Wetland conservation in the Kootenay-Boundary region was the center of discussion Tuesday as approximately 19 municipal and regional stakeholders came together for an all-day working group workshop, held at the Grand Forks Learning Centre (Selkirk College). Participants included Mayor Brian Taylor, Councillor Cher Wyers, Jenny Coleshill of the Granby Wilderness Society, and attendees of last June’s Wetlandkeepers course, offered by the BC Wildlife Federation’s Wetlands Education Program (BCWF WEP).
BCWF WEP coordinator Neil Fletcher was the main organizer and facilitator for the workshop, with support from assistant coordinator Jason Jobin. Last year a number of stakeholders from the BCWF, RDKB, Granby Wilderness Society, GF Wildlife Association and Christina Lake Stewardship Society put together the multi-day Wetlandkeepers course, which created some public interest about wetlands and why they are important. This workshop was a follow-up to that.
Fletcher and Jobin have been on the road for 2 weeks. They started with an experiential workshop with 40 Grade 8 students in Rossland, followed by an educational awareness presentation over the weekend for the adults, who helped them design a potential schoolyard wetland at the Rossland school. A local environmental group is trying to make this happen. A restoration design workshop was held in Meadow Creek the following week.
According to presenter Graham Watt, project coordinator for the Kettle River Watershed Management Plan (KRWMP), wetlands “turn out to be everywhere you're looking because they're that place where the water meets the land and they're so important for everything from species at risk to erosion control." These workshops are “a really great way for citizens to learn about these places and get involved with protecting them."
Coleshill attended the workshop as a participant to see how they could move things forward, and said it was a valuable experience. "Just even getting the people in the same room and, you know, repeating things." She wasn't surprised to see the Mayor and Councillor Wyers out. "They're great...Cher's awesome, she usually comes to these things."
"We're always happy to work with willing organizations," remarked Fletcher. "One thing I can say about the Grand Forks or the Boundary area is that the groups are really connected and very supportive of one another, and that's something we don't find all the time. It was a very easy group to work with." He explained that the workshop objectives were "to empower communities to be able to protect and conserve their wetlands, and bring together resources that will allow them to do that."
"We know two things," asserted Watt. "One of them is that we don't know enough about our wetland areas, where they are, how well they're doing...we know how important they are but we don't know enough about where they are. So we needed to have some guidance in developing strategies for inventory and mapping. We had people here from the regional district, from the city, we had consultants here talking about what we need to do next."
The other part of it is policy, added Watt. Once the wetland areas are identified, they need to be protected. “We've got local government use, we've got private landowners, we've got forestry companies—all these different people interact with wetlands, so how can we help these people protect them? Are there regulations that need to be developed, or bylaws or incentives?”
Regional wetland project consultants were brought in for the morning session to share what they've been doing with mapping wetlands and prioritizing resources. Two case studies, were presented—the Okanagan Wetland Strategy and the Slocan Wetland Assessment and Monitoring Project (SWAMP)—followed up by a discussion around options for mapping in the local area.
Staff Counsel Deborah Carlson, from West Coast Environmental Law in Vancouver, dialed in to start off the afternoon. She discussed regulations and policy development for wetlands protection. Fletcher said there were many questions around what's appropriate and feasible in this area with regards to developing Official Community Plans (OCPs) and the KRWMP, "[and] how do we integrate some of the learnings today for protecting and conserving wetlands. I think we brought the right resources together to at least advance that dialogue."
Watt noted, “It fits back into the watershed plan because we're really looking at this watershed as a very interconnected ecosystem and wetlands are, in a way, one of the most important pieces there."
Before wrapping up, the group identified some next steps. Mapping is a main priority, as there has not been much done in this area. Fletcher agreed this will likely be a lengthy process, "But I think the wheels are turning as far as how this could roll out and having a draft project proposal at least, of what this might look like, was sort of what we were hoping to achieve today; and I think, to a large degree, we accomplished that."
Fletcher continued, "It's nice to see that when you have the right people in the room and the right conversations going...the process basically runs itself. It's a necessary conversation and it's just creating the right place for that to happen."
When asked about specific next actions, Fletcher said they would “probably let this percolate for some time" with the groups and provide answers if they have any follow-up questions. Support is also available for public outreach events and awareness campaigns. One thing that was discussed was the possibility of hosting an institute or a multi-day training where the people involved with wetlands conservation can learn the skills more in depth and start working on specific sites.
"[The workshop] was amazing to see,” said Watt. “We had the person who's coordinating the provincial wetland partnership, we had consultants here from the Okanagan and the Kootenays who have been doing this type of work for years, we had provincial government biologists here."
Watt felt the most valuable things learned were the types of questions to consider in designing the inventory, and “what we would do next to make it happen, to help make it happen, and to help use that information in local funding. So I felt it was very successful. The group that was here was very engaged and interested in the different aspects of it."
The workshop was made possible by the generous support of the RDKB, BC Wildlife Federation, Wildlife Habitat Canada, Ducks Unlimited Canada, and the Real Estate Foundation of BC.
For further reading on the subject of wetlands protection, the Wetlandkeepers Handbook is free to download.