Voyage to Vancouver Island: 2021 Wetlands Institute  

Wetlands Institute 2021 Participants in front of the Native Plant Nursery on Galiano Island.

Vancouver Island is home to a diversity of wetland types, from bogs to salty estuaries, marshes and swamps. Taking advantage of this variety of wetland ecosystems, BCWF’s Wetlands Education Program (WEP) jumped on the opportunity to bring the 19th annual Wetlands Institute to Vancouver Island from October 2-8th. The Institute had 18 enthusiastic participants join WEP to learn how to successfully complete and enhance their own wetland projects. Participants ranged from a diversity of backgrounds including, but not limited to, environmental consultants, community educators, biologists, landowners, ENGO staff, and arborists. Equally diverse were all the wetlands visited over the course of the week. The intensive 7-day, hands on course was spread out across the Comox Valley & Gulf Islands, including stops in Cumberland, Courtenay, Denman Island, Victoria, and Galiano Island.  

A combination of tours, hands-on field work and virtual classroom sessions provided participants with knowledge, tips, and tricks from various experts providing insight on all thing’s wetland related. For example, conservation biologist Tim Ennis (Latitude Conservation Solutions Company, Project Watershed Society) presented on an ecological asset approach to wetland restoration and how defining their ecosystem service value can help provide protections for them; Karen and Richard Charlie (Penelakut First Nation Elders) took the group on a tour of the Nuts’a’maat Forage Forest at the Millard Learning Centre on Galiano Island where they shared traditional and medicinal uses of the plants and spoke to how restoration and reconciliation are connected; and Deborah Curran (Executive Director, Environmental Law Centre, UVIC) presented on the Green Bylaws Toolkit and legal avenues to protect wetlands from a grassroots approach. Other topics and speakers included:  

“My knowledge base has drastically increased as a result of this course.” 

– 2021 Wetlands Institute Participant 

Through a mix of hands-on work and virtual classroom sessions, participants gained the skills necessary to complete their wetland restoration, education, and stewardship projects in their home communities. The Institute provides a unique opportunity for them to not only learn from an array of experts, but also to get their hands dirty assisting in a wetland restoration project. This year, the group helped gather data and site information to create design plans for future restoration work on Denman Island, pulling scotch broom at the Denman Butterfly Reserve, plant native species at the newly restored wetlands on Galiano Island, observe active wetland restoration, and took turns falling trees using the Millard tree pulling technique.  

A major highlight of the Wetlands Institute is often the restoration project(s) associated with the workshop. This year, participants had the opportunity to see two unique wetland projects in action. The first was at the Denman Island Provincial Park Butterfly Reserve where 10 hectares of wet meadow habitat was constructed to support the endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas editha taylori). Miranda Cross (Salix Wetland Restoration), the project lead on site, spoke to the group about site design, soil texturization, and restoration techniques specific for wet meadows and ephemeral (seasonal) wetlands. The second project, Cedars for the Next Century on Galiano Island, is a watershed level project where the Galiano Conservancy Association (GCA) is working to restore cedar swamp ecosystems within the Chrystal Creek watershed. One particular benefit of this project is that the Conservancy owns the property that encompasses the entire watershed so they have the ability to restore the landscape from upper to lower watershed. Overseen by wetland restoration expert Robin Annschild, Phase 2 of 3 was completed during the Institute.  

With big smiles on their faces, participants assisted the Cedars for the Next Century project by planting 80 plants procured on-site from the GCA Native Plant Nursery, installing deer-exclusion cages around each plant, and creating designs for future phases of the project. Deer-exclusion cages are necessary due to a high population of Columbian black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) and have an appetite for browse (leafy parts of woody plants, i.e., shrubs) and forbs (herbaceous broad-leaved plants). There are no natural predators remaining on Galiano Island, and with decreased hunting pressures from residents, there is now an overwhelming population of deer present on the island who over-browse all things edible.  

In addition to assisting with restoration projects through planning, design, and planting, participants learned about invasive species control and tree pulling techniques. On Denman Island, participants supported invasive Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius) removal to prepare the site for future restoration phases at the Butterfly Reserve. On Galiano Island, the GCA Restoration team (Eric Hagen, Sara Yeomans, and Olivia Cavanagh) demonstrated the Millard tree pulling technique and gave participants the opportunity to give it a go. This non-machine technique of tree downing is used to thin forests and simulate natural wood fall using a system of pulleys and cables to pull individual trees out at the root system. This technique leaves the root wad attached to the tree which provides habitat features for a variety of wildlife such as reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, birds and invertebrates. The Institute participants jumped at the chance to showcase their strength and took turns pulling the cables until they downed 3 trees to use as large woody debris in the newly restored wetlands.  

After converting the Institute last year to virtual due to COVID-19, it was an incredible experience for the BCWF team and participants to be able to gather safely once again and share stories and experiences among a community of wetland stewards.  

“I’ve been feeing bogged down after the past 2 years and this week was like a refill for my soul” 

– 2021 Wetland Institute Participant  

Although you may be (or have been) working in isolated conditions, it is always a great reminder that there are plenty of others out there doing similar work and championing for the environment and wetlands. After a long, hot, dry and socially restricted summer the participants were grateful that, fire restrictions were lifted, allowing some long-overdue quality time around a campfire. Each evening, fireside conversations provided a safe space to reflect on the day’s activities and lessons, enjoy some campfire sing-alongs and plenty of laughter, and of course, discuss all things wetlands! 

After partnering with both the Cumberland Wetlands Working Group and the GCA for virtual workshops and events in 2020, the BCWF WEP team was thrilled to finally visit Cumberland and Galiano Island in-person and support all the great work done by these amazing organizations. The WEP team would like to extend a most sincere thank you to all of our partners, including the Cumberland Wetland Working Group, the Denman Conservancy Association, and the Galiano Conservancy Association, and this opportunity would not have been possible without the generous contributions from Wildlife Habitat CanadaHabitat Conservation Trust Foundation, the Province of B.C., and Environment and Climate Change Canada. The WEP is extremely grateful to all guest speakers and instructors who joined us, and of course the passionate and enthusiastic participants who dedicated their week to learn more about wetlands and continue to advance wetland conservation in B.C.  

Huy ch q’u 

(Thank you in Hul’q’umi’num) 

Photos from the 2021 Wetlands Institute can be found on our Flickr page here. 

The 2022 Wetlands Institute will take place in the Kootenay Boundary region. Join our mailing list, or keep an eye on our twitter, and/or our facebook page to learn more about future opportunities, including how to participate or partner in the Wetlands Institute. 

The 2021 Wetlands Institute was undertaken with the financial support of the following organizations// Le 2021 Wetlands Institute a été réalisé avec l’appui financier du les organisations suivantes: 

….and the support of:/ et le soutien de:  

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