Text by Michelle Daniel

Elders, youth, and fellow members of Kenpesq’t (the Shuswap Band) of the Secwépemc Nation recently celebrated the renaming of a newly restored wetland site. They were joined by staff from The Nature Trust of British Columbia (NTBC), the BC Wildlife Federation (BCWF) and the BC Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship (MLWRS).

Now known as Sqlewúlécw (pronounced Sklaow Ooloo), meaning ‘Beaver Creek,’ the project saw efforts to restore ‘wet land’ through the development of a mosaic of wetland basins. The project location had previously been referred to as Sun Creek, and the site spans NTBC’s Columbia Lake Westside Conservation Area and the MLWRS Sun Lake Conservation Area, about 3 kilometres west of Columbia Lake. This is the traditional, overlapping territory of both the Ktunaxa and Secwépemc Peoples, the original and longstanding stewards of the lands and waters.

Renaming seeks to recognize and honour the Indigenous connection to the land and water. The choice of name reflects both the history of the site and the future, as the multiple groups in attendance work to share in ongoing stewardship opportunities. Restoring Indigenous place names seeks to revitalize and celebrate Indigenous language and culture, including the long and powerful traditions of oral histories.

Photos: Christopher Spencer, River & Ridge Productions

Kenpesq’t members performed songs of welcoming, honour, water, and celebration, consisting of inspiring singing, drumming and dancing.  Attendees offered prayers and tobacco for the future of the wetland site: for the land to recover, water to continue returning, and for the success of plants and animals re-establishing on the site.

Wetland restoration experts Robin Annschild and Tom Biebighauser visited the site in 2015 with NTBC staff, a consulting biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program and a local resident. The group saw the project’s potential, and prepared a restoration plan.  The original wetland had been impacted by forestry, agriculture, and hydro transmission land uses, and a ditch was dug along the northeast edge of the original wetland, diverting water into a narrow channel. This prevented the area from retaining surface water as it likely had historically.

In 2020, staff with the provincial government secured a large grant from BC’s Healthy Watershed Initiative, and NTBC secured a grant from the Columbia Basin Trust. Other organizations, including the BC Wildlife Federation, also contributed to the project.

In October 2021, two local excavators travelled to the site with the project team. Over the course of a week, a total of thirty emergent and ephemeral basins were dug in the project area, covering 10,089 m2.  Basins of different sizes and depths will support a diversity of wildlife, providing feeding and nesting areas for birds, breeding areas for amphibians, and water sources for many animals, including deer and elk. A trail camera facing into the project site has already captured several animals using the wetlands, and waterbirds were a common sight for staff visiting this past spring!

Elk taking a drink in the wetland

During basin construction, with the help of heavy equipment, the ditch was deactivated, allowing water to be retained longer over a greater area, similar to its original condition.

Downstream, putting her detective cap on, Robin identified old, breeched beaver dams along the watershed, now overgrown and eroding. Unfortunately, beavers have been removed from many areas in the last century, but by restoring slow flows and deeper basins, we hope that the project will entice them to recolonize the area. The deepest basin was dug nearly seven feet deep, to hold enough water to support beavers. Beavers are incredible ecosystem engineers, who would not only maintain the wetlands, but whose work would be expected to benefit the watershed well beyond the project site.

As heavy equipment finished up with digging, native seed was spread around the areas of soil disturbance to jump start revegetation – and just in time!  As work wrapped up at the end of the week, snow began to fly, making access challenging until spring.

Water had begun to flow into the deeper basins during the construction period.  As the snow melted the following spring, the team was thrilled to see basins brimming with water upon their March return.  Once the ground thawed, a wildlife-friendly fence was constructed around the project site. This will ensure that ranging cattle are restricted to intended areas, protecting the wetland, whereas height and spacing allow wildlife to enter and exit safely. To continue efforts to revegetate the area, a number of native sedge, rush, red-osier dogwood, spruce and aspen were planted in the rich soils at the edges of the basins.

Monitoring work will continue, documenting water levels and hydroperiods, recovery of vegetation, and wildlife use at the site. We look forward to participating in a similar renaming ceremony next spring with Ɂakisq̓nuk First Nation. Representatives from Ɂakisq̓nuk are collaborating with the project team to pursue opportunities for additional wetland restoration and enhancement, downstream as well as elsewhere in the watershed.

Photo: Christopher Spencer

We were lucky to work with fantastic partners on this project. We are grateful for the financial support of the Healthy Watersheds Initiative and the Columbia Basin Trust.  Thank you to the Ministry of Lands, Water, and Resource Stewardship, BC Wildlife Federation, Rewilding Water and Earth, Inc., Kenpesq’t (the Shuswap Band), Ɂakisq̓nuk First Nation, Ktunaxa Nation Council, the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, Columbia Lake Ranch, Pathways Archaeological Consulting Ltd., Cody Fuller Excavating Ltd., One Time Fencing, Nupqu, Sagebrush Nursery, Zanzibar, Evergreen Forest Services, BC Hydro and our other supporters for making this project a reality.

Editorial Note: Giving Tuesday is an international day of philanthropy in which people around the world give back to each other. The Nature Trust of BC is participating this year by raising funds to support our fantastic Conservation Field Crews. On November 29th, donate to BC conservation work and supporting nature-based solutions.