Educating interested community members, working professionals, and students about wetlands is the BC Wildlife Federation’s Wetlands Education Program (WEP)‘s bread and butter, and from July 10 – 18, the WEP Team had the pleasure of doing just that. While embarking on a whirlwind tour of the Kootenays and the Okanagan, we hosted a Wetlandkeepers workshop in beautiful Rossland on July 12-14. These workshops are designed to provide a brief but in-depth overview of the technical skills and knowledge needed to become better wetland stewards. Over the course of just two and half days, participants learned how to delineate wetlands from aerial photos, identify wetland-specific plants and animals, analyze soil types, conduct rapid health assessments, and gained an understanding of the attributes that set different wetlands apart. While the information taught in these workshops largely stays consistent, each community that we visit is uniquely distinct in their collective wisdom, concerns, and interests.
The group consisted of 20 keen participants from industry professionals, like Natural Resource Officers (NROs) from the Ministry of Lands, Forests, Lands, Natural Resources and Rural Development (FLNRORD), environmental consultants, professional biologists, and retired teachers, to members of the Rossland Streamkeepers and Rossland Society for Environmental Action. Participants came from all over the Kootenays, and even from as far away as Victoria and Calgary! This combination of working professionals made for a very experienced and engaging group and was a great opportunity for knowledge transfer.
The first day was a half day and started at 5:30 PM at the Seven Summits Centre for Learning. It was dedicated to introducing the 5 Wetland Classes of BC, and this day was also an opportunity for everyone to introduce themselves and set their learning objectives for the remainder of the course. We identified that, overall, the group wished to gain a better understanding of the following:
- The identification of wetland classes on the plant species associations
- How to identify degraded wetlands and how this knowledge would be incorporated into their work, whether that be as an NRO or a consultant
- Read the landscape in order to determine what type of wetland may have been present/could be present (given future restoration projects)
- How to identify the transition zone from upland to wetland ecosystem
In particular, the NROs from FLNRORD expressed their desire to better understand wetlands and the specific stresses that they face in order to make better judgement calls when handling infractions.
The first full day was spent entirely out in the field, where we visited an impacted wetland just off Highway 22, called Oasis Wetland. The initial step to understanding the site involved around the perimeter of the wetland, which had experienced several changes since it was last visited by the WEP team, chiefly being the increased water level. While walking along a trail above the wetland, we came across a stand of Himalayan Balsam, which is an invasive plant. This prompted a quick lesson on the identification of this plant by Kalenna, a participant from Central Kootenay Invasive Species Society, which then led to the group pulling this stand of balsam.
The group then walked down to the actual wetland itself to conduct transects in the wetland and identify the plant species present. This taught participants how to distinguish between different wetland classifications within the wetland- because, as we know, wetlands are very dynamic ecosystems and often have multiple classes contained within one area! The morning finished with learning how to do a Rapid Health Assessment to determine the overall health and functionality of the wetland. Despite there being an abundance of plant and animal life within and around the wetland, the presence of aggressive invasive flora and the proximity to the highway and overhead power lines gave this particular site a low grade for wetland “health”.
The second site of the day was at Strawberry Pass, a stunning area consisting of old growth trees, rolling mountain tops, and fields of wild strawberries! There, we met Les Carter from Friends of the Rossland Range (FORR), who gave a talk on the management of Strawberry Pass and the surrounding Rossland Range. His talk was extremely invigorating; delivered in a way that asked us to use our scientific knowledge to piece together the story of the landscape, like reading the contours of the surrounding mountain tops to identify the watershed catch basin, and understand the effects of past glaciation events and how they changed the landscape. Next was a guided tour through the Old Growth forest and Les was joined by Eva Cameron of RSEA to explain the intricacies of the surrounding ecosystem, and how the area has been managed for recreational and conservation purposes.
The last day diverged from wetland classification, and focused on wetland construction, current and past, present, and future restoration projects. Neil Fletcher, WEP Manager, bean the day with a presentation on wetland construction, design, and restoration techniques. This was followed by a presentation by Eva Cameron (RSEA) regarding the successful construction of a wetland at Jubilee Park, and the on-going quest to find a sustainable solution for managing the restoration and maintenance of the wetland at Centennial Park. The indoor portion with finished with a presentation from Neil focusing on the BC Frog Watch Program, and how this initiative is increasing interest and understanding of the importance of wetlands as a support system to multiple species.
The outdoor portion consisting of visiting two sites, both of which represent successful restoration projects. The first visit was Jubilee Wetland, situated just behind the Rossland Summit School. This wetland is extraordinary, because it represents a beautiful outdoor learning lab where students can investigate invertebrates, learn about plant species, and fuel an interest in science and nature. Laura Jackman, a teacher at Rossland Summit School, showed us exactly how she engages the students and gave all of the participants a very real look at how a wetland, even such a small one, can engage students 365 days of the year, and push them to be curious and ask questions.
The final site of the workshop was the Red Mountain Resort Compensation Pond. This pond was built to replace the wetlands that were drained during the construction of the resort and represents a (somewhat) successful compensation project. At the site we spotted a multitude of amphibians, including an adult Columbia spotted frog, hundreds of Columbia spotted frog and Western toad tadpoles, and one Long-Toed Salamander. These fauna findings ended the workshop on a very positive note.
A very special thank you to RSEA, Rossland Streamkeepers, and FORR, for inviting us into your community to share our passion for wetlands and their conservation! We would especially like to thank our participants, who truly made this workshop an overwhelming success with their enthusiasm and love for protecting the beautiful lands that surround us.
Additionally, we would like to thank our funders for enabling us to hold educational workshops that advocate wetland conservation: The Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, Wildlife Habitat Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Columbia Basin Trust, and the Government of BC.