Something unexpected visited the ponds at the Halleran site in Meadow Creek, a small community in the mountainous Lardeau Valley.
At the Halleran site, it is quite common to see grizzly bears in the flourishing vegetation or elk wadding in one of the many ponds created on the property. The Halleran restoration project began in 2014 by the B.C. Wildlife Federation (BCWF), providing habitat for many wetland species like Western Toads, Bobolink, Trumpeter Swans and even Sandhill Cranes have been spotted at the site.
The landowners, Michele and Terry actively monitor the wetlands, capturing pictures of the wildlife that frequent the area. On this particular day, Michele Halleran was amazed to see three White-faced Ibis spending their day sampling each of the ponds on the property. White-faced Ibis are not commonly seen in British Columbia, with only a number of casual sightings a year. Typically, during the summer their breeding range does not reach beyond the southern portion of Alberta.
Little over a week before the sighting at the Halleran site, 14 White-faced Ibis were spotted near Kimberley B.C. at another wetland constructed with the support of the BCWF. The congregation of Ibises were spotted at the wetlands, that were constructed in 2018, on Sparrowhawk Farm before they flocked across the way to the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s wetland site, known as Cherry Meadows.
These sightings make the collective effort of restoration so rewarding. However, through the active monitoring of wetlands, we may be able to determine whether species we once considered uncommon in B.C. may be more common than we thought.
The Importance of Monitoring our Wetlands
When it comes to wetland restoration projects there always seems to be resources and funding available to get the initial work done. However, it is notoriously difficult to find funding and resources to address critical conservation actions such as maintenance, monitoring and data collection that comes after the restoration project is completed.
These actions are important because they determine whether the work performed as planned, is effective and whether it is providing sufficient habitat for different types of species.
Through the Wetlands Workforce project, over 70 wetlands will receive some much-needed care, while wildlife monitoring and data collection at these sites will allow us to determine the effectiveness of restoration techniques.
We will be implementing an Effectiveness Monitoring Protocol at these sites to evaluate whether the restoration process is being successful. Christina Borring-Olsen, Wetlands Research Coordinator for the Wetlands Workforce is implementing the Effectiveness Monitoring Protocol for the project.
“Doing this monitoring on a whole will allow us to evaluate the success of the restoration process and shed light on how we can create better management guidelines for restoration projects. Additionally, we hope to provide funders and policymakers an idea of what all goes into a restoration project. It’s not just the initial construction.”
What is Effectiveness Monitoring?
The Effectiveness Monitoring Guidelines for Ecosystem Restoration defines Effectiveness Monitoring as a series of surveys that, “addresses the question of how successful a project ultimately is at restoring the ecosystem or component parts. It involves assessing restoration progress in relation to initial objectives, and refining treatment prescriptions, where required, to increase their effectiveness.”
Christina is focusing the Effectiveness Monitoring Protocol for the Wetlands Workforce on four key aspects that need to be surveyed and assessed:
- Hydrology: Looking at the size of the wetland to determine if the wetland has grown bigger or smaller, and how long the wetlands hold open water.
- Vegetation: Evaluating the wetland composition and if it is viable habitat for wildlife. This includes assessing any invasive species that are in the wetland.
- Wildlife: Monitoring what wildlife utilize the wetland through numerous surveys, such as the Bird Marsh Monitoring Protocol, the Amphibian Egg Mass Monitoring Protocol and track and scat pellet counts.
- Soil: Measuring the depth of the organic layer and composition of the soil layers, and determining how this relates to aquatic invertebrate productivity and plant establishment.
Christina aims to capture some interesting data in these categories. For instance, crews will be directed to take a polygon of the whole area prior to doing invasive species treatment. Then they will take another polygon of the area that was treated.
“By doing this we’ll know the number of hours and people needed for that treatment to happen,” said Christina. “When we go to funders, we can say it takes this amount of money per person or per hour to treat this type of land or this type of invasive species. We can also show how much more of the area still needs to be treated.”
This information will be key in knowing how much resources are needed for the continued maintenance of restoration sites.
