BCWF Wetlands Institute - Building Capacity for Restoring Wetlands Each year, the BC Wildlife Federation (BCWF) hosts an intensive week of workshops led by wetland restoration experts, providing hands-on training for participants interested in constructing wetlands in their communities. The workshops are held in a different region of the province each year, and 2015 was the Okanagan’s turn. As BCWF Wetlands Education Program Intern Kayla Akins reports, this year’s institute was jammed-packed with information and opportunities for participants to get their hands dirty completing wetlands restoration projects in Kelowna and Vernon. The passion for wetland restoration and protection drew participants from all over BC to the Okanagan for the BC Wildlife Federation’s 13th Wetlands Institute. Participants included Biologists, Landscape Technologists and Architects, Environmental Planners, Coordinators, Educators, Consultants and more. We were joined by members of Environment Canada, the Okanagan Nation Alliance, the Okanagan Collaborative Conservation Program, the Okanagan Basin Water Board, and the Ministry of Forests Lands and Natural Resource Operations, to name a few. We dove right in on the first day with a presentation on wetland restoration techniques from Tom Biebighauser, a wildlife biologist and wetland ecologist. He covered various strategies for wetland restoration and construction. With this information fresh in mind, we headed over to the Curly Frog Farm in Kelowna to plan a restoration project on site. Flags were laid out marking the boundaries of the wetland areas and the sloped areas where the soil was to be built up creating chinampa-like structures. The “chinampas” (Please click here for a description) will allow property owner, Brenda Dureault, to grow crops on the raised land while having valuable wetland habitat directly adjacent. Here, participants also learned how to use a rod and level to take elevation readings and how to use an auger to take soil samples. We returned the next morning to observe the excavator begin to build the wetland right before our eyes! We then took our first visit to Wayne and Wendy Radies property in Vernon to discuss planning of the wetland restoration at the second site. We ran through a wetland design form created by Tom, which had everyone thinking about head-cuts, inflow, outflow, where to move the soil, slopes, etc. There were two tests holes dug and no ground water was found. After some soil tests it was identified that the bulk of the soil was clay and could be compacted into a liner to hold water. This year the Institute participants had the privilege of seeing two types of wetlands constructed: a groundwater wetland at the Curly Frog Farm and a clay liner wetland at the Radies site.   We finished Tuesday with a presentation from Tom on “How we pulled the plug on North America”. We learned just how common it was to drain wetlands in the past for agriculture and construction. The presentation focused on wetland drainage techniques and their impacts on the land; highlighting the importance of restoring the lands back to their natural state where possible. Many of us are now walking around seeing through a new lens, seeing evidence of drained wetlands everywhere. The institute participants started Wednesday morning with a presentation on landowner contact from Shawn Black, formerly with The Land Conservancy of Canada, Land Trust Alliance, and Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Program. This high-density presentation covered a half-day workshop in a mere 90 minutes! This was followed by participants returning to the Radies site to observe initial construction of the site. The afternoon featured a presentation by Jim Dumont, a Senior Water Infrastructure Engineer, on stormwater management and how to incorporate wetlands into development design. We then visited Marshall Fields where site engineer Bill Mahoney from Stantec gave us a tour and explained the construction at the site. We saw two wetlands at the site that had been incorporated into the construction plan to play a role in stormwater management. Thursday was a fun-filled day starting with Don Gayton (contractor with Okanagan Basin Water Board and Grass-land Specialist) introducing the group to the Okanagan Wetland Strategy. Neil Fletcher then gave a presentation on wetland classification based on soil, pH, mineral content, water flow and more. We then had a presentation from Josie Symonds (Ministry of Forest, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations) on alkali wetlands, which...
