So What Have I Been Up To?

ICA Youth After Cruise Fe. 2020

I have a busy life. And, for the most part, I like it that way, especially given that everything I’m doing perfectly aligns with my passions.

Being the part-time coordinator of the Greater Victoria NatureHood keeps me hopping. It is a remarkable collaboration among 16 organizations ( two businesses, four municipal departments and ten not-for-profits) sharing the mission of instilling and deepening the connection with nature through what can be found nearby in one’s backyard, neighbourhood and region.

The Greater Victoria NatureHood initiative is made possible by funding provided by Environment and Climate Change Canada through the Canadian Wildlife Service and is administered by Nature Canada.

Over the past few years, we used some of our allotted funding to offer free cruises through the Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary and by the Esquimalt Lagoon Migratory Bird Sanctuary for children, youth and families, made possible by the generosity of Eagle Wing Tours, one of the current partners.

Last year, we reached out to the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria and invited them to send the 25 youth enrolled in their youth program on an all-expense, 2 hour cruise to experience and learn about the ocean surrounding much of the region with the assurance that the current COVID protocols would be followed,

The cruise was part of the All Bufflehead Day celebration which happens every year on or near Oct. 15th. There’s a fascinating story here, but it will have to wait till a later post.

The Director was

The program manager was over the moon with excitement. Her organization could not afford such an amazing experience. Many of the youth, she said, had never been on a boat, other than maybe a BC Ferry.

So you can well imagine the excitement among the youth when they walked down the wharf and gathered around one of Eagle Wing’s excellent naturalists. Even though some were more busy trying to look and act cool, most listened intently to what she had to say.

Once on board and on the way, most of them braved the cold and rainy weather to spend much of their time on the decks, watching for wildlife. No more than maybe a half an hour on the water, we encountered the first of not two, three, or four humpback whales. Two of which swam under our vessel. They surfaced and gave out a mighty blow. Now these young people know what a whale’s breath smells like. 

They also saw, heard, and smelled the sea lions hauled out at Race Rocks, and they witnessed a large female surface only a few metres from the boat with an octopus in its mouth which it then proceeded to tear apart and eat.

Youth observing a sea lion eating an octopus

You may be able to imagine the excited squeals, shrieks, shouts and laughter that prevailed on the vessel after the first sighting and throughout the rest of the cruise.

According to one of the ICA staff on the cruise, one of the students told him: “I feel like we are like a family. Being on the trip and seeing friends again to see these ocean animals is really refreshing for my spirit. It’s really calming and healing for those of us stuck at home.”

In a blog post for the association’s website, he wrote:

“Getting to share these experiences with our youth is an incredible opportunity to learn, for staff and youth alike. Our group enjoyed teaching one another words and phrases in our home languages to help point out interesting sights along the way – with “Look over there!” and “Whale, whale, whale!” in Arabic being particularly useful to our group. Getting to appreciate something bigger than yourself is a great way to put things in perspective, particularly during these tumultuous times. For our youth, it was a welcome chance to celebrate their ICA community and learn about their marine neighbours.”

Knowing that I played an important role in making this experience possible for these youth fills my heart and energizes my spirit. It keeps me going, wanting to do more with the Greater Victoria NatureHood to connect people with the nature found nearby as well as with nature more generally. The more we can touch people the way we did on this cruise, the more we can foster the development of a public ready to protect and restore nature.

Launching the Greater Victoria NatureHood Map: A Guide to Many Adventures!

Greater Victoria NatureHood Map Page 1
Today, May 8th, is World Migratory Bird Day and the Greater Victoria NatureHood, a Nature Canada initiative, is thrilled to launch it’s Nature in the City: Guide to Many Adventures map!
 
The map’s design tells stories of urban habitats, captivating species and local parks to explore. Detailed environmental information is woven together with original artwork by Kristi Bridgeman and designed by a team of community partners led by Kathleen Burton as project manager and lead writer.
Greater Victoria NatureHood Map p2
The team consisted of individuals from the District of Saanich, the Capital Regional District, Rocky Point Bird Observatory, and Victoria Natural History Society.
 
“Initially the map was developed with the aim to deepen a connection with nature, then a global pandemic hit amidst a climate emergency. This saw the map take on a greater purpose, to create a sense of belonging for those who use it,” says Kathleen.
 
Bob Peart, founder of the Greater Victoria NatureHood and advisor to creation of the map, adds “It invites you to observe, learn and protect nature where you live.”
Bird watchers with binoculars and spotting scope
The map committee was honoured to work with SENĆOŦEN Language Revitalist, ŚW,XELOSELWET Tiffany Joseph and Erich Kelch First Nations Relations, Community Engagement Coordinator, CRD. This collaboration sees place names and species names included where possible in both SENĆOŦEN and Lekwungen languages.
 
“We wanted to go one step further than simply acknowledging the territory of the SENĆOŦEN and Lekwungen speaking peoples on whose traditional lands and waterways we live, work and play because it is with respect to those who were here before us and to their deep relationship to place continues to this day,” Peart points out. “Greater Victoria NatureHood looks forward to building a future map that includes more First Nations knowledge, language and history to provide a more complete illustration of our region’s indigenous history.”
Esquimalt Lagoon Mirgatory Bird Sanctuary
Maps are 24″ x 18″ (61cm x 46cm) flat and 4″ x9″ (10cm x 23cm) folded. Folded maps will be available to the public effective May 8, 2021, in time to celebrate World Migratory Bird Day celebrations in Greater Victoria. A limited run of 7,000 maps is available free of charge with thanks to NatureHood community partners. Schools, nonprofits and educational organizations are encouraged to contact NatureHood to request maps.
 