Another interesting technique Christina hopes to implement this year is two different ways to do Transect Surveys. A transect is a path along which one counts and records occurrences of the objects of study. Christina will be implementing this for wildlife monitoring. This means crews will walk a straight line and count how many animal tracks or how many pellets they come across within 1 to 5 meters of the transect line. Christina explains that it requires a lot of time to have people walk and do these counts. However, she is hoping to implement an alternative method that could potentially be more cost-effective in the longer term.
“We are wanting to bring in drones to do these surveys. We will be doing both on-the-ground transect surveys and drone surveys. By doing both, we will be able to look over the data and video collected and see what the accuracy is through each method. If the drone method works and is more efficient, it suggests that you can monitor these habitats in a much more cost-effective way as opposed to sending people out.”
Although the data being collected will shed a light on the current health and function of the wetlands that are part of this project, Christina clarifies that most of the data being collected will only be for the duration of the project. The Wetlands Workforce project will conclude on December 15, 2021. The short time frame of this project limits the amount of data that will be collected and will not be able to provide a broader lens, as longer-term monitoring programs provide.
For instance, the Yaqan Nukiy Wetlands project is in its second year of collecting data for its four-year Wildlife Monitoring project. The Wetlands Workforce provided some helping hands to install the equipment in the spring.
Longer-Term Monitoring Projects
In just one lifetime, you can see a habitat deteriorate and then come back. If we could capture that change and the information that comes with it, imagine what we could learn.
Norm Allard, Lower Kootenay Band Community Planner, reflects that there are many elders in the community that remember the Yaqan Nukiy lands as they naturally were before the compounds and dikes were put in. They witnessed the drastic change and decline in the habitat.
“Now that we are restoring these areas, they are starting to see all that stuff come back. They are starting to see more and more ducks and geese. Animals are starting to utilize the area which is a key indicator that a lot of the diversity that was here before is coming back.”
In the fall of 2019, the Lower Kootenay Band in partnership with the BCWF set up 35 wildlife cameras and song meters for a four-year Wildlife Monitoring project on the restored Yaqan Nukiy Wetlands site. Wildlife Habitat Canada, Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, Healthy Watersheds Initiative, B.C. Wildlife Federation, and Columbia Basin Trust are funding the project.
Molly Dube, Wetlands Education Program Assistant with the BCWF, explains that through the cameras and song meters they are looking for wildlife and the presence of certain animals, as well as species richness.
“We take in the data from the devices after a year out in the field. We analyze it. Then we do the same thing the following year. After four years of data collection, we will compile it all together to see how the wetlands have benefited the animals and to see whether the restoration work we did was effective.”
Wood Ducks, endangered amphibian species like the Northern Leopard Frog (with populations known in the vicinity), and the Western Painted Turtle are key species the restoration project hopes to benefit. However, this project is already collecting information on Grizzly bears, Moose, Elk and other larger species that are using the wetlands. The camera traps and song meters are also taking in migration patterns from waterfowl and migratory birds that you can see come and go.
“It will be nice to get an idea of what birds are using the wetland at what time, how many of them are coming through and are any of them endangered or threatened,” said Molly.
She reflects on the fantastic opportunity a four-year wildlife monitoring study provides, especially on a site that has a lot of space for a diversity of species.
“A lot of times for conservation projects you can get that funding to get shovels in the ground. Get that initial project started, but you don’t always get that chance to come back and look to see whether what you’ve done is working well. It is a unique opportunity to come back and look at what we have done and what has come out of it and to see where we can improve.”
For Norm and the Yaqan Nukiy Community they not only can share their stories of the transformation they see, but they have the data that illustrates that transformation and can be used to further improve the habitat they’ve restored.
“I’m working with some of these people and to see their ownership over the program and these projects is probably one of my biggest rewards. Being able to see what they value out of it. Some of the people who have worked here, say that they cannot wait to walk their grandchildren through these areas and tell them, ‘We helped build this. It never used to be like this.’ They are looking towards the future.”