The BC Wildlife Federation’s Wetlands Institute: Over 20 Years of Success.

Since its conception in 1998, the Wetlands Institute has been held in 18 communities across the province and has seen a total of 467 participants. It is one of the Wetland Education Program’s (WEP) longest standing programs that upholds BC Wildlife Federation’s mission “to protect, enhance, and promote the wise use of the environment for the benefit of present and future generations.” The workshop was designed in collaboration with government and non-government stakeholders in recognition of the need for public stewardship of wetlands in BC, due to their essential functions to the health of watersheds and landscapes across the province, and the essential services they provide to wildlife and humans alike. The Wetlands Institute is a week-long course that is attended by landowners, land managers, government and non-government staff, educators, and First Nations. Each participant applies to the Institute with a wetland project that will have long-lasting impact in their home communities, such a conservation, restoration, and educational projects.

The West Kootenays set the backdrop for the 2019 Institute, which was held jointly in Creston and Rossland in the Fall. The participants this year were just as qualified and enthusiastic as previous attendees, and all were ready to expand their knowledge base of wetland ecosystems to further their conservation goals within their own communities.  One of the many worthy projects brought to the Institute stood out because of the urgency and passion with which it was presented by Erika Bland from the Denman Conservancy Association (DCA).  Since 2014, Erika has been working with the organization to create and implement five habitat preserves for the Taylor’s Checkerspot butterfly, a red-listed species whose only breeding location is within wet meadow habitats on Denman Island. While the preserves were successfully established, she identified that the species is still in decline and it is still unclear whether this is due to habitat loss, land-use change, or climate change. Her reason for attending the Institute was to unhinge the mystery of the species’ continued decline, and to gain a better understanding of how wetland creation, habitat enhancement, and species diversity could better support the recovery of this rare and captivating butterfly. Although to some it may seem silly to conserve habitat for just a single insect, projects like this have far reaching benefits for other species of wildlife by preserving critical habitat and promoting connectivity among areas valuable to wildlife.

The Wetlands Institute is structured to provide a comprehensive understanding of wetland stewardship through presentations by industry experts, and boots on the ground, dirtied-hand visits to restoration projects that are in construction or already completed. Participants gain insights into the history of wetland drainage and destruction, an understanding of wetland classification, and a conceptualization of wetland restoration and design. One of the unique and beneficial aspects of the Institute is that attendees participate on one (or more) restoration projects, and visit previously restored wetlands, further solidifying these concepts into a strong foundation that participants can build on and implement into their own projects.

Restoration projects come in all shapes and sizes. The Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area (CVWMA) provided participants with a stark visualization of the scale of some of these projects; it is an ambitious endeavour to return 17,000 acres of land to its historic condition which consisted of tens of thousands of wetlands that provided productive habitat for wildlife and migrating waterfowl. While this project is still on-going, the CVWMA currently provides valuable habitat for over 300 bird, up to 60 mammal, 17 fish, 6 reptile and 6 amphibian species.

Further down the watershed, participants visited the also large, and active Yaqan Nukiy Hunting Grounds Restoration Project, a project lead by the Lower Kootenay Band (LKB) to restore the floodplain lands that are culturally significant to their historic way of life. The Yaqan Nukiy peoples historically used the land to hunt, fish, gather plants for medicine, and harvest material to make their clothing. After two centuries of modification to create more agricultural land, including diking, damming, and the diversion of the Goat River, the LKB are reclaiming their ancestral land and returning it to its natural, productive state. To date, approximately 121-hectares (just under 300 acres) of floodplain have been restored along the Kootenay River, Goat River, and Goat River South. Subsequent phases of this mammoth project will continue in 2020.

The main project of the 2019 Wetlands Institute was a partnership between BC Parks and BCWF at King George VI Provincial Park in Rossland, BC. Under an overcast sky, the Institute participants made a site visit to a section of King George VI Provincial Park that was drained and modified by years of agriculture activity. Under three hectares of the park were restored to ephemeral pools and forested wetlands, which will provide more diverse and valuable habitat to the native wildlife than the previously existing fallow fields. The participants received on-the-ground training at an active restoration site to learn about hydrology, project design, and how to direct heavy equipment.

Learn more about the Wetlands Education Program here.

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