The BCWF’s Wetlands Education Program (WEP) has proudly facilitated its flagship workshop, the Wetlands Institute, since 2003. This unique workshop is traditionally a 7-day, hands-on workshop that educates participants about wetland stewardship, restoration, and conservation. The application is competitive; participants apply to attend the institute with a project they are working on and get the chance to receive support from knowledgeable experts and obtain hands-on training to successfully implement their wetland projects in their community. This event is usually full of collaboration, networking, and just some good old fashion mingling with like-minded individuals. Some highlights of activities in previous Wetland Institutes include hand-on training around heavy machinery (top left), collecting native seeds for soil inoculation (top right), invertebrate sampling and identification (bottom left), installing cattle exclusion fencing (bottom right), and learning suppression techniques for yellow flag iris (center).
Well, alongside most other things in 2020, the Wetlands Institute required a COVID-19 overhaul, and thanks to the calm, diligent, and innovative team that comprises the Wetlands Education Program, the 2020 Wetlands Institute was reformatted into a virtual Speaker Series. This series consisted of Zoom webinars offered once a week over the months of September, October, and November. The Wetlands Team was incredibly proud to be able to offer this training free of charge, safely, and unrestricted by participants and speakers’ geographical locations. The Speaker Series was a roaring success- the webinar series invited 18 expert guest speakers to present on topics useful to wetland practitioners.
A total of 820 people registered for the events, and 502 were able to participate live. The WEP team understands how busy protecting wetlands can be, so everyone who registered, whether they were able to attend or not, received a copy of the webinar recording. There was so much interest after the series concluded, that the BCWF’s Wetlands Program has made them available for everyone on their website, found here.
Highlights of some of the 2020 Speaker Series:
- Floodplain Restoration: A Case Study. Norm Allard Jr., Community Planner with the Lower Kootenay Band, and Tom Biebighauser, Wetland Restoration Expert, discussed the techniques used to restore floodplains and decommission impoundment dikes at the Hunting Grounds Ecosystem Restoration project on Yaqan Nukiy territory in Creston, BC. This multi-phase, landscape-level project is a first of its kind in British Columbia and involved the restoration of floodplains, wetlands, streams, and rivers damaged by the construction of impoundments, dams, ditches, and the installation of pipes and pumps. To date, 40 ha (98.8 acres) of wetlands have been restored at this site and over 90 ha (222 acres) of floodplain have been reconnected to the Goat River.
- Wetland Monitoring and Maintenance. Elke Wind, an amphibian biologist with over 20 years of experience, joined the Speaker Series to discuss monitoring techniques for amphibians. Elke’s technique involves not only call surveys, but also visual surveys of egg masses and tadpoles which is beneficial in identifying non-vocal or low-vocal species, such as salamanders and newts. Elke also shared that landscape connectivity between different habitats (e.g., overwintering habitat and breeding habitat) is extremely important, and therefore overall success of the amphibian population is directly dependent on the interconnectedness of the land.
To continue on this theme, BCWF’s own Neil Fletcher highlighted the Comprehensive Wetland Monitoring Study the Wetlands Program conducted in 2018. Findings of this study included successful regrowth of native vegetation within the wetted zones of the wetland, but an establishment of invasive species in upland areas, especially where the soil had been disturbed. This study helped identify the need to increase planting efforts and density in upland areas, which BCWF has implemented in recent projects.
- Wetlands as Eco Assets. Two knowledgeable guest speakers joined for this event: Rob Lawrence, Environmental Planner with the City of Nanaimo, and Michelle Molner, Technical Director of the Municipal Natural Assets Initiative, and Environmental Economist and Policy Analyst at the David Suzuki Foundation. For those studying and working in ecology, it’s no surprise that wetlands are oasis habitats for a variety of species, but wetlands are so much more valuable than just breeding and foraging grounds for wildlife. Natural Assets are features in a natural environment (e.g., wetlands) that provide or support equivalent engineering municipal services.
Rob shared the case study of Buttertubs Marsh in Nanaimo, an impacted and modified marsh turned into a conservation management area after the City determined the natural asset value of the land.
This case study showcased that Municipal Governments have the jurisdiction to protect natural areas for the wellbeing of not only wildlife, but of the community members as well.
Michelle, as a spokesperson for Municipal Natural Asset Initiative (MNAI), described what the organization does: providing guidance and support to local municipalities (e.g., financial planning & asset management programs, develop resilient infrastructure, etc.) to help manage and protect their natural assets, such as wetlands, groundwater aquifers, floodplains, and riparian areas. MNAI has worked with 20 communities across Canada including Courtenay, Nanaimo, West Vancouver, Gibsons, and Sparwood in BC.
The WEP Team is looking forward to bringing the Wetlands Institute to Vancouver Island in 2021. With COVID-safe procedures, and integrating a blend of virtual and outdoor experiential learning, participants will learn about wetland restoration, enhancement, conservation, and stewardship with visits to Galiano Island, Cumberland, and Denman Island. For those unable to attend the workshop, the Wetlands Education Program will also incorporate a virtual Wetlands Institute Speaker Series in 2021. To learn more about upcoming workshops and events hosted by BCWF’s Wetlands Education Program, please visit our website at https://bcwf.bc.ca/wetlands-program/ or ask to join our mailing list by emailing email@example.com.
The 2020 Wetlands Institute could not have been possible without the generous support of the following sponsors: