Faces & Places: Gerry Nellestijn

For conservation to be effective, longevity is key, and West Kootenay fisheries professional Gerry Nellestijn exemplifies this ideal. A founding member of the Salmo Watershed Streamkeepers Society (SWSS), Gerry has been the society’s coordinator since its inception in 1998.

Born in Holland and raised in Ontario, Gerry learned carpentry from his traditional father, rebelling long enough to earn a degree in cultural anthropology at the University of Western Ontario, but his curiosity about the world didn’t end there. After finishing his degree, he roamed the globe for 3.5 years. Though he worked mostly as a carpenter during his travels, a stint working with challenged youth in Holland made a strong impression on him.

“When I came back I didn’t really want to be a carpenter, I wanted to work with kids,” he said. “My degree was focused heavily on psychopathology.”

Relocating to Calgary, he did exactly that, helping high risk youth while completing a post-graduate Environmental Management program at the University of Calgary (inspired by his passion for the outdoors) and continuing his carpentry craft on the side. After calling Calgary home for 15 years, Gerry decided it was time to pursue his dream of living quasi off the land in B.C.

“I got on my motorcycle and went around looking for a place to call home and found Hidden Creek near Salmo.”

When Gerry arrived in Salmo, there was no conservation work going on at that time, and the local mining and forestry sectors were in decline. A government-facilitated workshop attracted 15 per cent of the community, who spent an entire weekend brainstorming renewal opportunities for what was historically a resource extraction area.

“One of the things that came up was watershed restoration. The community gave us de facto permission to form the Salmo Watershed Streamkeepers Society.”

Over the last two decades, the SWSS has been successful at forming a watershed planning team approach to watershed governance, leading the development of 1.3 kilometres of instream habitat and 15,000 square metres of wetland, and developing the RARR approach (Rapid Assessment and Rapid Remediation) to mine tailings.

Student and public outreach is also a big part of the Streamkeepers’ mission. Over 3,000 students through the Canadian Columbia Basin have benefitted from their programming through collaboration with preschool groups, school districts and Selkirk College. One outreach package they created reached 600 people in one week.

“The work we’ve done in terms of outreach, carrying out or influencing restoration – both instream and mine tailings – and more is valued between $9 and $10 million,” said Gerry.

They have also developed a comprehensive, collaborative action-driven Salmo Pend d’Oreille Watershed Aquatic Ecosystem Health Improvement Plan, and are currently developing another approach that looks beyond strategic planning to guaranteed implementation of projects based on collaborative planning.

“Generally within our sector right now, the way funding packages have been developed, we have to compete against each other. Streamkeepers has been formative in trying to work with funding agencies to develop a non-competitive approach.”

The Streamkeepers aren’t the only beneficiary of Gerry’s expertise. He is also the sole proprietor and operator of The Confluence Approach consulting company, with 19 years of experience working on many various fisheries and water oriented projects in the West and East Kootenays, in northern B.C. and in Montana/Idaho. Projects he’s worked on have used radio telemetry equipment combined with snorkeling and sampling techniques to locate, study, and monitor fish and their habitat, as well as helicopter-based survey methods.

Gerry has chaired the Canada-US “Community Working Group” for the Upper Columbia White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative. He sat on MLA Michelle Mungall’s Columbia River Treaty Advisory Group. He has also been instrumental at forming the Columbia River Roundtable, a Canada-US group of NGOs interested in supporting a concept of “Environmental Entitlement” – a First Nations/US Tribes vision of Ecosystem Function within the Columbia River Treaty.

Awarded for “Outstanding Volunteer Service Salmo and Area” in 2009, Gerry has also been recognized for  “Ecosystem-Based Excellence” by the Fraser Basin Council, and recently he received “Silver” recognition by the prestigious Canadian Environmental Awards for his work for community-based stewardship.

To learn more about the Salmo Watershed Streamkeepers Society, visit their website at www.streamkeepers.bc.ca.