Careening through the Kootenays: The 17th Annual Wetlands Institute

The 17th annual Wetlands Institute went off without a hitch, thanks to the efforts of a well-rounded Wetlands Education Program (WEP) team, and the addition of two helpful interns from the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s Canadian Conservation Corp (CCC). The 2019 Wetlands Institute, which ran from September 30-October 6, was hosted in the Kootenays. The intensive 7-day, hands-on course was split between Creston and Rossland, and the 22 participants had ample opportunities to get their hands dirty and their heads full learning how to successfully complete their own wetland projects through a mix of hands-on and in-class sessions. Each participant applied with a project or had the propensity to steward wetlands. Over 50% of the participants came from a non-profit organization, with some Environmental Consultants, Provincial Biologists, and a Municipal Environmental Specialist, and even a farmer and a statistician thrown into the mix.

The 2019 Wetlands Institute participants at Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area

The week started off with a very heartfelt and thoughtful welcoming to the Yaqan Nukiy traditional territory from Jared Basil of the Lower Kootenay Band. From there, the course covered a wide variety of topics including Wetland Effectiveness Monitoring and Wildlife Monitoring with Leigh Anne Isaac (VAST Resource Solutions) where she presented her monitoring efforts of little myotis (brown) bat at the newly restored Hunting Grounds site on Yaqan Nukiy lands; the successes and challenges of the Summit Lake Toad Project, which started in 2011, with Jakob Dulisse (Jakob Dulisse Consulting); and Murray Watt, who is a senior Natural Resource Officer (NRO) and one of the few Wetland Champions who have completed all 3 workshops offered by BCWF’s Wetlands Program. Murray spoke on policy and the role of an NRO when it comes to wetland conservation and restoration. This engaging group inundated all the speakers with thought-provoking questions, and although each presenter only had a finite period to present, contact information is exchanged so ideas, questions and collaborations can ensue post-workshop

Leigh Anne Isaac next to the acoustic monitor to collect acoustic bat data in the area

Other topics and speakers included:

  • Wetland classification and successful grant writing – Neil Fletcher (BC Wildlife Federation)
  • Wetland drainage and restoration techniques – Tom Biebighauser (Wetland Restoration and Training LLC)
  • New Biogeoclimatic Ecosystem Classification in BC – Audrey Ehman (Contractor with FLNRORD)
  • Interpretive walk, and discussion of management & maintenance at the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area (CVWMA) – Marc-Andre Beaucher (CVWMA Head of Conservation Programs)
  • Wetland and floodplain restoration on Yaqan Nukiy territory- Norm Allard Jr. (Community Planner with Lower Kootenay Band)
  • Restoration of Lister Creek spring – Robin Douville (Former Water Services Supervisor, Regional District of Central Kootenay)
  • Schoolyard wetlands as an educational tool
    • Erickson Elementary – Gillian Cooper (Grade 5/6 Teacher)
    • Rossland Summit School – Laura Jackman (Grade 4/5 Teacher)
  • Community engagement and mobilization- Gerry Nellestijn (Salmo Streamkeepers)
  • Mosquitoes and wetlands – an in-depth look at their interactions. Dirk Lewis (Morrow Biosciences)
  • Restoration at King George VI Provincial Park – Eva Cameron (Rossland Society for Environmental Action(RSEA)), Amanda Weber- Roy (BC Parks) and Robin Annschild (Wetlands Restoration Specialist)

The group also received a special last-minute presentation from Shanshan Tian, one of the CCC interns with BCWF for the Fall. Shanshan is an outdoor and experiential educator and traditional classroom learning is not her style. She focuses on bringing escape-room style learning as a tool to get across complex ideas and expanding young minds to think critically. The participants engaged in two activities that were especially useful at team building: Adams, which is a game where teams get together and reenact things, like all the components of a wetland, and Dragonfly Pond, which challenges teams to build a town around a pond by keeping the town’s business interests in mind while respecting the biological boundaries of the pond. Both activities got people up moving, thinking, and laughing.

Each year, the Wetlands Institute highlights a restoration project to elicit hands-on experience, and this year was no exception. Three restoration projects were visited during the Institute: Hunting Grounds and Yaqan Nukiy Floodplain Restoration projects on Lower Kootenay Band reserve lands in Creston, and King George VI Provincial Park Restoration Project in Rossland. In Creston, the participants visited the recently completed Phase 2 area of the 3-phase Hunting Grounds project, and helped conduct elevation surveys at the Phase 2 project area of the 2-Phase Yaqan Nukiy Floodplain Restoration Project. These landscape-scale projects are a first of their kind in British Columbia and involve the restoration of floodplains, wetlands, streams, and rivers previously altered by the construction of impoundments, dams, ditches, and installation of pipes and pumps. To date, these projects have collectively reconnected 121 hectares of floodplain along the Kootenay River, Goat River, and Goat River South to provide valuable fish and wildlife habitat. Being so close to the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area, these project sites not only reconnect floodplains, but also connect habitat corridors on a landscape level.

In Rossland, participants received first-hand experience working around heavy equipment on an active restoration site at King George VI Provincial Park. This gem of a project was brought to the attention of BC Parks by local wetland enthusiast Eva Cameron, a Landscape Designer, an active member of RSEA, and a Wetlands Institute alumnus from 2013. The 2.5 hectare (6.1 acre) project site was ditched, drained, and leveled for agricultural purposes, probably sometime in the late 1800’s-early 1900’s, and has now been restored into a series of ephemeral wetland pools that will help the trajectory to returning the land to a forested wetland. On the final day of the Wetlands Institute, the participants and 12 eager locals of Rossland planted over 500 wetland and upland plants at the King George VI restoration site. Rossland is an engaging and involved community and BCWF can’t wait to see what other conservation inspirations pop up within its jurisdiction.

As always, the BCWF WEP team was happy to be back in the beautiful Kootenays not once, but twice this year, and the team would like to extend a most sincere thank you to our hosts: Creston Hotel, Nowhere Special Hostel, and the historic Rossland Miners Hall.

To see more photos of the 2019 Wetlands Institute please visit our Flickr page.

This project was undertaken with the financial support of: /Ce projet a été réalisé avec l’appui financier de:

… and the support of: / et le soutien de:

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