Wetlands Need Stewards! – Victoria Wetlandkeepers

From July 16-18, the Wetlands Education Program (WEP) team had the pleasure of partnering with the Habitat Acquisition Trust, Haliburton Community Organic Farm Society, and the Rithet’s Bog Conservation Society for the Victoria Wetlandkeepers Workshop. BCWF acknowledges and respects the lək̓ʷəŋən peoples, whose traditional territory Victoria is on, and the Songhees, Esquimalt, and W̱SÁNEĆ Nations who steward and live-in relationship with these lands since time immemorial.

lək̓ʷəŋən peoples and the Songhees, Esquimalt, and W̱SÁNEĆ Nations Traditional Territory.
Image Retrieved from: Native Land. (2018). Lekwungen/Songhees. Retrieved from https://native-land.ca/maps/territories/lekwungen-songhees/

The purpose of this workshop was to provide participants with technical skills and knowledge about the importance of wetlands while building capacity among the community. Over the course of two and a half days, the participants got an overview of wetlands values and losses, wetland classification, wetland stewardship, mapping tools, amphibian monitoring, native and invasive plants, native pollinators, and birds.

The group consisted of 10 keen participants from Victoria and the Lower Mainland. Each person brought a wealth of knowledge from their diverse backgrounds in the environmental field and primary school education. Participants came from backgrounds in biology, environmental science, resource management, restoration, environmental consulting, and elementary school teaching. Every participant had in-depth knowledge and passion for the environment from their ongoing involvement in volunteer and professional work in the environmental sector.

Group Photo of the 2021 Victoria Wetlandkeepers Participants.

The first day of the workshop started at 6 pm on Friday, July 16. The virtual presentation consisted of an introduction to wetlands, values and losses and wetland classification. This introduction to wetlands provided the participants with background knowledge before meeting in the field the following afternoon.  

Day 2 of the workshop was a mixture of virtual and field portions. In the morning, Paige Erickson-Mcgee, the Stewardship Manager at Haliburton Farm and Coordinator at HAT, presented on Wetland Stewardship Actions, Methods, and Local Sites for Citizen Science. Paige touched on the importance of having stewards and Wetlandkeepers, and how it is critical to maintaining the health of wetlands.

There are many threats to wetlands, and very little enforced protection in legislation. Some of these threats are agriculture (draining, channelizing wetlands to ditches), urban/housing development, forestry, transportation networks, invasive species, and climate change. There are many things that you can do as a Wetlandkeeper to help protect these important wetland ecosystems across the province. Some of the things you can do as a Wetlandkeeper include learning how to spot wetlands; classifying them; learning how to map them; sharing the information you know about wetlands with your community, local government, and provincial government; and joining volunteer groups.

The afternoon kicked off by meeting at Rithet’s Bog with an introduction to the site by Kyle from Saanich Parks. Russ Pym, the president of the Rithet’s Bog Conservation Society took the group on a walk and talk. Kyle provided an overview of the Pulling Together Program, which was established in 1999. This program focuses on partnering with volunteers to run a variety of parks programs. Rithet’s Bog is 1 out of the 44 active parks volunteering projects happening in Saanich. Rithet’s Bog and the Pulling Together Program are always looking for volunteers. Find out more about these volunteer opportunities here: Rithet’s Bog Conservation Society and Pulling Together Program.

Biologist and Lead Steward of the Rithet’s Bog Conservation Society, Russ Pym provided an in-depth tour explaining the history of the bog, challenges, and information about each type of wetland. In 1893, the property was purchased by Robert Patterson Rithet who was a prominent businessman in B.C. The land used to be a dairy farm, resulting in water crops such as Reed Canary Grass to be planted.

Reed Canary Grass is a highly invasive species, and it has taken over Rithet’s Bog being very difficult to maintain. Rithet’s Bog is 42 hectares and has 4 out of 5 of the wetland classifications in B.C. The one wetland classification that Rithet’s Bog does not have is a bog! This area has been experiencing drought since 2014 and is only wet for half of the year. Most of the water in Rithet’s Bog comes from storm drains from the surrounding urban area, causing contaminated water to constantly flow into the wetland. The issues that are occurring at this site do not match the predicted climate change projections for Saanich, meaning that the area is in desperate need of professional hydrological help to restore the wetland.

