Participants sample invertebrates at the Winfield Nature Reserve wetland in Lake Country. Photo credit: Contributed

Participants sample invertebrates at the Winfield Nature Reserve wetland in Lake Country. Photo credit: Contributed

Okanagan losing battle to preserve wetlands

Political will called for to create and enforce mitigation standards

The Okanagan Valley is a major contributor to why B.C. is among the worst provinces across Canada for protecting wetland habitat, says an expert on the subject.

Neil Fletcher says the Okanagan has lost 85 per cent of its natural wetlands, largely to urban development sprawl.

“People are living where wetlands used to be,” he said.

Fletcher was speaking to the Okanagan water stewardship council about wetland preservation last week in Kelowna.

He is one of the most knowledgeable sources on the topic, serving as manager of the BC Wildlife Federation wetlands education program and chair of the provincial wetland stewardship partnership.

Related: Preserving wetlands at BX Ranch

Fletcher started out in Ottawa, Ontario where he prepared a management plan for a provincially significant wetland next to a housing development site.

He later moved on to monitoring nutrient loading in the waters surrounding the RCMP horse breeding facility where he strapped on chest waders and pounded groundwater monitoring wells into grassy waterway filled with poop.

Today, Fletcher is concerned with the multifaceted wetlands of British Columbia and helps to empower communities to protect, conserve and restore them.

Fletcher said the Okanagan’s poor history of wetland preservation extends across Canada, where an estimated 70 to 80 per cent of wetlands have been lost, again largely due to development.

While mitigation efforts are available to restore wetlands, it is an expensive, long-term process and currently doesn’t have the political will of the provincial government to be strictly monitored, regulated and enforced.

“It takes a long time for the mitigated recovery of a wetlands. We are still learning as we go about how to improve restoration efforts,” he said.

The impacts of a lost wetlands on the local environment are many, from becoming prone to flooding to endangered species placed in harm’s way.

“About one-third of our endangered species require wetlands at some stage in their lives to survive,” Fletcher said.

Generating a positive government-driven response has been slow, but Fletcher does cite some positive steps.

The new Water Sustainability Act has recognized the existence of wetlands, which Fletcher said is a step up from being categorized in the past as a swamp. “But there are no specific standards set for wetland preservation. That is the challenge.”

One example of what could be is the forest industry, which since 2004 has enforced strict policies about the mitigation and protection of wetlands in harvesting timber, regulations that the oil and gas industry also emulate.

Fletcher said it is largely left to environment management professionals to determine appropriate mitigation or protection measures, and they often are caught between what they feel is necessary and what their clients are willing to do.

“The policy guidance should not come from professionals but from the government who sets policy that all professionals and industry can follow.”

That guidance should include what constitutes wetland damage avoidance, minimizing ecological harm, where compensation should occur, acceptable forms of compensation, mitigation policy and providing guaranteed ecological outcomes.

Achieving that would come from standard regulations with adequate enforcement resources, inventory data, incentives and education initiatives for development proponents and government administration.


 


newsroom@vernonmorningstar.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

 

Participants sample invertebrates at the Winfield Nature Reserve. Photo credit: Contributed

Participants sample invertebrates at the Winfield Nature Reserve. Photo credit: Contributed

Just Posted

Fruit farmers in the Okanagan and Creston valleys are in desperate need of cherry harvesters amid COVID-19 work shortages. (Photo: Unsplash/Abigail Miller)
‘Desperate’ need for workers at Okanagan cherry farms

Fruit farmers are worried they’ll have to abandon crops due to COVID-19 work shortages

Earls On Top at 211 Bernard Avenue in Kelowna. (Google Maps photo)
Downtown Kelowna’s Earls ordered closed after COVID-19 transmission

Earls on Top on Bernard Avenue will be closed from June 18 to June 27

Danny Fulton receives his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Coast Capri Hotel on April 27. The pop-up clinic was hosted by the First Nations Health Authority. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Drop-in COVID-19 vaccine clinic planned for Kelowna

Clinic at Kelowna Secondary School from June 22 to 24 from 1 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Dereck Donald Sears. (Contributed/Crimestoppers)
Murder charge laid in relation to suspicious Kelowna death

Dereck Donald Sears is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Darren Middleton

A motorycle crash has been reported on Westside Road. (Google Maps)
UPDATE: Westside Road reopened following motorcycle crash near Vernon

AIM Roads advises drivers to expect delays due to congestion

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

Jeanette Megens
KCR: Volunteering is sharing your story

Kelowna Community Resources shares stories of its volunteers in a weekly column

(File photo)
Penticton not holding Canada Day activities out of respect for Indigenous people

Cities across B.C. are cancelling the holiday after an increased spotlight on Canada’s dark history

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Police are asking for public assistance in locating Anthony Graham who has been charged with the murders of Kamloops brothers Carlo and Erick Fryer. (RCMP photo)
2 charged, suspect at large in killings of B.C. brothers linked to gang activity: RCMP

Kamloops brothers Erick and Carlo Fryer were found deceased in May on a remote Okanagan road

Albert Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney unveil an opening sign after speaking about the Open for Summer Plan and next steps in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta 1st province in Canada to lift all COVID-19 public health restrictions

70.2% of eligible citizens 12 and older in the province have received a dose of the vaccine

Fraser Health registered nurse Ramn Manan draws a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at a walk-up vaccination clinic at Bear Creek Park, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Honour our fathers’ with COVID-19 vaccine protection, B.C. urges

109 new cases Friday, 75 per cent of 12 and up immunized

Most Read