An extensive corporate background combined with a passion for nature is the unique combination that Wendy King brings to the Slocan Lake Stewardship Society (SLSS). Since stepping into the role of SLSS president in 2019, Wendy has forged ahead with on-the-ground planning and action in tandem with the Kootenay Conservation Program (KCP)’s Kootenay Connect project to help coordinate an exciting package of new conservation projects in the Slocan Valley’s Bonanza Biodiversity Corridor over the past two years.
“What I bring to the table is the experience of being able to move out of the box and forward. We need to get away from case by case and actually do strategic long-term planning,” said Wendy. “In today’s world with climate change and loss of connectivity which keeps occurring and will continue to occur, we have to be very, very focused and make sure any effort we do is going to be effective.”
Growing up with a father in the Canadian military, Wendy travelled all over the world and attended high school in Europe. Returning to Canada for her post-secondary education, she came out of university in Ottawa with a dual major in accounting and economics, which laid the foundation for a career largely defined by executive positions in large corporations across numerous industries, from fisheries work to finance to IT. Toward the end of her career she worked as an independent consultant at the strategic development level.
“I call myself a business architect because I go from the highest level right down to the procedural,” she said.
Based out of Calgary, Wendy spent every moment she could in the mountains, having moved west for the skiing. Self-described as a naturalist knee-deep in a corporate world, Wendy said that being on the executive committees of numerous organizations gave her the opportunity to introduce environmental considerations into all aspects of business. When early retirement beckoned, Wendy and her husband decided to put down roots in B.C.’s Slocan Valley after 20 years of camping trips to the area. A few years after moving, she became involved with the Roseberry-Summit Lake Rail Trail Steering Committee when the initiative to ban motorized use on the rail trail through the Bonanza Biodiversity Corridor (BBC) was picking up momentum. The convincing research that concluded the rail trail should be non-motorized came in the form of a 2018 environmental impact assessment for Rec Sites and Trails BC.
“I had hiked, biked, and kayaked in and around the BBC but it wasn’t until I got that deeper understanding that I realized how unique the Bonanza Corridor is,” Wendy said.
Inspired to move into more of a stewardship capacity, Wendy joined the SLSS in 2018 and became president the following year. Before she joined, the board had already established the BBC working group, recognizing the corridor’s value through SWAMP (the Slocan Wetland Assessment and Monitoring Program started in 2013), and the 2017 Slocan Valley Conservation Action Forum, co-sponsored by SLSS and KCP, which had identified wetlands restoration in the corridor as a priority.
“One of my passions is getting people to take data and information and turning it into knowledge that they can then make decisions around. Throughout my working career I always went back to ‘how do we use this, how do we apply this information’,” Wendy said. “I walked into SLSS at the perfect time. Thanks to all the people who had gone before me, I could now take this forward.”
Since 2019 with financial support through Kootenay Connect and the Columbia Basin Trust, the SLSS has implemented wetland restoration work complemented by species at risk, beaver and old growth studies in the BBC, as well as advanced Terrestrial Ecosystem Mapping for the corridor.
Kootenay Connect is the four-year Kootenay Conservation Program project funded through the Canada Nature Fund that focuses on species at risk in four areas in the Kootenays: the BBC being one along with the Creston Valley, the Columbia Valley Wetlands, and the Wycliffe Wildlife Corridor. According to Wendy, Kootenay Connect provided a strategic framework to the conservation priorities needed in the BBC and set a four-year plan in motion, which the SLSS continues to complement with other work.
“It takes us to the landscape level where we can really address connectivity; not just wildlife and other species but the water and flora and fauna,” said Wendy. “The key thing for me was defining a multi-disciplinary team that could not only deliver but structure projects to be as effective as we can.”
Under the umbrella of Kootenay Connect, the SLSS is managing three wetlands restoration projects in the BBC. The Hunter Siding Wetland Enhancement Project was completed last year, with a focus on planting native trees and shrubs for enhanced wetlands complexity.
“Through our monitoring this year we’ve discovered increased numbers of gastropods and amphibians, all kinds of wildlife activity, and our 1600 new plants survived the moose, beavers and hot summer.”
The next two restoration projects are getting underway this month (October) and are geared toward improving hydrological functioning for fish and amphibian habitat.
“We’re remedying what the old CPR rail berm has done to those wetlands along Upper Bonanza Creek and at Summit Lake Marsh. We recognize the rail trail has its own set of habitats after 125 years and everything’s been developed around it, so we’re creating swales on the rail trail so that in periods of high water the fish and toads can migrate and move around.”
Defined as a dip or sunken section in a trail, swales are becoming more used in wetlands conservation, replacing culverts. The SLSS is building five swales in the section of the trail at Summit Lake Marsh, and several more in Upper Bonanza, which will allow trail users to go through the wetlands without impacting migration. These measures, in addition to the pedestrian walkways at Summit Lake to protect nesting habitat and seasonal trail closures for grizzlies and toads, are helping protect the BBC’s sensitive ecosystems and supporting the wide range of species that rely on them.
“We’re very fortunate because the Slocan Watershed is still pristine and mainly on Crown land,” said Wendy. “The natural habitats, tributaries and corridors within the Slocan Watershed have not been disturbed to the extent that other watersheds in the Kootenays have experienced. There’s an opportunity here that isn’t presented elsewhere.”
“For me, it keeps my mind working,” she laughed.