Reconciliation through partnership; WEP Partners with Indigenous Communities for Wetland Conservation 

Our workshop in the Ktunaxa region with ʔaq’am First Nation in July 2022 followed a similar format with ʔaq’am elder Jim Whitehead joining us at Frances Lake. Jim spoke about the changes he has seen out on the landscape, especially to Frances Lake, an important cultural and recreation site to the community. Mark Thomas, Council with the Shuswap Indian Band, also joined the workshop to discuss ways that Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups and governments can collaborate to support healthy watersheds and the abundant return of salmon to the mighty Columbia River. These topics led to an open dialogue with many of the participants agreeing that the changes they have been witnessing are a reflection of the cumulative effects of colonialism and climate change. This has had a direct impact to the capacity of the community to engage in traditional practices such as trapping, fishing, hunting, and harvesting. With this conversation priming the coming days activities, the WEP team hoped to provide tools to help define, monitor and assess the health of wetlands within the ʔaq’am First Nation Community. 

On our first day in the field, BCWF’s Wetlands Field Coordinator Kyla Rushton led the group through the process of identifying a wetland by looking for three ingredients: water, soil altered by the presence of water and water-loving plants. While visiting a wetland up from Mineral Lake, it was clear that all ingredients were present. Water was high, the soil was mottled and key plants such as willows were very present. The Bummer Flats site was a bit more deceiving. A run-down spill way that control water to enter the wetland was closed so water was a lacking ingredient however the site was overrun with cattails, a key wetland plant. Although a confusing situation, a soil sample confirmed the presence of water with bits of mottling present. Visiting both these wetlands showcased that some wetlands might be a bit more obvious than others. 

Example of mottled soil which is associated with periodic wetting, indicating that the soil is altered by the presence of water.

The second field day introduced participants to the Rapid Wetlands Health Assessment- a tool created by Alberta’s Cows and Fish Program and adopted by the B.C. Wildlife Federation. This tool can be used quickly produce a score that falls into a range for Healthy, Functional but at risk, or Non-functional. This assessment can help guide management choices for wetlands. The first location served as an example of a heavily cattle-impacted wetland, with additional impacts from a B.C. hydro transmission line and a service road.  

On the final day of this workshop, participants received a short introduction to the Wetland Ecosystem Service Protocol (WESP)- The BCWF’s proposed in-depth tool for assessing the functions and services of wetlands within B.C. Unlike other provinces (Alberta, Ontario, and Saskatchewan) and states, (Oregon and Washington), British Columbia lacks a recommended or legally mandated protocol that can be used to determine the value of a specific wetland. This is worrisome because when wetlands are approved for development, there is no way to assess the functions of that wetland for proper compensation, nor assess the wetland prior to development to determine if it is too valuable to degrade or destroy. Since 2021, Neil Fletcher, BCWF Director of Conservation Stewardship has been working hard to develop a tool that assesses wetland services and functions provided to wildlife and society. WESP is currently being calibrated in three Eco provinces across B.C., with other regions slated for calibration soon. The goal is for the WESP tool to become a recommended best practice adopted by the Provincial government. The BCWF continues to connect with Indigenous communities to partner on this protocol and future training events.  

At the conclusion of the workshop participants left with newfound appreciation for wetlands and knowledge and tools to help steward and assess these important ecosystems. Slowly, but surely WEP hopes that fostering relationships and empowering Indigenous communities like Chawathil and ʔaq’am will help support reconciliation through the protection, conservation and restoration of wetlands and watersheds. 

The B.C. Wildlife Federation head office operates on the unceded ancestral, traditional and contemporary territories of the Semiahmoo, sq̓əc̓iy̓aɁɬ təməxʷ (Katzie), S’ólh Téméxw (Stó:lō), Á,LEṈENEȻ ȽTE (W̱SÁNEĆ), Kwantlen, Stz’uminus, Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group Nations. These two workshops were held on the unceded ancestral, traditional and contemporary territories of S’ólh Téméxw (Stó:lō) and Ktunaxa Nations. The BCWF was grateful to be invited to learn, explore, and share knowledge on this land. 

This workshop was held free of charge for participants, 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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