Of Turtles and Toe-biters: Wetlandkeepers in White Lake

About one hour north-east of Kamloops, nestled between the two arms of Salmon Lake, rests the small community of White Lake. Surrounded by majestic mountains, winding roads, and farmed valleys, it is easy to see that the habitat around White Lake is worth protecting. By the enthusiastic turn out at our final Wetlandkeepers course of the year, I would say the White Lake residents see this as well.  Shuswap Naturalists, The Neskonlith Band, Chase Fish and Game Club, Wetland Alliance – The Ecological Response, BC Parks, Thompson Rivers University, Shuswap Environmental Action Society, Shuswap Trail Alliance,  Adams River Salmon Society and more were all represented and eager to learn more about wetlands and how to protect them.

The in-class portions took place at the White Lake Hall, conveniently located across the street from the titular White Lake. This lake is surrounded almost entirely by shallow water wetlands, providing great habitat for invertebrates, amphibians, turtles, fish, and other wildlife. Though it is primarily surrounded by parkland, these wetlands are still threatened by non-environmentally conscious development, boating, and invasive species like Yellow Flag Iris and Fragrant Water Lily.

Michele Jones, of Mimulus Biological Consulting, was our primary trainer for the workshop and led indoor and outdoor sessions on wetland community types and plant surveying techniques. Residents and local organisations were also concerned about the local Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii) population.  The Western Painted Turtle is the only native pond turtle left in British Columbia and since the BC Wildlife Federations Wetland Education Program finds it beneficial to tailor each course to the community’s interests we brought in Painted Turtle Specialist, and WildBC educator, Peter Ballin as an instructor. Peter’s teachings began with a simple question: What is a turtle? Such a simple question warranted a simple yet engaging answer; Peter revealed a male, female, and juvenile painted turtle for the group to excitedly examine and compare.

Our other guest instructor was none other than Brian Heise, chair of the Natural Resource Sciences department at Thompson Rivers University. Brian shared his boundless knowledge of invertebrates with participants, explaining the different types of invertebrates and how to sample them. Furthermore, he explained how research involving invertebrates as indicators of wetland health is limited but that overall diversity, zooplankton species richness, relative abundance of some species can still aid in wetland health assessment.

Of course in-class teachings can only go so far, so participants headed out to a nearby wetland along the shores of White Lake. One group donned  life-jackets and followed Peter in canoes to search for turtles, while the other strapped on waders and followed Brian to sample invertebrates in the wetland itself. Though no turtles were spotted by the first group, Peter pointed out key turtle habitat features, and recommended that additional basking logs in the lake could allow for more successful visual surveys. The second group was lucky enough to spot three painted turtles! Brian’s group caught water scorpions, toe-biters, damselflies, water boatmen, and other water-loving critters.

We were fortunate to have Mel Arnold, a past president of the BC Wildlife Federation wrap up the course with a presentation on the history of the BCWF and its Wetland Education Program, and a description of some of the BCWF’s multiple conservation efforts in the Shuswap region. Having a past president present to field the multitude of questions from participants was a real treat and a perfect way to end 2012’s Wetlandkeeper Courses.
Here’s to 2013.

To see all the great photos taken during our White Lake Wetlandkeepers workshop, click here!

This workshop was undertaken with the financial support of:
Ce project été réalisé avec l’appui financier de:
Shell, Wildlife Habitat Canada, The Province of BC, and Environment Canada.

3 thoughts on “Of Turtles and Toe-biters: Wetlandkeepers in White Lake

      1. Peter Ballin

        We zeroed on the first circuit, but scored on the second. I was amazed at how different the Little White Lake habitat was from my study areas…and still there are turtles.

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