While at Rithet’s Bog, Alyssa Purse from the WEP led soil texturization exercises. This helped the participants learn hands-on skills in soil texturization and see how each soil sample differs at the varying sites.

The final day of the workshop was in the field at Haliburton Farm. There were 6 guest speakers who talked about amphibians, native plants, native pollinators, birds, and the history, and future of Haliburton Farm. The morning started with an introduction to Haliburton Farm presented by Paige Erickson-Mcgee. Haliburton Farm used to be a family farm in the 50s. In 2001, there was a proposal for the land to be sold for the development of a subdivision. When this news got out to the public, community members spent 5 years protesting to save and preserve this land for farming. The hard work from the public paid off and the land is now owned by Saanich and ran by the Haliburton Organic Community Farm. This story is proof that as a community, you can work together to fight to protect the environment. The main goal of Haliburton Farm is stewardship by working with community members, volunteers, and schools throughout Victoria.

Amphibian Biologist, Purnima Govindarajulu provided an overview of the Haliburton Farm wetland project that was constructed by Tom Biebighauser in 2009. The construction of the wetland drastically improved the presence of native species and amphibians. The amphibians that are now present in the wetland are Long Toads, Northwestern Newts, and Rough-Skinned Newts. There are two main amphibian monitoring techniques used at the farm: salamander boards and amphibian trapping. The salamander boards are used as an artificial cover box providing habitats for the different salamander species. This is an effective method to review the different trends of salamander species and populations throughout the year. The salamander trapping technique used, is by creating a small fence in a cross pattern to trap the salamanders in the middle. When this monitoring technique is being operated, it is checked multiple times a day to ensure that no salamanders are harmed or left in the trap for very long.

Kristen Miskelly, one of the owners of Saanich Native Plants gave an in-depth tour of the native plant nursery at Haliburton Farm. Kristen showed the participants the diversity of native plants on the farm, allowing everyone to expand their knowledge in plant identification. On this tour, Kristen led the participants to the wetland to be visited by James Miskelly, the other owner of Saanich Native Plants. James provided an overview of native and invasive species and macroinvertebrates. James retrieved a water sample and showed the participants the different types of macroinvertebrates in the wetland. This wetland is a very healthy ecosystem having a vast diversity of macroinvertebrates present in the water and no mosquitos.

Julia Daly and Paige Erickson-McGee concluded the afternoon by discussing native pollinators and birds. Julia did a walk and talk identifying the different birds and pollinators present at the farm. The Haliburton Farm wetland is a very important ecosystem to preserve the native species that are needed as a host plant for butterflies to lay their eggs. Some of these plants that are present in the wetland are willow, alder, and cottonwood. Julia also brought examples of a Red-Winged Black Bird nest (the image in the middle) and Chickadee nest (the image on the right).

Paige provided an overview of the Mason Bee nests that were installed around Haliburton Farm. The purpose of these nests is to provide the bees with habitats so that there can be an increase in pollinators present. At the start of the season, in late March or early April, Mason Bee cocoons are put in the nest so that they can hatch. Mason Bees are very territorial so installing these nests means that they will likely come back and reproduce. When installing these nests, either plastic or wood can be used. Wood is more expensive than plastic, but plastic can be easily cleaned with bleach at the end of the season. Haliburton Farm puts on a Mason Bee nest workshop yearly. You can find out more information about Haliburton Farms workshops and volunteer opportunities here!

A very special thank you to the WEP’s partners Habitat Acquisition Trust, Haliburton Community Organic Farm Society, and Rithet’s Bog Conservation Society, for inviting the BCWF to your community and allowing us to exchange knowledge on environmental conservation. Thank you to all the participants, who truly made this workshop incredible with all your hard work, participation, and knowledge. The WEP team would also like to thank the guest speakers Paige Erickson-Mcgee, Sarah Forbes, Kyle from Saanich Parks, Russ Pym, Purnima Govindarajulu, James Miskelly, Kristen Miskelly, Julia Daly, and Rebecca Neilson, who brought such valuable knowledge to the workshop.

Additionally, thank you to the funders for enabling us to hold this workshop: The Province of BC and Wildlife Habitat Canada

To see more photos from the workshop, check out our Flicker album here!

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