Local Conservation Fund Feature: Countdown to IBA status for Columbia Wetlands

Volunteers with the Columbia Wetlands Waterbird Survey during a training sessions prior to the 2017 spring survey. Photo by Rachel Darvill

Wildsight Golden’s 2017 Columbia Wetlands Waterbird Survey (CWWS) is the third of a five-year coordinated bird count, where the major goal is to collect baseline data that will be used to apply for an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) status for the Columbia Wetlands.

If achieved, IBA status means the Columbia Wetlands will become part of an international network (including access to IBA caretakers, scientists, newsletters and reports) that will help broaden public knowledge on the value of wetlands and importance of conserving birds — an objective made more urgent ever since a 2016 report titled The State of North America’s Birds sounded the alarm that one-third of all North American bird species are in need of swift conservation action.

The CWWS is tackling the lack of data on bird species in the Columbia Wetlands. Photo by Rachel Darvill

“The Columbia Wetlands hold incredible value, both anthropocentrically and ecologically,” says CWWS Program Biologist Rachel Darvill.  “For instance, the wetlands contain critical habitat for numerous at-risk species and they provide numerous ecosystem services such as water purification, flood control, carbon sequestration and recreational services.  Therefore, these wetlands are important to overall conservation efforts in North America.”

Although the Columbia Wetlands are considered an important migration stopover and breeding habitat for numerous at-risk bird species, there has been a lack of data to demonstrate that one or more bird species meet the standard IBA criteria. In order to achieve IBA status, Bird Studies Canada (BSC) and BC Nature (the IBA program coordinators) require that at least five years of consecutive bird data is collected.

In order to collect the required data, the Columbia Wetlands Waterbirds Survey has thus far coordinated over 120 citizen-scientists to survey at nearly 100 stations throughout the wetlands to count as many birds as possible.

Volunteer bird surveyors are trained by attending a training session offered prior to each migratory season. In addition to being taught techniques for identifying and counting waterbirds on both large and small waterbodies, volunteers are also provided with a CWWS waterbird field guide as well as optical gear (if required).

456 Common Mergansers were counted during the 2017 spring survey. Photo by Rachel Darvill

All volunteers count birds on the same dates during the same three-hour timeframe on each date to avoid double counting. This past spring, the spring survey took place on April 3, 10 and 16, during which time 26,645 birds were counted — over 50,000 birds were counted during the 2016 fall migratory period.

In response to the CWWS data, BSC has expressed how impressed they are with the survey efforts to date and the large amount of data collected so far, and has already had discussions about the potential of designating the Columbia Wetlands as an IBA.

“Due to the relatively large spatial scale of this project, it simply would not be possible to collect such a large amount of ground-based data without the incredible volunteers that participate in the waterbird survey,” says Rachel.

The dates for the 2017 fall survey are Friday, September 29; Thursday, October 5; and Sunday, October 15 (10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on each date) with training sessions being held in September. To find out more and to register, contact racheldarvill@gmail.com or 250-344-5530.

To learn more about the CWWS, click here for their spring 2017 newsletter.

The Kootenay Conservation Program (KCP) in partnership with the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) provide funding for projects that benefit conservation in the area from Spillimacheen to Canal Flats through the Columbia Valley Local Conservation Fund (CVLCF). The purpose of the CVLCF is to provide local financial support for important projects that will contribute to the conservation of our valuable natural areas; one step towards restoring and preserving a healthy environment.