Mapping our Marshes with Doig River First Nation

BCWF’s Wetlands Education Program (WEP) spent August 3-4th in the community of Doig River (Hanás̱ Saahgéʔ) for the final Map our Marshes workshop of the 2021 season. Traditionally, Map our Marshes workshops are a 1-day hands on course, but this extended workshop allowed for more time to discuss wetland assessment, and much more time to spend in the field!   

Situated 70 km northeast of Fort St. John, B.C., the Doig River First Nation are one of four Dane-zaa (Beaver) communities of the Peace River area. The WEP team was joined by nine eager participants which included staff from the Doig River Lands department, natural resource managers, a knowledge keeper/Elder, and even a high-school student with his sights set on entering the environmental field.  

Participants showing their answers during Wetland Jeopardy.

The workshop started out with an introduction to all things wetlands, led by the WEP Coordinator, Alyssa Purse. After learning about wetland classification, values, and losses, participants put their new knowledge to the test in a competitive game of “Wetland Jeopardy”.

With new classification skills in their pockets, participants spent the afternoon identifying plants and classifying soil types to determine what kind of wetland they were in. The first site did not look like a typical wetland at a first glance; it was dry and there were plenty of well-established trees present. However, there were many plants that are commonly found in wetlands, and upon taking soil cores, the group was excited to find saturated soils! Finding the presence of saturated soils and plants that were adapted to wet environments were hints that told the group that they were in fact standing in a wetland, even without water present at the surface. 2021 was an exceedingly warm year for B.C. with record breaking temperatures throughout the summer, so many wetlands had dried up by the time this workshop was hosted. The dryness doesn’t mean that these sites are no longer considered wetlands, rather, it means that they are seasonal, or ephemeral, wetlands! 

The second day of the workshop was jam-packed and focused on Doig River’s connection to wetlands, mapping using GPS devices, and wetland health assessments. WEP was honoured to start the day with Doig River Elder, Jack Askoty, who took the group to a wetland that he visits for foraging and hunting. Jack has spent over 50 years studying in the bush and shared some of his knowledge on wetlands, traditional plant uses, and wildlife. Some of the great tips & tricks Jack shared included:  

  • “Beavers are like a weatherman” – they break down dams in the spring before big rains to clean out the pond. If you see a wetland with low water and deconstructed beaver dams, it’s a good indication that rain is coming! 
  • Chewing on willow branch (a common wetland plant) can help relieve headaches, fever, and coughing. It also works well when made into a tea. 
  • Moose love marshes, especially Cow Moose when rearing calves, as the water provides protection from predators. They can evade groups of 4-5 wolves by escaping into the water and typically stay within a mile of a wetland to protect their young. 
  • Chewed up rose leaves can be used to take away the pain and stinging of cuts on your skin. 

Most importantly, Jack reminded everyone how important it is to respect and appreciate the natural world. Wildlife do not come into our homes and start making a mess of them, so we humans should reciprocate that. Jack’s extensive knowledge of the environment and captivating storytelling added invaluable wisdom to the workshop and the WEP team is incredibly appreciative of his participation. 

The next stop was a shallow open water wetland where the group learned how to use handheld GPS devices to map wetlands. WEP Assistant, Alana Higginson, taught participants basic GPS functions, including how to create waypoints and tracks, entering and navigating to coordinates, and how these functions could be used when mapping wetlands. Armed with knowledge they were eager to apply, the group then demonstrated their GPS skills in a Scavenger Hunt. In pairs, participants raced to answer wetland trivia questions that provided them with the coordinates of tokens to collect. The first team to enter the correct coordinates into their GPS devices and collect all the tokens won!

The workshop wrapped up at a degraded wetland where the group learned how to use BCWF’s Rapid Wetland Health Assessment to rank the health and overall functionality of a wetland.

This assessment tool is used for monitoring wetlands and riparian areas in relation to the potential of the entire wetland, which will allow the Nation to identify sites that have been heavily disturbed and are unhealthy or at-risk. In addition to the health assessment forms, local and traditional knowledge can also provide great insight into the health and function of a wetland. Having knowledge of what a site has looked like and the impacts it has faced over decades provides information that is not always available when assessing a wetland. Many participants told the WEP team that the wetland used to be bigger, was bisected by a road, and impacted by nearby logging, so they had already seen changes in its health. They also said moose frequent the site during the wet seasons, which shows that even if the health score is not ideal, it can still provide valuable habitat for wetland creatures!  

We would like to extend our gratitude to the Doig River First Nation for being such gracious hosts, inviting and welcoming the WEP team to their community, and sharing their knowledge with us.  

Wuujǫ aasanalááʔ 

(Thank – you in Beaver) 

To see pictures from the workshop, click here! 

To learn about and register for upcoming webinars & virtual workshops, please visit WEP’s website.  

This workshop was held in partnership with Doig River First Nation.

And would not have been possible without the generous financial support of the following contributors/ Ce projet a été réalisé avec l’appui financier de:

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