NatureHood Maps can be picked up, May 8-16, 2021, at the following locations:
  • Bateman Gallery
  • Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary
  • Eagle Wing Tours
  • Hotel Grand Pacific
  • Delta Ocean Point
  • Oak Bay PharmaSave
  • District of Saanich
Users of the map are encouraged to share their explorations on social media using the hashtags #gvnaturehood #naturehood and #naturalintelligence

Restoring Salmon to the Upper Reaches of Millstream Creek

Volunteer Putting Native Plants in the Ground

“There has never been a more urgent need to restore damaged ecosystems than now.” So proclaims the United Nations as a preamble to declaring 2021 – 2030 the Decade of Ecological Restoration. The purpose of the declaration is to serve as “a rallying call for the protection and revival of ecosystems all around the world, for the benefit of people and nature.”

The Greater Victoria region has its share of degraded natural ecosystems in desperate need of restoration. Among those hardest hit are the region’s streams. Many have been severely modified. Instead of following a natural course across the landscape, they’ve been forced into straight, concrete channels or steel culverts and in many cases, under parking lots, shopping malls and urban neighbourhoods. As a result the salmon runs these streams once supported collapsed.

One of the organizations working hard to restore the region’s damaged watersheds is Peninsula Streams Society (PSS). Their most recent project is aimed at opening up more habitat in the upper watershed of Millstream Creek.

To learn more about the project, I met Ian Bruce, the organization’s Executive Coordinator, at the site a couple of days ago. He and a couple of staff were preparing the area for planting the next day by volunteers.

This wasn’t our first meeting. Our paths had crossed a few times over the past 18 years since I was introduced to him. At the time, I was an environmental reporter with a local television station and I was doing a story for the 6 o’clock news about the restoration of small stream on the Saanich Peninsula near the airport. What I had forgotten was this was also about the time the PSS was formed.

It was natural then to start our conversation by asking him to remind me of how the Society came into being.

While the organization has only two other staff to assist Ian, it has had a big impact in restoring degraded watersheds within Greater Victoria by taking a grassroots approach.

The construction of a fishway and modification of a large culvert on Millstream Creek is the latest project of PSS and its supporters. Soon to be completed, this project makes it possible for returning salmon to access habitat further upstream. More habitat should translate into more salmon returning.

“Once I became involved in 2016,” he said, “I worked with them to get a fund-raising campaign going to make the project happen.” The Town of View Royal, City of Langford, and  Fisheries and Oceans Canada provided enough money to get a technical design made. With further fund-raising, the Society had almost enough to start construction in 2018; they’re still short about $300,000.

“At first we thought we were stuck, except that we had a shovel-ready project with professional engineering and technical design drawings ready for tender,” he explained.

With this asset, the Society was able to raise the last bit of funds needed to start work. Many, many organizations contributed. So many Ian couldn’t list them all. From start to finish, he estimates the total cost of the project to be in the order of one million dollars.

Definitely not an insignificant amount of money to raise, especially by a small conservation organization. I wondered about the cost of fishways in comparison to restoring stream banks and riparian vegetation.

I found it interesting that Ian appears to see the construction of the fishway and modification of the culvert as not restoration. Certainly they’re restoring a historic link for returning salmon to habitat upstream. More habitat should translate into more salmon returning.

But I think I understand where he’s coming from. The construction work here is a very different kind of restorative intervention than repairing stream banks in terms of scale, cost, and degree of constructed infrastructure. 

One thing we strongly agree on, is that restoration is not enough. Something else must happen. Several years back, Ian went through the Restoration of Natural Systems program at the University of Victoria and something that one of his instructors said deeply affected him and it has become a guiding principle for him personally as well as for PSS.

The next day I went back to speak with some of the volunteers who came out to help with putting native plants in the ground. I wanted to hear what motivated them to volunteer to do this physically challenging work.

The first volunteer I spoke with was Kitty Lloyd who I knew from my work as coordinator of the Greater Victoria Naturehood initiative. Kitty participated in our meetings and activities as a representative of the Capital Regional District where she worked as coordinator of the Gorge Waterway Initiative and Esquimalt Lagoon Stewardship Initiative. I knew she had recently retired. What I didn’t know is that she just recently joined the PSS board and was very excited about the Millstream Fishway project.

“Now that we know what damage we’ve done, we can’t not do restoration,” she said. “We need to clean up our mistakes and repair them as best as we can.”

And doing this hard work of restoring damaged natural ecosystems can be hugely rewarding as Kitty emphasized.

After chatting with Kitty, I looked around for my next “victim”. A young woman with bright blue-green hair caught my eye. She appeared to be about the same age of undergraduate students I once taught within the Department of Geography at the University of Victoria. She was down on her knees, covered in black mud and gently placing a fern into a hole she had just dug when I approached her.

She introduced herself as Tamara Bonsdorf.

An important aspect of the volunteer experience for Tamara was finding inspiration and hope for the future in it.

I, as well, came away from the experience with the same feelings. In fact, I continue to be encouraged and inspired by the ecological work carried out by Peninsula Streams Society and the local stewardship groups who partner with it. Together, they are making such an incredibly positive difference.

The UN has declared 2021 – 2030 as the Decade of Ecological Restoration as “a rallying call  for the protection and revival of ecosystems all around the world.” Think globally, act locally…that’s what Ian and PSS are doing and have been doing for almost two decades. 

But to continue doing important and badly needed restoration projects, Peninsula Streams Society must have adequate funding. Please consider making donation through annual giving or to their Legacy fund