Restoring Xwaaqw’um: Wetland Restoration at Burgoyne Bay Provincial Park

Welcome posts facing the ocean at Xwaaqw’um

On September 16 – 20, 2019, the BC Wildlife Federation (BCWF) sent two volunteer interns from the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s Canadian Conservation Corps (CCC) to take part in a collaborative wetland restoration project on Salt Spring Island. The restoration took place at Xwaaqw’um (Burgoyne Bay Provincial Park), which means “Place of the Female Merganser Duck” in Hul’qumi’num and contains sites of cultural significance as well as many archaeological sites important to the Cowichan People. Since the late 1800’s, this part of the island has been greatly modified to accommodate agriculture and logging in the valley. This project focused on the 103-hectare area that experienced the heaviest modification, with the hope that over multiple phases of the project, the area can be restored to as close to its natural state as possible.

Piling Hawthorn and Himalayan Blackberry on-site to be burned.

In collaboration with BC Parks and the Cowichan Peoples, the work began with the removal of the fencing along the park boundary, which was heavily guarded by invasive species such as Himalayan blackberry and black hawthorn; both are known to fight back with thorns when being removed. Remove the fencing was necessary to allow the heavy machinery to access the site, and to further assess the soil types present along the park boundary. When restoring a wetland, it is important to identify the composition of the soils to understand how the topography of the subsurface layers changes throughout the restoration area. This helps determine how water will move through the landscape, and how the water table will change throughout the year as precipitation fluctuates. This also provides insights on the placement of future wetlands as phases of the restoration project unfold.

              Restoration started on September 17th, and the following days were dedicated to the construction of the wetland, which not only involved heavy machinery, but also several other steps that were integral to the completion of the project (click here for detailed steps on Building a Wetland). It takes a team to build a wetland, and 12 people were involved in this project; each person had their own specific tasks and skill sets that contributed to the overall success of the project. The following days were dedicated to preparing the newly disturbed soil for planting, mulching with locally sourced straw to discourage the spread of invasive plant species, and seeding of the disturbed soils to provide further ground cover along the shoreline of the newly restored wetland.

              One of the major goals of the project was to restore the landscape to as close to its pre-disturbed state as possible, to create viable habitat for wildlife. Wetlands provide food and shelter for many species, including various insects, amphibians, birds, and mammals. In addition, Salt Spring Island lies within the Pacific Flyway, a major migration corridor for birds that stretches from Alaska to Patagonia. Many species use the island as a stop-over to refuel before the next leg of their journey, and wetlands are important in providing this forage and resting habitat.

              While the overall goal of any BCWF-led restoration project is habitat enhancement for wildlife, this project provided a unique opportunity to restore land that is culturally significant to the Cowichan Peoples. Through this collaboration, we were able to help create a space that is both valuable to the community and representative of a positive partnership built on consultation and inclusion.

One of the Welcome Poles that watches over Xwaaqw’um

This project represents an important step towards reconciliation and recognizes the deep knowledge that the Cowichan Peoples have cultivated since time immemorial. As the wetland evolves, it will provide youth with a means of reconnecting with the landscape through experiential learning, and through direct viewing of wildlife species as they become more numerous in the area and use the resources of the wetland. The hope is that this work will inspire the next generation of wetland stewards and encourage more conservation and comprehensive restoration work in the future, adding resilience to the landscape in the face of the adverse impacts of climate change.

              We would like to extend a special thank you to our partners, Cowichan Tribes and BC Parks for contributing to the success of this project. We would also like to thank our funders, BC Parks, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and Wildlife Habitat Canada, who made this project possible.

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