Erin Bates has been the Executive Director for the Central Kootenay Invasive Species Society since January 2019, but for three years prior she worked in every program area at CKISS, including delivering outreach, hunting bullfrogs, and managing the Field Operations Program.
Given her diverse experience, Erin has a unique perspective on the growth of the organization since she joined five years ago.
“I feel like we’re seeing a real increase in people reporting specific species especially those that we’ve been really focusing on for the last few years,” she said. “Knotweed is the main example in our area. We’ve been focusing on that as a very high priority species since before I started and I feel that people are really starting to understand the issue.”
“We track every single call we get from the public and the species they’re calling about and what their concerns are,” Erin said, “and looking back at the last couple of years, knotweed calls have gone up a lot. It’s great because people are calling about sites we’ve never even heard of. This tell us that people are identifying the plant and calling us proactively.”
Managing and treating an invasive species that is already present is one thing; preventing them from appearing at all is another.
“Other species that we focus on are harder to measure as they are more ‘prevention species’,” said Erin. “For example, zebra and quagga mussels through the Clean Drain Dry campaign. It’s not about people identifying them but getting on board with prevention, which is always one of the harder things to measure with outreach programs.”
Thanks to generous regional and provincial funders who are concerned about the potential impacts of invasive mussels, CKISS runs an extensive monitoring program that collects almost 300 samples annually. Erin is happy to report that all sample tests were negative last year, and so far the Central Kootenays (along with the rest of BC) is still free of this major threat to aquatic ecosystems.
“Every year we are really nervous about the test results, because it would only take one contaminated boat launching into Kootenay Lake to create a devastating infestation.”
Though she wasn’t involved in the original rollout, Erin feels particularly proud of CKISS’s effectiveness with respect to the Invasive American Bullfrog Control Program currently in place in the Creston Valley.
“It’s an amazing example of an invasive species organization making partnerships, tracking down funding, and getting things moving before American bullfrogs were really known as an issue here,” she said. “CKISS helped put together the American Bullfrog Action Team in the Kootenays along with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development and other partners to identify potential bullfrog habitat (in Creston) then monitoring until we actually started finding them, then it was all hands on deck in rolling out a management plan.”
FLNRORD has since taken the lead on the control program with a dedicated staff member as the coordinator, which Erin says is of great advantage to the program and its partners, providing access to invaluable government resources.
“It’s been a real benefit particularly to the endangered Northern Leopard Frogs (that are threatened by bullfrogs),” said Erin. “In the three years since we started finding them in Creston, last year was the first time where we actually saw from all of the data and increased effort on the ground a reduced population of bullfrogs… it’s very exciting to see and possibly an indication that things are moving in the right direction.”
One of the projects she’s most enthusiastic about is still a work in progress but once complete, Erin sees it making a substantial difference in invasive species management in the Central Kootenay region for years, even decades, to come.
“We have been working with the Regional District of Central Kootenay for almost a year now to develop a regional strategy for invasive species management, which will be a first for the RDCK,” she said. “It’s exciting on the basis of establishing a relationship with the regional government but also the opportunity to engage their staff and directors in the process of developing a strategy they can be empowered to implement.”
Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the last year has been a time of growth for CKISS. A new permanent full-time position was added to support the Operations Field Program, which has been growing annually and actively manages more than 70 species in collaboration with a broad range of partners and funders. In 2020, CKISS worked with roughly 30 funders on more than 40 projects. The pandemic also encouraged CKISS staff to develop new virtual tools for reaching and engaging with the public, including webinars, educational videos and a presence on the online social network iNaturalist related to invasive species in the Central Kootenay region.
”Overall, virtual outreach has been really powerful. It’s been an excuse to develop some new tools that we might not have otherwise.”
Originally from the Shuswap area, Erin completed her Bachelor of Science in Biology at the University of Northern BC in 2005. She moved to Nelson in 2007, and spent many summer and winter seasons working throughout BC and Alberta in a variety of resource-based jobs including silviculture and remote camp management. In 2016 she made a decision to focus on work closer to home and closer to her passion for the environment, which led to her first job with CKISS. Erin immediately connected with the CKISS mission, and deeply enjoys the sense of fulfillment she gets from making a difference in her small corner of the world.