Home to internationally recognized wetlands, important wildlife and migration corridors, and an amazing amount of biodiversity, the Creston Valley is also the main agricultural region in the Kootenays. Here, for humans and wildlife to thrive together, farming and nature need to peacefully coexist.

With her background in conservation biology combined with passion for permaculture and food security, Melissa Flint is well-qualified to support this lofty goal. As the part-time Wildsight Creston Valley Branch Project Director-Coordinator, Melissa coordinates conservation research and advocacy, public outreach, and water monitoring. She also works closely with local families, businesses and farms as a permaculture and gardening consultant.

“Farming and food production is something that potentially can connect people to nature in a really direct way,” Melissa said. “If people are lucky, they get to eat every day, and the food that we eat and the food that we can grow is a direct connection to the soil and the water and the biodiversity around us.”

Growing up in Calgary, Melissa said she always felt a connection to the natural world. Wanting to explore this more led to her earning a Bachelor’s in biology with a major in conservation biology from the University of British Columbia. She went on to work as an environmental technician for a couple of consulting companies but eventually became disenchanted.

“A lot of the work that you do as an environmental tech is going into beautiful spots that are then going to be developed,” she said. “I loved doing the actual vegetation and wildlife surveys and the assessment work, but it was like, ‘OK this wetland is not going to be here anymore’.”

Melissa and her partner Jack decided to travel to Rwanda to volunteer as  Fellows for the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village. A non-profit that empowers vulnerable and orphaned youth, through healing, education and love. The village was originally set up  for orphans of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Melissa worked on a team with Rwandan staff that developed curriculum and taught organic farming techniques, plus facilitated teachings about environmental issues and helped manage the village’s Nature Park. Following this powerful experience, while travelling in Ethiopia and Israel, an online job posting for Community Farm Coordinator with the College of the Rockies in Creston caught Melissa’s eye.

“We ended up in Creston a few weeks later,” she said. “We thought we would only be here for a season and here we are nine years later!”

As the Community Farm Coordinator, Melissa was introduced to the local farming community and earned an Advanced Diploma in Permaculture Education and Design during that time as well. She also began teaching multi-disciplinary environmental classes and field trips to Grades K-9 and developing stewardship projects for Wildsight Regional’s Education  program.

“Coming from a conservation biology university degree, a lot of the times you have this view that people are separate from nature, whereas if you’re a farm producer you might not see it that way,” she said. “You’re working with soil, with water, with the environment. If you’re sensitive, responsive, and smart about what you do in producing food, you’re working with everything in a really beautiful way.”

Since joining Wildsight Creston Valley as Project Director-Coordinator in 2020, Melissa has been working to strengthen the branch’s capacity to do conservation work as well as public outreach. This has included holding family friendly nature walks, western painted turtle fence maintenance, water monitoring and exploring virtual film and webinar presentations.

“We’ve also started a water monitoring program; there are a lot of issues around water in this community,” she said. “I would say that especially after last year where it was so hot and so dry, and because water use for agriculture is quite high here, water is definitely a concern for people.”

Other current conservation concerns include the forestry that’s taking place in a community watershed, habitat connectivity, and fencing that blocks wildlife corridor movement.

“Especially with climate change, being able to keep corridors open for migration of species will hopefully be something we can facilitate,” she said. “The ways that different development pressures in the valley can be mitigated so people are still taking into account wildlife movement. That’s part of our Green Mapping project as well.”

The goal of the Green Map is to inform and influence land-use planning processes in the Creston Valley by characterizing the valley’s habitats and highlighting areas for conservation and ecological restoration.

“It helps us get that bigger picture of what’s happening in the valley, and where we can be effective in our conservation efforts.”

In addition to her Wildsight work, Melissa is a Wild Voices for Kids Educator for the Columbia Basin Environmental Education Network, delivering programs on school gardens, ecosystem diversity, and sustainability for Grades K-12 when requested by local teachers.

“A lot of people live here for quality of life. You have the people who live here because they grew up here and this is home and they love it. And there are also the transplants who have moved to the community for the forests and the clean water and clean air and good food. This is definitely something the community has going for it, as well as the sense of everybody being connected to each other.”