Weekends of Wetlands! Cumberland Wetlandkeepers and Conference

We had a whirlwind of wetland activity in Cumberland at the beginning of May, where BCWF hosted four events over two weekends. In the first weekend of May, 14 keen Comox Valley residences participated in the Cumberland Wetlandkeepers Workshop, taught by senior Biologist Michele Jones of Mimulus Biological Consultants. Similar to past Wetlandkeepers, this workshop focused on wetland classification, conducting baseline surveys, bird survey techniques, and plant identification. This is the third time the Comox Valley has hosted a Wetlandkeepers course in the past 5 years, and the following weekend just goes to show how involved these community members are!

On May 10-12, BC Wildlife Federation partnered with Comox Valley Naturalists, Comox Valley Land Trust, and Cumberland Community Forest Society to host a 3-day event designed to increase awareness of the extensive, diverse and beautiful wetlands that are such a large part of Cumberland. 80+ people participated in the educational festivities over the three days, and thanks to our amazing partner Steve Morgan of the Cumberland Community Forest Society, the events were a complete success and went off without a hitch!

The first event of the weekend was the Cumberland Wetlands and Development Round Table. This three-hour session focused on the mechanisms currently available to protect wetlands in British Columbia and Cumberland, with specific attention on the Village’s Official Community Plan (OCP).  The presentations of four diverse speakers, including Ken Rogers, Village of Cumberland Manager of Development Services, Paul de Greeff, Registered Landscape Architect, Tim Ennis, Executive Director of Comox Valley Land Trust, and Neil Fletcher, BC Wildlife Federation’s Wetlands Education Program Manager, elicited engaging and thought-provoking discussions among the local council and staff, and community members that attended. Read on for some highlights from the Round Table:

Paul de Greeff, local Landscape Architect, works to design, plan, and integrate development with natural features of the landscape – through a process called “Site Adaptive Planning”. One of his success stories was a townhouse development in a small Garry Oak ecosystem in Saanich, on Vancouver Island. Working alongside the developers and architects, he adapted the site plan and design to save all 200 of the Garry Oak trees on the property. Not only was he able to protect these valuable features, but he incorporated wildlife corridors within the area, so this rare habitat was still accessible to wildlife, and the new residents have the additional value of wildlife viewing opportunities in their own backyards. Landscape Architects are currently under-represented during development projects and could help conserve delicate ecosystems, such as wetlands, beyond what is required for buffers under the Water Sustainability Act and Riparian Areas Regulation.

Tim Ennis is a conservation biologist and the Executive Director of the Comox Valley Land Trust, a non-profit society that acquires land for conservation purposes. Tim spoke about the value of “Eco-Assets” – The concept that natural features, such as wetlands, have considerable economic value and provide goods and services for “free”. For the last couple decades, infrastructure is aging, costs are rising, and service delivery is strained by growing populations, thus increasing costs to taxpayers to update and refit to keep up. By preserving areas like wetlands and floodplains that do services like this for “free”, the burden on taxpayers is decreased, which is more than a relief in these times of rising capital costs.

The main event of the weekend was the Cumberland Wetlands Conference, a full-day conference featuring 10 experts who spoke about wetland ecology, plants, birds, amphibians, Cumberland’s unique geology, and current and proposed wetland protection and what this means for the future of Cumberland’s wetlands. Some highlights include Dr. Loys Maingon (current Research Director for the Strathcona Wilderness Institute), who was the keynote speaker and presented on the connection between the Salish Sea’s water chemistry and the upstream biogeochemical processes that are essential to the environmental health of waters surrounding Vancouver Island.  In particular, Dr. Maingon highlighted the value of humic substances that are generated in wetland soils and transported as a key factor in the development of plant communities in our estuaries. Elke Wind (Professional Biologist and founder of E. Wind Consulting) spoke about her research on Western toad migration in the Cowichan Valley and how the Regional District’s OCP identified and helped to protect vital foraging and wintering habitat for this species from development.

Additional expert topics presented at the Conference are as follows:

  • Michele Jones (Professional Biologist with Mimulus Biological Consultants)- Introduction to Wetlands, and Flora of Wetlands;
  • Del Ferguson (Professional Geologist)- Water and Ice: Geology and hydrology of the Cumberland Wetlands;
  • Kathryn Clouston (Morrison Creek Streamkeepers)- Birds of the Cumberland Wetlands;
  • Neil Fletcher (BCWF Wetlands Education Program manager)- Wetland protection tools: from regulatory to voluntary actions; and
  • Tim Ennis (Executive Director of the Comox Valley land Trust)- Eco asset valuation as a wetland protection tool.

The delicious and unique lunch for the conference was a BBQ salmon lunch prepared in a traditional fire pit by members of the K’omoks First Nation Guardian Watchmen. The weather agreed with us on that fine Saturday afternoon and attendees basked in the sun while enjoying salmon and vegetables that were slow steamed in a coal-lined pit under layers of sword fern, salal, and skunk cabbage.

The third, and final day of the weekend fell on Mother’s Day, May 14. Five tour leaders offered free guided tours in three local wetlands; Cumberland Chinatown wetlands, Morrison Creek Headwaters, and Maple Lake wetlands. Participants, and their lucky mothers, learned about the local history, and native flora and fauna from knowledgeable and dedicated community members, who were Gwyn Sproule, Lean Balin, Jim Palmer, Jan Gemmell, and Bruce Moffatt.

This beautiful, educational weekend was enjoyed by all those that participated, and may even become an annual event!

A very special thank you to all those that contributed their time and efforts to make this event the accomplishment it was, and a particularly huge thank you to Steve Morgan for being the key coordinator, and expert MC of the Round Table and Conference. You greatly contributed to the success of these events and we look forward to working with you again!

An additional thank you to the funders of this project: Government of BC, the Royal Bank of Canada’s Blue Water Project, Wildlife Habitat Canada, and Environment & Climate Change Canada.

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