Mackenzie, McLeod Lake, and Morfee oh my!

From May 31st – June 4th, 2021, the B.C. Wildlife Federation (BCWF) led a wetland workshop in partnership with the McLeod Lake Indian Band, planted native species at Morfee Elementary School and led a wetland construction project at Mackenzie Secondary School. BCWF is grateful for the opportunity to work in partnership with the McLeod Lake Indian Band, the District of Mackenzie, Morfee Elementary School and Mackenzie Secondary School on these projects.

The district of Mackenzie, British Columbia (B.C.) is located on the traditional territory of the Tse’Khene peoples, which includes members of the nearby McLeod Lake Indian Band. Mackenzie has a beautiful landscape, vast wildlife, and some of the most spectacular wetlands in B.C.! The Wetlands Education Program (WEP) team was lucky to spot 5 moose, including a cow and baby, 5 black bears, a beaver, and sandhill crane within our short time in Mackenzie!

Mackenzie Wetland Restoration Workshop: May 31st – June 2nd

From May 31st – June 2nd, 2021, BCWF’s WEP team hosted the Mackenzie Wetland Restoration Workshop for 6 keen participants from Mcleod Lake Indian Band, Chu Cho Environmental, and the District of Mackenzie. The WEP team had the pleasure to share knowledge and educate the group about wetland restoration with the help of Robin Annschild, a wetland restoration consultant. With 7 years of experience in the field of wetland restoration, and many more in conservation work, Robin was an invaluable instructor for this workshop. This group had in-depth local knowledge of the land, with many of them living in the area for decades. The participants had previous experience in wetland conservation, environmental work, forestry consulting, and BC Hydro relations. The combination of working professionals and traditional knowledge made for a very experienced and engaging group! This workshop was an incredible opportunity for knowledge transfer from the diverse fields and backgrounds of all present.

These workshops are designed to provide participants with the technical skills and knowledge needed to become better wetland stewards. Over the course of three days, participants learned about wetland classification; plant identification; soil classification and texturization; site inspections; using a laser level and rod; historical wetland drainage; and how to plant native species.

The first day started at 9:00 AM at Morfee Lakes for an outdoor classroom session dedicated to introducing everyone, providing a brief introduction to the 5 wetland classes of B.C wetlands, their values, and losses. The morning concluded with a competitive game of “Wetland Jeopardy” where participants had a chance to show off the new knowledge they learned! Next up was a hands-on approach where the participants could apply their new wetland classification, plant identification, and soil texturization skills to help identify a mystery wetland. The first step to identifying a wetland is finding the 3 ingredients of a wetland: water, vegetation, and soil. After close investigation by the group, it was concluded that the wetland was a wetland complex made up of a bog and swamp. This wetland surprisingly had very sandy soil and freshwater clams, which are uncommon in bogs. This was identified when conducting soil samples and the deeper the soil auger went, the more sand there was. It is important to understand that the environment does not fit into a perfect box and there will be interesting surprises when classifying wetlands!

To finish the day, the group went out to Mugaha Marsh to get a look at another type of wetland. This site is a bird sanctuary and has had many conservation groups take care of the site and add features such as bird boxes to promote healthy populations. Here, one of the participants, Arshad Khan, gave the group a talk about his work with wetlands. Arshad works for Chu Cho Environmental, an environmental consulting company owned by the Tsay Keh Dene Nation. With many years of experience in environmental work such as in forestry consulting and wetland restoration, Arshad has been creating wetland restoration plans within Tsay Keh Dene’s traditional territory after completing a BCWF course on Rapid Wetland Health Assessments in 2019.

The second day began at a different field location where the participants spent the day learning about the history of wetland drainage. The morning started with a pre-recorded presentation from wetland restoration expert, Tom Biebighauser, about the history and identification techniques of drained wetlands. Robin Annschild then led the group through various wetland restoration activities on the process of identifying and restoring a drained wetland. Thanks to local knowledge, the group learned that the site used to be a swamp but was drained during the construction of an elementary school. The surrounding area now struggles with severe drainage issues, and nothing has been able to be constructed on the site because of it. This site was great for learning how to identify historical wetland drainage, complete a site inspection and soil sample, and how to use a rod and laser level. The day then finished off with a visit to a beautiful wetland complex of a shallow open water and bog where the participants could practice their wetland classification and plant identification skills. This wetland is extraordinary because it represents a beautiful undisturbed and incredibly healthy ecosystem.

