“There’s the future that we need to look at”

By Haley Grinder
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The B.C. Wildlife Federation’s Wetlands Workforce has been diligently working in high gear to do the impossible— combat the long-term effects of climate change. What is undeniably no easy feat, the workforce dug their heels into the mud— literally and figuratively—with the goal of preserving the health and biodiversity of B.C.’s wetlands and watersheds for generations to come.

The project, officially launching just over a year ago, is a collaboration between First Nations and conservation organizations, with the ultimate goal of maintaining native species, improving wetland management, developing better wetland inventories, collaborating with indigenous communities, and creating safe and meaningful work.

Albeit not the first organization to tackle the issue of environmental distress, the Wetlands Workforce approaches the topic with a revolutionary lens— seeking the help from First Nations local to the area at hand.

Diana Cote, First Nations Liaison for the project says, “We need to talk to our indigenous communities first and ask them. What are some of the big issues? And how can we mitigate it?” As they are already familiar with the land, these communities act as firsthand witnesses to the deterioration of our environment and the best chance of reversing damage done.

“The commercial development, the residential development, the agricultural… they’ve all had really, really powerful impacts on our wetlands. And, the wetlands workforce is working to restore to protect them,” stresses Cote. “You see it through climate change. You see it through the flooding, you see it through the droughts that we’ve had, and through the wildfires last summer. Climate change is happening, and we need to be aware of that.”

This is of particular importance to the Columbia Valley, home to the Columbia Wetlands, as it is one of the longest undisturbed wetland ecosystems in North America, measuring well over 180 km in length, and home to a variety of different species of fish and wildlife.

A mere year after launching, over 70 project sites have already been established and 40 key species have been positively impacted through their work. The workforce project has also successfully provided safe and meaningful jobs to over 100 people, particularly targeting those affected by the recent recession, as well as women, people under 30, and First Nations.

The Wetlands Workforce broke into pods based on region, first hosting both virtual and in-person engagement sessions. The main goal of these sessions was to create a space for shared learning, raising awareness and increasing knowledge of current wildlife and wetland ecosystem issues.

“We looked at different wetlands, within their territory, but also within their communities,” shared Cote. After six engagement sessions were completed within the Kootenay region, the workforce’s key point of focus was on visits to the wetlands itself. Here, they were accompanied by local Elders and knowledge holders, where they created opportunities to learn about cultural teachings, history of the land, and traditional ecological knowledge.

The Wetlands Workforce also initiated a Wetlands Ecosystem Services Protocol (WESP) model, a standardized method for assessing the function and value of the services provided by wetlands specific to B.C. regions. The Field data and maps will support a longer term objective of creating a wetland inventory for the province.

The project was supported through the Healthy Watersheds Initiative, which is delivered by the Real Estate Foundation of BC and Watersheds BC, with financial aid from the Province of British Columbia as part of its $10 billion COVID-19 response.

The workforce brings with it a sense of resiliency, a refreshing change of pace to the usual melancholic hopelessness that has been prevalent this past year amidst the ongoing pandemic.

“It just transformed into this most amazing project with incredible people that have such a deep desire for the work. It’s truly in their heart,” says Cote, passion for the project evident in her voice. “I’ve worked many, many jobs in my life. And this is probably the one that really holds my heart. It’s so incredibly important to our indigenous communities and to our indigenous way of life.”

For those who would like more information on the Wetland Workforce and their upcoming projects, visit https://wetlandsworkforce.ca/