The Mountain Adventure Skills Training (MAST) students at the College of the Rockies – Fernie Campus give back every year to the Elk Valley to help the environment. “Energetic, strong, and skilled students are always keen to put what they’ve learned into action”, said Lee-Anne Walker, Natural History Instructor of the MAST Program for 22 years. “After gaining the knowledge and skills about this special space they’ve called home for 10 months, they are ready to help care for this spectacular place”. A partnership with the Elk River Alliance (ERA) offered a perfect outlet to make a difference this year.

Above: MAST Students and ERA Volunteer team restoring Hosmer Wetland at NCC’s Elk Valley Heritage Conservation Area by planting native shrubs.

In the fall of 2017, ERA collaborated with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) to restore an abandoned gravel pit north to a functioning wetland north of Hosmer on NCC’s Elk Valley Heritage Conservation Area. The compacted, and what looked like a ‘gravel parking lot’, was excavated and the reclaimed soil distributed and loosened. Large woody debris were placed around the restored wetland for perching and basking platforms. ERA volunteers gathered and planted 500 live willow stakes, and the site was seeded with native grass.

With high water in the Elk River, ground water has now filled the wetland and the willow stakes are starting to sprout. On Tuesday, May 22, 18 students from the MAST program joined ERA volunteers, planting hundreds of willow, red-osier dogwood, Saskatoon, rose and choke cherry shrubs. “These species were selected for their importance to wildlife”, notes Walker, “mostly for browsing ungulates and foraging wildlife”.

In the spring ERA will install an interpretive sign and bench along the Elk Valley Trail at an access to a viewpoint where people can watch the sites’ transformation back to a wetland. “Everyone involved in this project shares the stewardship ethic it takes to transform human scarred landscapes back to a place used by rare species like grizzly bears, Western toads and American badgers”, said Beth Millions, ERA Restoration and Stewardship Program Manager. “None of us could tackle this type of project on our own. It will be so fascinating to watch this landscape transform back to nature over the years”.

“Wetlands have been lost in the Elk Valley due to the cumulative impacts of road, railway and urban development. They’ve been drained, filled in and cut off from the Elk River”, reminds Millions. “This project is an attempt to restore wetlands that provide important functions to locals for free. Wetlands help reduce flood risk by soaking up and storing water. They recharge groundwater and later release it back into the Elk River during dry spells, which is important for aquatic life like fish. They also provide habitat for many species at risk.”

Many thanks to the MAST students for their ‘brawn and brains’, making a difference in local ecosystem restoration.

The Elk River Alliance (ERA) is a non-profit, community-based water group dedicated to connecting people to the Elk River watershed keeping it drinkable, fishable and swimmable for future generations. For more information call Beth Millions, ERA Restoration and Stewardship Program Manager at info@elkriveralliance.ca or (250) 423-3322 www.elkriveralliance.ca

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is Canada’s leading national land conservation organization. Since 1962, NCC and our partners have helped to conserve 2.8 million acres (more than 1.1 million hectares) of ecologically significant land nationwide. www.natureconservancy.ca

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