- farming communities from the times of the early Lil’wat settlements at the base of Mount Currie, to the farms created to serve the goldminers of Lillooet during the 1858 gold rush, then the flood of settlers who came with the railway in 1924 and who have continued to to come in with highway 99 until present- have been drawn to Pemberton’s rich earth. This soil is constantly fed by sediment brought in from the rushing waters of surrounding creeks and rivers.

Those who know the value of farming on river valleys are also aware of the pitfalls. As evidenced by the large Smuk’s dike that stretches across north Pemberton, flooding is a major issue. Why doesn’t the earth absorb the water that floods in each year? Why are farmers losing crops with the snow melt? The answer comes down to a loss of wetlands.  When a floodplain or valley is healthy and functioning properly within the larger ecosystem, the massive influx of water during heavy rainfall and snow melt is absorbed by the gradual slopes and complex lines of the riparian and surrounding marshes, swamps and bogs. When rivers and creeks are diverted into straight channels, as is often the case with farmland to irrigate crops, these absorbent zones are lost and erosion and flooding are inevitable. 

There are ways to improve the difficult situation that is presented to the people of the Pemberton valley and the residents of other river valleys. Some of these ideas will be explored during the BCWF Wetlands Institute that is being held in Pemberton and Squamish next week! Urban and rural planning with an understanding of watershed and complex ecosystems is a must, but restoration work can help after the damage of poor planning has already been done. By complexing the straight irrigation channels into offshoots and ponds or pockets of varying depth, water can be slowed and held in strategic areas (away from houses and crops). This also benefits the bird and amphibian populations by creating breeding and feeding opportunities. In this scenario, as is always the case, we find that when wetlands are brought back into the hearts and landscapes of British Columbians, we ALL benefit.

I thank llenrap604 for presenting this complex wetland for us to ponder. The glowing greens that surround the body of water that caught this photographer’s eye have many values: aesthetic, environmental, economic and spiritual. If you would like to contribute to our ongoing photo collection, upload your photos to Flickr and join our Wetlands of British Columbia Photogroup.

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