Vancouver Island is large enough to have a diversity of wetland types, from bogs to salty estuaries. There are also many champions of these wetlands, and we were fortunate to spend some time with a few to get just a small taste of the exciting work being done around the Cowichan valley and Shawnigan Lake.
Cowichan Land Trust
Kai Rietzel (alumni of the 2012 Wetland Institute), executive director of the Cowichan Land Trust, and Meghan Loop, Kai’s project assistant, met with us to tour potential sites for our upcoming 2013-14 programming. This included a drive down some country lanes to see the Jackson road wetland (a swampy marsh beneath some power lines) and Wake Lake outside of Duncan. Near this site, Kai described the work that she participated in last summer where small fences were constructed to help corral Western Toads away from certain death on a busy road. The fences were made of a smooth, black plastic sheet that was too slippery for the Toads to climb, and because of this the threatened population was protected during its migration. A final site visit for course work opportunities was situated within a suburban development where residents actively care for a small wetland and forested stream, and where small signs have recently been placed along the trail to educate those that use it about the values of the native plants along their walk.
Among our site tours we did have the privilege of stopping by sites worth mentioning in greater detail. The first was a series of four constructed wetlands on the Garry Oak Preserve- a truly majestic landscape. On these sprawling grounds where the land is managed to maintain a savanna environment, a small stream is now channeled through the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young wetlands at the far end of the property. A large quantity of shale has moved with this stream into the first wetland from a nearby clear cut, but the volunteers who have managed these wetlands intend on removing the shale and using it elsewhere. Between the Nash and Young wetlands are a series of vernal pools amid what was a sea of blooming skunk cabbage that just glowed in the warm Cowichan sun.
The other wetland worth a mention was the expansive Somenos Marsh, a site with great boardwalks, educational signs and abundant variety of bird life. This wetland is cared for and protected by a great number of organizations, however at one end it is still encroached upon by ongoing construction.
On our final day on the Island, we hosted a first ever condensed version of the Map our Marshes Course to two separate groups at Shawnigan Lake School An enthusiastic teacher, Scott Noble, set us up with his Environmental Science class who had spent their last class learning about wetland environments. Afterwards we taught the Outdoors Club who were keen to know more about the use of a GPS tool to map outdoors. The WEP Assistant, Jason Jobin, taught the classroom portion of the course to engaged high school kids in the lecture space within their science lab. This included an overview of the types of wetlands and their distinguishing features, their many values and how they are threatened by so many human activities. Students were given a GPS unit to use outdoors and Jason ran the group through the basics of how to use this technology to map an environment.
While the weather was not as kind to us as it had been the previous day, we all put on our rubber boots, waders and raincoats and headed out to the school’s wetland to test out our GPS knowledge. Neil Fletcher lead a soil sampling activity where a few lucky students had the opportunity to identify the soil type by getting their hands dirty. Afterward, we divided into two groups and mapped the perimeter, inflow and outflow of the wetland before heading indoors to place the tracks onto Google Earth. Everyone was satisfied to see the results of the activity come up on the projector screen, and they all seem keen to put this GPS mapping for conservation into further practice in future class activities.
The Shawnigan Lake Map our Marshes was sponsored by Shell, Government of BC, and Wildlife Habitat Canada, and Environment Canada.