Cheam Wetlands

Many outdoor recreationalists will recognize this week’s winning image from the Fraser Valley. The Cheam Lake Wetlands, protected habitat near Bridal Falls, are a scenic catchment of snow melt from the towering misty blue mountains that surround it.

Despite the appearance of eternal greenness, this land was not always a place to hear the honk-honking of migrating geese or take a leisurely stroll amid the chirping chorus of local frogs.  The Cheam wetlands were the site of a far noisier limestone quarry between 1940-1990, prior to restoration and regional park designation. Interestingly enough, the sedimentary rock that was mined at this site can tell us an even longer history of the region. This particular area of the Fraser Valley is the only Canadian section of what is called the Northwestern Cascade Ranges Ecosection (NWC). The rugged Cascade Mountains, most identified with their bulk in Washington state, are a folded mixture of metamorphosed volcanic rock, sandstone, shale and limestone that was built in an explosive event 100 million years ago.  To add to this history, the calcium carbonate found in the Cascades limestone is most likely made up of skeletal fragments of marine organisms such as corals. This means that the area could have once held a much larger and deeper body of water in the distant past. Today we can still recognize the remnants of large glaciers that would have coated the BC Cascades prior to our current warming climate. These glaciers slowly shape Cheam mountain and others nearby with their slow melt, rounding out the hard rocky peaks before draining into the Chilliwack River.

Landscapes go through great waves of transformation, sometimes over many centuries and sometimes within a lifetime. The Cheam Wetlands tell us this transformational story in many ways: not just in the shift from long past seas to volcanic explosions, mines and then recently planted productive swampy parks. Looking at our feature photograph, an observant viewer will recognize other tell-tale signs of change and adaptation on a more recent and smaller scale.

Look to the center of the image and what do you see? Layers of fallen logs have been dragged by hardworking beavers to dam a particular corner of the lake. While the gnawing, damming and the ensuing flood of water is sometimes a point of frustration for people, these activities can also assist in creating safe spawning grounds for a variety of other species. In this photograph we can see that the beaver dams have created a lovely and calm pool that has caught our photographer’s attention.

Other small scale changes are far less favourable for native flora and fauna. In the foreground of this photograph we see that our photographer has captured a great challenge that comes with human activity and development near watery sites: the invasion of competitive Yellow Flag Iris. The tall deep greens capped with pretty yellow flowers that we see along the shore have likely been in competition for light and nutrients with smaller native plants, and may have crowded them out entirely. The small coin-like seeds of these flowers float like boats and anchor in the moist soil of the riparian, colonizing entire shorelines in difficult-to-remove  bunches. These plants may be pretty in bloom, but they are also deadly to fragile ecosystems. Recently, the BCWF staff removed a small  portion of one such colony along a wetland in Langley, and it required a lot of muscle, man-power and equipment to make an impact. Seeing such large groups of Iris is a reminder to dispose of garden plants responsibly as our smallest actions can be a cause of great impact on important and fragile environments.

While landscapes are not static, photographs can freeze a historical moment for us to ponder environments. Shaped by climate change, human industry, animal-caused habitat creation and a gardener’s careless dumping, the featured Cheam Wetlands will continue to evolve before our eyes. We thank our travelling English photographer Karen  Griggs for submitting this moment in time to our BC Wetlands Photo Group and congratulate her on framing this complex space so beautifully. To see more of Karen’s work, visit her Flickr page. Join our Wetlands of British Columbia Photo group and share your vision of our province’s natural gems.

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