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Got Bats? There’s still time to participate in the BC Bat Watch program this summer. Bat Watch is a citizen science program that annually monitors bat roost sites in BC. Abandoned houses, barns, church steeples –even occupied structures – can provide summer homes for female bats and their young. Monitoring these “maternity colonies” helps biologists figure out how regional bat populations are doing from year to year. With the recent emergence of White-nose Syndrome in North America, monitoring these colonies is more important than ever. HCTF is proud to support this program through a grant to the BC Conservation Foundation (project 0-476). The “Got Bats” initiative is encouraging anyone who knows of a local bat roost to participate as a bat counter. The counts themselves are pretty simple: you’ll need to arrive at the roost at sunset, and tally the bats on a data sheet as they fly out for their nightly insect-eating. Ideally, participants will be available to conduct four bat counts per summer ‐ two between June 1 and 21 (before pups can fly) and two more between July 21 and August 15 (when pups are flying and exiting the roost). Completing all four bat counts will best allow biologists to compare data from year to year and between sites. However, there are also options for participating on a smaller scale if you are unable to do four counts: Level 1 Bat Reporter : Complete one count over the summer (try between July 21 – August 15) Level 2 Bat Tracker: Complete one count between June 1 – 21 and one count between July 21 ‐ August 15 Level 3 Bat Enthusiast: Complete two counts between June 1 – 21 and 2 counts between July 21 – August 15 You can download full instructions and a data recording sheet here. You can also report a colony of bats on the BC Community Bat Programs website. If you’re looking to have the colony removed, the project biologist in your region will contact you to discuss developing a conservation-based strategy for removing the bats without hurting them (or you). They are also very happy to hear from landowners who are content to have bat colonies remain on their land: the project team can provide you with information on monitoring the colony and identifying the species (please note all 16 BC bat species are protected under the Provincial Wildlife Act).  ...
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Conservation Connections The following article appeared in the May/June edition of Outdoor Edge Magazine. In the March edition of Outdoor Edge, we talked to the Salt Spring Island Conservancy’s (SSIC) Conservation Director, Robin Annschild, about the Conservancy's success in creating a partnership with the local Rod & Gun club to manage one of their reserves. This month, we continue the conversation with Robin and learn how building upon connections can equal great things for conservation – and ourselves. It all started with an invitation to a Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation Evaluation Workshop. Each year, the Foundation asks a selection of project leaders to give a presentation on the outcomes of their projects to HCTF Board members, staff and their peers. Not only do these workshops help HCTF evaluate the results of investments, they provide a rare opportunity for grant recipients to get together and exchange ideas about fish and wildlife conservation. After presenting some of the accomplishments of SSIC’s habitat acquisition project, Robin listened to Neil Fletcher speak about the BCWF Wetlands Institute, currently in its sixth year of funding from HCTF. Neil explained how Wetlands Institute workshops provide participants with the tools to successfully complete wetland restoration projects in their communities. “I had heard of the Wetlands Institute, but it wasn’t until I saw Neil’s presentation that I realized it might be able to help us with what we wanted to accomplish at Blackburn Lake.’” Robin seized the opportunity to talk with Neil about the Conservancy’s ideas for restoring wetlands on their newest acquisition (which had most recently been operated as a golf course), and soon both of them were excited about the possibility of collaborating on the project. “I told Neil we were really looking for someone to mentor us through the process,” said Robin. “We had this rough idea of what we might be able to achieve, but none of the technical expertise to get there. Neil suggested having Tom Biebighauser come out to develop a restoration prescription for the property, and offered to loan us some of the necessary equipment. We managed to get Tom up from Kentucky in January, and the experience was phenomenal.” Tom Biebighauser is a big name in restoration circles: the award-winning ecologist is an expert on the rehabilitation and construction of wetlands, having established over 1,600 of them across the U.S and Canada. “We learned so much in that week,” recounts Robin. “It completely shifted my understanding of what we needed to do to optimally manage this property. Tom’s explanation of the history of stream modification and drainage let us look at Blackburn Lake- and our other conservation lands – with new eyes.” The SSIC team learned that they were not only contending with the recent disturbances caused by the construction of the golf course, but a legacy of drainage modifications made by those who had farmed the land, stretching back to the 1800s. “Tom taught us that anywhere you find a stream in close proximity to agriculture, you can almost bet those streams have been moved,” explains Robin. “As we walked the property, he pointed out where early settlers would have taken the broad, flat creeks running down the middle of a valley bottom and moved them to the base of the hill. This, combined with surprisingly sophisticated drainage modifications, dried up existing wetlands to allow them to be cultivated.” Unfortunately, the ecological consequences of shifting these streams runs deep: not only did it eliminate important wetland habitats, the repositioned streams cause erosion that continues to deposit silt into the lake today: a concern for fish, wildlife and humans. In this instance, water from Blackburn Lake flows into Cusheon Lake, one of the Island’s major sources for drinking water, and is connected to Cusheon Creek, Salt Spring’s most important salmon run. Restoring these streams and wetlands to their pre-agriculture states will hopefully halt centuries of silting, improving conditions for the juvenile salmon and cutthroat trout in the lake. It will also benefit a myriad of other local species that use wetlands as part of their lifecycle, all while protecting an important source of water for Island residents. With the restoration plan nearing completion and funding secured for the first phase, the SSIC hopes...
