Increasing Stewardship Capacity in Remote Communities: Peace – Williston Region 2019

The first two weeks of June proved to be busy for the BCWF’s Wetland Education Program (WEP). The WEP team, led by the Wetlands Education Program Manager Neil Fletcher, travelled through Northeastern BC to partner with three remote First Nation communities in Tsay Keh Dene, Fort Ware and McLeod Lake. In each community, tailored workshops were held that focused on providing hands-on-training for remote communities while educating community members and Land Guardians on wetland classifications and values, and how to conduct wetland health assessments.

One of the beautiful, healthy wetland complexes found in Tsay Keh Dene.

Due to their remote northern locations, much of the land in these traditional territories is pristine and largely undeveloped or under-developed. Seemingly endless forests, grasslands, rivers and wetlands are scattered across the landscape, providing vast expansions of habitat for native plants and animals to thrive, as seen in the three photos below. Wetlands alone provide countless ecosystem services such as filtering local water, flood mitigation, storing carbon and supporting remarkable levels of biodiversity. They are an integral part of the landscape that needs protection as wetlands are currently being destroyed or degraded at an alarming rate across the globe. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure that the communities who live in the beautiful Peace Region, where large areas of intact wetlands remain, are provided access to resources and training that can supplement their traditional knowledge and help protect these critical ecosystems.

The first stop on this journey was Tsay Keh Dene, a small community of approximately 200 members who reside at the northern tip of the Williston Reservoir. From June 4-5, the team was joined by employees from Chu Cho Environmental, Chu Cho Industries and Tsay Keh Dene Lands, Resource, and Treaty Operations, as well as Tsay Keh Dene Elders and other interested community members. Participants shared wetland values and the historical significance of wetlands within their territory with the WEP team and were eager to take us to five sites to assess. These sites, pictured below, ranged from beautiful, healthy, and untouched wetlands, to drained and impacted wetlands that have high potential for restoration. Participants used field guides to identify wetland plants, classify soils and wetland types, and completed Wetland Rapid Health Assessments. Together, the community members and Chu Cho Environmental plan to use their new skills and knowledge to continue identifying and assessing the health of wetlands throughout their territory to create restoration plans for impacted sites.

The team then spent two days with the Kwadacha First Nation in Fort Ware, which lies an hour north of Tsay Keh Dene. The first morning was spent engaging with grade 10 and 11 students from Aatse Davie School where students were taught about wetland classification and the importance of protecting them, followed by an introduction to handheld GPS units. The eager students were fast learners and used their newly acquired skills of making plots and tracks to find their way back from a local wetland and locate a hidden prize: a BCWF WEP t-shirt! 

The wetland that the WEP visited with students from Aatse Davie School.

For the next 1.5-days, the WEP team held the Wetland Training Workshop for Land Guardians, prospective Land Guardians and other interested community members. The Land Guardians are community members who work with the Nation to monitor ecological health, maintain cultural sites and protect sensitive areas and species. This workshop and hands-on experience allow the Guardians and other community members to learn and enhance skills that focus on the assessment, monitoring and protection of local wetlands. Expressing passion for the protection of their land and local wetlands, the eager group then spent the next day out in the field exploring both degraded and healthy wetlands. Participants enhanced their knowledge of native wetland plants and used field guides to identify the type of wetland by its plant association. Using wetland health assessment forms, the group merged western science and Traditional Ecological Knowledge to assess the health of the land.

Our final stop brought us to McLeod Lake, 2-hours north of Prince George, where the WEP team had the pleasure of training a small group of Land Guardians from the McLeod Lake Indian Band,. The group shared their concerns about the health of wetlands in their traditional territory, including low amphibian populations and the proliferation of industrial roads, which increases habitat fragmentation. In the field, the group encountered swamps transitioning into bogs and fens, due to hydrological changes caused by both natural conditions and the construction of roads. The participants also examined an impacted wetland that had been altered due to the influences of the W.A.C. Bennet Dam and the Williston Reservoir, as well as the suspected presence of beavers. The Land Guardians enhanced their knowledge about wetlands and expressed a keen interest in using their new skills to help enhance the wetlands to support the wildlife that share their territory.

This training provided these communities with a deeper understanding of these diverse ecosystems, and also provided them with the resources and skills needed to identify, analyze, protect and restore the wetlands within their traditional territories. Specifically, these workshops help support the Land Guardian programs and increase stewardship capacity in remote communities. To see more pictures from this adventurous few weeks of workshops, check here, here, and here!

A very special thank you to all our partners who invited the WEP team into their communities and shared their stories, knowledge and concerns with us. We look forward to seeing the progress in each community and working together in the future!

Our partners for these training sessions: McLeod Lake Indian Band, Tsay Keh Dene Band, Chu Cho Environmental (owned by the Tsay Keh Dene Band) and Kwadacha Nation.

An additional thank you to the funders of these projects, the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, Wildlife Habitat Canada and the Government of BC. With your support we can continue to reach out to remote communities and provide them with the experiential hands-on-training that is critical for environmental conservation and the protection of our wetlands.

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