As the community planner for the Yaqan Nukiy (Lower Kootenay Band), Norm Allard is currently managing a large-scale wetland restoration project on band land in the Creston Valley, an ecological revitalization of the area that he considers to be wholly interlinked with the cultural revitalization of the local First Nations.

“These projects are really important for the band both ecologically and because their language practices and culture are tied directly to the land,” Norm explained. “There is language for everything that is out there; there are practices for gathering the materials found out there and utilizing the area in everyday life. These wetlands are a key component to cultural identity.”

The Yaqan Nukiy Wetlands Restoration Project covers approximately a 517 hectare area that in the past was significantly altered. In the late 1960s, in an effort to create duck nesting sites, Ducks Unlimited built impoundments that could be filled and drained at will using a pump/drainage system that ended up cutting the flood plains off from the rivers and streams. After Ducks Unlimited and the Lower Kootenay Band (LKB) no longer had the capacity to maintain the system, the Yaqan Nukiy Wetlands Friendship Society formed to maintain the wetlands due to the aging infrastructure and failing pumps.

“The Kootenay and Goat rivers had gone through a lot of changes,” said Norm. “The water levels (of the rivers) actually dropped lower than the intakes most of the year so they were only able to pump water in during the fall, after nesting season, instead of year-round. The open water areas just turned to cattail.”

For over ten years, the Yaqan Nukiy Wetlands Friendship Society focused on reinstating the wetland habitat, replacing leaking culverts, fixing or replacing pumps, removing foliage encroachment and cleaning out water intake and output canals.  When the society eventually dissolved, Norm was pulled in for a crash course on the wetlands system. Using the knowledge he inherited from them, Norm managed the system for a year on his own, until he was approached by Nelson-based wildlife biologist Irene Manley, who introduced him to renowned Wetland Restoration Specialist Tom Biebighauser with the BC Wildlife Federation in 2017.

“We went out into the field, I showed him where all the water flowed, he had techniques for wetlands restoration, and we came up with a bunch of designs,” Norm said. “We’ve taken two kilometres of dams out and naturalized a lot of the historical wetlands; we’re on the leading edge of wetlands restoration work by completely removing those dams and restoring natural inlet and outlets for the rivers to access the floodplain.”

A qualified GIS technician, Norm geo-referenced a set of old aerial photos from 1929, given to him by Marc-André Beaucher, Head of Conservation Programs for the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area, and discovered a lot of the nesting sites were built in historical wetlands.

“There were about 40 large nesting mounds, averaging 18 metres by 40 metres and about 3 metres tall, just massive amounts of dirt that were meant to be nesting islands when the compounds were filled to capacity,” said Norm, “but since that doesn’t happen, the compounds end up draining out and these large islands become havens for invasives.”

The larger portions of the restoration work are being done through disabling numerous drainage ditches, restoring large areas of ephemeral wetland, and constructing many of the historical wetlands back to as natural as possible.

“Throughout all this work, I’ve had a lot of different specialists come through the area for tours, maybe 40 to 50 from across Western Canada from many fields so I am gleaning as much information off them as possible so that we can build a more holistic restoration, even though our applications are targeted at listed species,” Norm said. “It’s critical we build the wetlands for those listed, but I’m actually looking at it as an overall beneficial habitat to everything that exists out there.”

Positive results from the restoration work to date include the return of sandhill cranes that are successfully breeding, an increase in the population of Western Painted Turtles, and a population boom in ducks and migratory birds.

“There used to be clouds of tens of thousands of them on the flats back in the day, now there’s sometimes a few groups of a hundred, sometimes you would see a thousand,” Norm said.

“Last fall we were seeing thousands and thousands of them again. We’re also in the process of looking to see if there is benefit to the northern leopard frogs as well.”

Then there is the positive impact on the Lower Kootenay Band itself. The project is being funded in large part by Columbia Basin Trust’s Environmental Enhancement Program with matching funds from BCWF, the Fish and Wildlife Program and the federal Aboriginal Fund for Species at Risk. The band is building its own capacity, having purchased a rock truck, trailer and excavator for use on these projects. Band members are being hired and are developing interest in the various fields involved.

“We’re trying to get the band to build ownership over the program,” said Norm, “and many from the band have expressed interest in what is going on.”

The Yaqan Nukiy Wetlands Restoration Project is a three-year project. Norm has also completed a one-year wetlands restoration project in a traditional hunting grounds area called anaxamnamki, and has another three-year project starting later this year or early next.

Norm grew up on the St. Mary’s First Nation reserve near Cranbrook where his parents had many close personal ties. He worked for the Traditional Use Study as a data entry technician, the Ktunaxa Nation Council in a number of different roles, including for the Archives, before his interest in GIS led him to Okanagan College where he completed the GIS Certificate program. Hired by the Lower Kootenay Band in 2013, Norm added Community Planner to his many roles, earning certificates in Indigenous Peoples Resource Management from the University of Saskatchewan and Professional Lands Management from the National Aboriginal Lands Managers Association. While the scope of his work as Community Planner is large and varied, he is very passionate about the wetlands restoration aspect of it.

“It ties all my interests together. I’m interested in data, technology, learning about different processes, how things work and the environment,” he said, “and seeing the critical need for restoration now, that’s a really important part of the work that we’re doing here. I’m lucky to be a part of these projects LKB has undertaken. Learning from specialists and trying to bring all that info together, has been really interesting and fun.”

Further Reading

For more information on the BC Wildlife Federation Wetlands Programs, visit their website.

BCWF Wetlands Programs