The next morning, Robin led the group through more restoration exercises and designs, this time focusing on erosion and the impacts of the Williston Lake Reservoir. The group assessed a variety of sites along the lake and identified the previous presence of beavers due to the advanced dam construction in the area. After looking at degraded sites, the group was brought to two restored wetland sites to investigate how both human and beavers can influence and restore wetlands, and the difference between these. The final site of the workshop was at Morfee Elementary School where the participants helped transplant over 450 native plants to the wetland that BCWF’s WEP constructed in 2019. Species planted included horsetail, various types of sedges and grasses, small shrubs, and sphagnum moss. Native plants are essential in wetlands because they improve the water quality by absorbing contaminants and are used as food and shelter. The WEP team continued to water the wetland several days after the planting and spread straw to help prevent invasive species. This site was completely transformed after the planting and the participants developed hands-on skills in transplanting native wetland plants. 

This image shows the before and after of the Morfee Elementary School wetland

Mackenzie Secondary School Wetland Build: June 3rd-4th

On June 3rd-4th 2021, the BCWF led a wetland construction project at Mackenzie Secondary School. With the help of over 64 students, a beautiful 150m2  wetland was created behind the school. One of the goals of the project was to provide students with an outdoor learning lab for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education. This would give the students exceptional opportunities for hands-on experimental learning. The WEP also provided the school with wetland STEM activities for teachers to do with their classes at the newly constructed wetland. Some of these activities included building bird nesting boxes and bat roosting boxes, photo monitoring, macroinvertebrate dips, and invasive species monitoring. These activities will give students hands-on experience in STEM and show them the importance and value of wetlands, creating new generations of wetland stewards!

Before beginning the construction of the wetland, WEP was honoured to have Vincent Chingee, a Mcleod Lake Indian Band knowledge holder, host a blessing ceremony at the site. After the traditional ceremony, the excavator began to remove the shrubs and soil within the designed area to create the shallow depression. As construction began, Alyssa Purse from the WEP taught the students an introduction to wetlands including classification, the importance of wetlands, and soil texturization. Robin Annschild introduced wetland construction techniques as well as the steps taken to build a wetland. The students helped to measure the slope and dimensions of the wetland, rake and remove large rocks to ensure that the wetland was flat, then helped lay out the geotextile and liners to create the wetland. The student’s strength and ambition to lift the three layers of the liner and spread it out precisely and evenly across the wetland was greatly appreciated as these weighed over 500 pounds altogether! Once the liner was in place, the soil was carefully distributed, and woody debris was added into the shallow depression. Coarse woody debris has significant benefits on the population of amphibians and reptiles inhabiting the area as well as providing habitats for birds. The ambitious students and teachers were incredibly hard working and did an amazing job at constructing their wetland!

Vincent Chingee, a Mcleod Lake Indian Band knowledge holder

The second day of the project consisted of transplanting over 700 native wetland plants, spreading seed and straw, and slowly filling up the wetland with water. Spreading the straw helps prevent the introduction of invasive species and protect the seeds from being consumed by birds. This wetland build reinforces connections with nature and helps foster deep-seated respect for the ecosystem services that wetlands provide. The overall scope of the project was to facilitate a productive habitat for insects, birds, and amphibians, and help control mosquito populations, but the main goal was to engage and educate the students and community members. We are hopeful through the engagement of the students and teachers that this wetland will become a highly productive ecosystem and inspire the students to care and protect it, as well as gain an appreciation for the many spectacular wetlands in their community!

This image shows the before and after of the wetland build at Mackenzie Secondary School

We would like to extend a special thank you to our partners, The McLeod Lake Indian Band, The District of Mackenzie, Morfee Elementary School, and Mackenzie Secondary School. We would also like to recognize our funders, Wildlife Habitat Canada, the Province of B.C., and the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, who made these projects and workshops possible.

To see more photos from these events, check out our Flickr albums Here!

References

  1. Traditional territories of B.C. Retrieved from https://cnc.bc.ca/docs/default-source/default-document-library/indigenous-territory-guide.pdf?sfvrsn=60123e83_0
Comments
2 Responses to “Mackenzie, McLeod Lake, and Morfee oh my!”
  1. Michelle Hamilton says:

    Great wetland constructions and fantastic to see students, big and small, involved in such a meaningful and hands on projects. Always good to read your Bog Blogs and to see that wetland restorations/constructions are still happening. Great job!
    Michelle Hamilton,
    Kelowna

    • Alana Higginson says:

      Thanks Michelle, we appreciate your support! It’s fantastic to get students involved in the construction as it gives them a sense of ownership over the new wetland AND gets them outside to appreciate nature.
      -The Wetlands Team

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