IMPROVING WHERE WE LIVE: Examples of “Citizen Science in Action, Protecting British Columbia’s Stream Habitat”

Note to Reader:

In recent years, Postmedia has published a series of op-ed articles provided by the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia. The over-arching purpose of these ongoing submissions is to mainstream new ideas and/or ways of thinking about water and land differently. Titled Citizen science is in action in BC, the most recent op-ed was published in the Vancouver Province newspaper.

The op-ed is a collaborative effort by the Partnership’s Kim Stephens, Eric Bonham and Richard Boase, Reproduced below, the op-ed provides an historical perspective on the evolution of stream stewardship over the past three decades – from an in-stream focus, to looking beyond the stream channel to connect the dots between actions on the surrounding landscape and the consequences for streams. 

The op-ed has helped draw attention to the critically important role that the stewardship sector plays through collaboration and partnerships with government. Simply put, there is a vast pool of experienced talent in most communities that is ready, willing and available to “make where we live better”. 

The call to action is to embrace “design with nature” standards of land use and engineering practice so that restorative land development results in sustainable stream stabilization. This is the unifying theme for the upcoming Parksville 2019 Symposium on Water Stewardship in a Changing Climate in April.

Citizen Science in Action – Island Waters Fly Fishers participating in a habitat survey on Millstone River in the Nanaimo Regional District

“Collaboration taps into the passion and ingenuity of volunteers who are driven by commitment,”
states Eric Bonham 

When he was a Director in the B.C. Ministry of Environment in the 1990s, Eric oversaw the Urban Salmon Habitat Program 

“Stewardship operates under a different dynamic than the private sector or government.  Stewards are drawn together for a common cause, like-minded individuals with a vision for the greater good,” states Eric Bonham.

“This purpose is not to be found in the policy manuals of government, nor in regulations or legislation. Rather, it is built upon an enthusiastic personal commitment and passion by a band of individuals to make a difference. Financial gain is not a factor, nor is fame, and hard work is not grudged.

“Collaboration, teamwork and a recognition that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts is the energy that stokes the creativity and determination, based upon each individual contributing their particular talent. When this combination of citizen talent is aligned with a local government that is both visionary and focused, outstanding achievements are not only possible, but realistic, and often with nominal financial outlay.

“In essence, engagement of community through stewardship is a credible formula to be encouraged and mainstreamed at every opportunity.”

Why the Urban Salmon Habitat Program was so successful in the 1990s:

“What happens on the land matters to streams was the core principle of the Urban Salmon Habitat Program (USHP) developed in 1990-1994 by the provincial government,” continues Eric Bonham.

“The mission of the USHP was the restoration of salmon habitat in urban areas within the Georgia Basin and the success of the program, was in large part, due to the collaboration of the federal, provincial and local governments, working in partnership with the stewardship sector.

“The success of the USHP was in the integration and partnership that was encouraged between local government and the stewards. Provincial staff identified within the program fulfilled a coordinating role with local government, keeping elected officials informed on the activities of the stewards within the community.

“This ‘win-win’ approach greatly enthused citizens and elected officials alike to commit to the program, resulting in the regeneration of salmon habitat through innovative restorative projects developed in partnership with local government.”

Citizen Science in Action – North Shore Streamkeepers trapping smolts

Stewards are Looking Beyond the Stream Channel

Throughout British Columbia, an amazing network of volunteer groups is working to protect, restore and enhance local streams. This movement has its roots in the partnership-based Urban Salmon Habitat Program (USHP) of the 1990s.

Under the USHP umbrella, provincial staff fulfilled a coordinating role with local government, keeping elected officials informed on the activities of stewards within their community. The approach greatly enthused citizens and elected officials alike to commit to the program, resulting in the regeneration of salmon habitat through innovative restorative projects.

When Partnerships are “Win-Win”: 

Today, the scope of involvement and influence of stream stewards is expanding beyond the creek channel. What happens on the land matters to streams. Hence, stewardship groups are champions for community-scale responsibility. Given staffing and funding constraints, creative partnerships with stewardship groups are truly “win-win” for local governments – especially when stewardship groups can access funding sources that local governments cannot.

Guided by the Common Good, a Shared Vision and Commitment:

Teamwork for the common good is a powerful and often transformative experience, particularly when a longer term vision for a local creekshed engages multiple interests, disciplines and local government. Collaboration taps into the passion and ingenuity of volunteers who are driven by commitment.

Beacons of Hope

On Vancouver Island, for example, “beacons of hope” are the Bowker Creek and Brooklyn Creek restoration initiatives. Provincially significant precedents, each has a long history in demonstrating how local government partnerships with stewardship groups can “improve where we live”. These precedents represent a range of situations: Bowker in the urban heart of the Capital Region; Brooklyn in the suburban Comox Valley.

In Metro Vancouver, groups such as the North Shore Streamkeepers (NSSK) are making a difference. NSSK collaboration with the District of North Vancouver underpins a water quality monitoring program. The District purchased state-of-the-art equipment and trained 10 volunteers who conduct sampling close to their neighbourhood.

Mentoring the Next Generation of Community Leaders: 

Stewardship groups provide excellent training and field educational opportunities for young people, the next generation of leaders, particularly so when supported by local government.  NSSK volunteers, for example, include a new wave of young professionals. They are choosing to become active community leaders by getting involved in something they are passionate about.

Understand the Land-Water Relationship

On Vancouver Island, another example of collaboration is a provincial government program to train community stewards to undertake streamflow data collection in small streams. Stewardship groups have local knowledge about local water resources; and are the most invested and most connected to the land base. Involving them in streamflow measurement fills a gap at the local scale where flow data are sparse to non-existent.

Reflections on Provincial Government Collaboration with Stewardship Sector:

“My hope in leading this program is to leverage interested parties to collect the data they are interested in, or that may have value to them now and in the future, to allow better resource decision-making,” states Neil Goeller, the provincial government’s Regional Hydrologist for the West Coast Region. He is hands-on in training community volunteers.

“With this training, combined with education about cause-and-effect, we can speak with authority when we state that what happens on the land matters to streams. We will be that much more effective when partnering with local governments in decision processes that revolve around the land-water relationship,” notes Peter Law, President of the Mid Vancouver Island Habitat Enhancement Society.

The foregoing Vancouver Island examples of “citizen science in action” will be featured in the upcoming Second Annual Vancouver Island Symposium on Water Stewardship in a Changing Climate, in Parksville in April.

Call for a New Land Ethic

Initiated by the federal government, the Wild Salmon Policy 2018-2022 Implementation Plan highlights the demand for integration of resources, disciplines, different levels of government and the stewardship sector to collectively focus on the role of restorative land development.

The call, then, is for the implementation of a new land ethic such that “restorative land development results in sustainable stream stabilization”. Local government collaboration with the stewardship sector is an essential factor to bring this vision to fruition.

Peter Law, President of the Mid Vancouver Island Habitat Enhancement Society (MVIHES), measuring the flow in Shelly Creek in the Parksville area of Vancouver Island.