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Natural Allies Robin Annschild of the Salt Spring Island Conservancy explains how working together with their local Rod & Gun Club has turned out to be a win-win situation. Listen to anyone speak about the good ol’ days of conservation in this province, and it will quickly become apparent how much things have changed.  Though environmental pressures have increased, stable sources of funding have become increasingly hard to come by. From land conservancies to stewardship groups, organizations have had to find ways of doing more with less, requiring increased resourcefulness, innovation and formation of partnerships beyond traditional allies. The Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation (HCTF) had the opportunity to talk with Robin Annschild, Conservation Director of the Salt Spring Island Conservancy, about how her organization is doing just that, to the benefit of everyone involved. Robin, over the past 3 years, the Salt Spring Island Conservancy (SSIC) has managed to secure an impressive amount of habitat, but I’m told there’s far more work to be done. Why is land securement so important on Salt Spring? Salt Spring lies within the Coastal Douglas Fir zone–the rarest ecosystem in the province with the highest number of species at risk. Over 50 rare or endangered species have been found on the Island, but only a small percentage of its most valuable habitats are protected. There are tremendous pressures on undeveloped lands as the population continues to grow. The large percentage of private ownership here combined with high land values means that conservation activities on Salt Spring really centre around working with landowners to find ways of protecting the ecological values on their lands, through stewardship activities, covenants, or transfer of property to our organization by way of donation or sale. Beyond the obvious hurdle of finding funds for land purchases, what are some of the challenges in working with landowners to secure conservation lands? Whether we’re acquiring land through donation or purchase, there’s an incredible amount of work and expertise required. Finding money is always an obstacle: the scarce amount of funding available for conservation makes purchasing land something we can do on only a very limited basis, but it also restricts our capacity to work with landowners to receive donations. It’s a huge decision to part with a piece of property you’ve held for decades, and, in the case of an ecological donation, the process can be complex. Demographics suggest that the next couple of decades are going to present a lot of opportunities for securement of conservation properties, and one of the limiting factors is going to be that finite capacity among conservation agencies to support and receive those lands. It’s going to be increasingly important for organizations to join forces across sectors and scales to achieve the maximum possible conservation impact. Speaking of joining forces, the SSIC has been around for a while now, but it’s only in the last year that you began working together with the Salt Spring Rod & Gun Club. What finally prompted your two organizations to get together? HCTF! In response to this need for capacity, HCTF provided funding to cover staffing costs during the acquisition of the 320 acre Hope Hill Property, which is now known as the Alvin Indridson Nature reserve. In acknowledgement of the fact that HCTF funds come from hunting & angling licence fees, we made the commitment to allow hunting on the property. This was new ground for us. I am really excited about it because of the potential benefit that hunting could have on the Island’s deer situation. There is mounting evidence that an overabundance of deer can have a significant impact on everything from endangered plants to songbird populations, so for us to have a reserve where deer hunting is allowed is almost an ecological imperative. However, it soon became apparent that we didn’t have the expertise within the Conservancy to manage a hunting reserve, and (naturally) we thought of the local Rod & Gun club. For a while, I had been thinking that it would be great if we had a way to reach out to Rod & Gun, if we could work together somehow, and the HCTF funding provided such an obvious impetus to contact them. I asked one of...
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News Coverage of Delta Farmlands Project Global News BC ran the following story on HCTF Project #2-349, the Provision of Waterfowl & Raptor Habitat within Managed Grasslands on Lower Fraser River Farmland. The Foundation has contributed over $150,000 to this project, which encourages farmers to plant their fields with winter cover crops and create grassland set-asides. These programs are designed to simultaneously benefit farmers and wildlife by improving soil conditions while creating habitat.  Winter cover crops provide a valuable food source for migratory birds, and grassland-set asides support small mammal populations and create raptor hunting grounds. Earlier this year, HCTF did an evaluation of this project, which you can read about here. You can find out more about the Winter Crop Cover and Grassland Set-asides programs by visiting the Delta Farmland & Wildlife Trust website.    ...