World Wetlands Day

Canoeing at the Daphne Ogilvie Nature Sanctuary, BC (Photo by Bernadette Mertens-McAllister)

Canoeing at the Daphne Ogilvie Nature Sanctuary, BC (Photo by Bernadette Mertens-McAllister)

In recognition of World Wetlands Day on February 2, 2018, Hillary Page, director of science and stewardship with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), British Columbia Region, is reminding us that the conservation and restoration of wetlands in British Columbia must be a top priority.

“Wetlands are one of our most important habitats,” says Hillary. “We know that at least half of the wildlife in North America rely on wetlands for at least part of their life cycle, and yet we don’t have a really complete picture of the extent and health of wetlands in this province.”

In BC, wetlands cover only 5 per cent of the land base, but they provide critical habitat to a majority of wildlife species at some point in their life cycle. However, these ecosystems are disappearing very quickly due to residential and commercial development, conversion to agriculture and invasive species.

“Wetlands also play an important role in the health of our country and our communities,” says Hillary. “They remove sediments, excess nutrients and even bacteria from our drinking water. They are very effective at storing carbon. And much like a giant paper towel, they absorb and hold water, which buffers our cities and farms from floods and droughts both of which are growing more common and extreme in recent years.”

NCC is contributing to wetland conservation not just by protecting existing wetland habitat, such as the Frog Bear Conservation Corridor, Luxor Linkage and the Kumdis Estuary, but also by initiating wetland restoration projects all across the province.

Wetland restoration projects in British Columbia

The restoration of wetlands is a critical component of wetlands conservation. Simple actions such as fencing to keep out grazing animals allow a degraded wetland to recover in just a few years, rebuilding natural habitat used by migratory birds, amphibians, small mammals and other wildlife. And sometimes a completely transformative project is called for.

“We have had significant success in restoring wetlands that have been severely degraded by industrial activity,” says Hillary. “In just five years, the Campbell River Estuary on Vancouver Island was transformed from a lifeless post-industrial landscape into a thriving natural oasis. Fish and other sea life started to return within the first year of the restoration project.”

Inspired by that success, many new wetland restoration projects are underway in BC:

 
The former gravel pit, after restoration. (Photo courtesy Elk River Alliance)

The former gravel pit, after restoration. (Photo courtesy Elk River Alliance)

Elk Valley: from gravel pit to turtle heaven

Starting in 2017, NCC and partners began transforming a defunct gravel pit located within the Elk Valley Heritage Conservation Area into a naturally functioning wetland. NCC worked with wetland specialists to design a wetland restoration project that would greatly increase the area of shallow-water wetlands, improving habitat for waterfowl and shorebirds. The design includes features that will attract badger, grizzly bear, Townsend’s big-eared bat, western painted turtle and western toad.

Hayfields on Cherry Meadows that will be restored to their former state as wetlands (Photo by NCC)

Hayfields on Cherry Meadows that will be restored to their former state as wetlands (Photo by NCC)

Cherry Meadows: once and future wetlands

NCC is rehabilitating former hay fields on the Cherry Meadows Conservation Area, which were once part of network of productive wetlands, into habitat for waterfowl, including mallards, wood ducks and Canada geese. This project helps reverse some of the wetland habitat loss that has happened throughout the the Rocky Mountain Trench over the past several decades and will have the potential to support species at risk, such as northern leopard frog.

Bobolink Meadows oxbow restoration project (Photo by Bruce Harrison)

Bobolink Meadows oxbow restoration project (Photo by Bruce Harrison)

Osoyoos Oxbows: reversing habitat loss is for the birds

Following the acquisition of 90 acres (36 hectares) along the Okanagan River in 2016, NCC and Ducks Unlimited Canada  has been preparing to restore some of the agricultural fields to more natural wetlands, building on the recent restoration of adjacent conservation lands by the two groups. Recreating historical oxbow channels will allow wetland species, such as the western painted turtle, Great Basin spadefoot and blotched tiger salamander, to relocate from nearby areas.

Wetlands on Chase Woods Nature Reserve (Photo by NCC)

Wetlands on Chase Woods Nature Reserve (Photo by NCC)

Chase Woods: reconnecting to the estuary

The Chase Woods Wetland Restoration Project aims to restore degraded and destroyed wetlands and creeks on this nature reserve in order to increase healthy coastal wetland habitat in the the Cowichan Estuary. With approximately 60 per cent of shoreline marsh habitats in the Salish Sea having been lost, opportunities to restore these ecosystems are rare and important. The drained marshes on the Chase Woods Nature Preserve provide an exciting opportunity for coastal wetland habitat restoration. 

 Did you know?

  • Biologists estimate that more than 50 per cent of wildlife species in North America rely on access to wetland habitat for at least part of their life cycle.
  • Almost 35 per cent of all rare, threatened and endangered species are dependent on wetlands.
  • Wetlands store water that can help mitigate droughts, and they absorb and store excess water in areas prone to flooding and erosion.
  • Wetlands have the potential to mitigate the impacts of climate change by tempering temperature extremes in a local area and storing carbon.
  • Wetlands serve as natural water treatment systems.

Supporter Spotlight

Explore our properties by visiting Nature Destinations