Beneath the surfaceDespite the beautiful scene above, I was captivated by the whirling world beneath me. Under the looking glass of the river’s surface, lightning red fish were moving all about in a frenzy, uncertain about the long, slow moving shadow I cast along their watery enclaves. I’m not sure which of us was more mystified. Only my second time on a stand-up paddle, I wavered precariously to bend lower over the spectacle, allowing balance to become an afterthought.
The homing instinct
Kokanee salmon start and end their life cycle here, in the shelter of the creeks and streams that feed the Columbia River Wetlands, within which Lake Windermere swells. Lush underwater grasslands filter sediment, keep water cool, and provide a breeding place to a diversity of living creatures. Indeed the homing instinct that attracts Kokanee to this area is the same that brings great blue herons, painted turtles, leopard frogs or bull trout, whose unvarying return represents a healthy, intact and functioning riparian ecosystem.
As described by Environment Canada, wetlands are more than wet land: “Not land or water, but a fluid combination of both, wetlands are among the most productive habitats on Earth. Wetlands are all built on a simple foundation: water becomes trapped, either through poor drainage, periodic flooding or by coastal barriers such as sandbars, and a wetland — that unique mix of land and water — is born.”
Ours is a riverine wetland, distinct in that marshes and ponds are formed in the bends of the river, forming an almost contiguous wetland. Among other benefits, wetlands perform the function of maintaining equilibrium in the water table, either soaking it up or letting it go. This works to help prevent flooding and replenish groundwater resources. Dense vegetation of trees and shrubs such as dogwood, alder and cottonwood along the embankments of the river help to bind the soil and prevent erosion. Submerged aquatic plants such as arrowhead combine to perform the role of the liver for the waterbody, filtering toxins and sediment. It’s no wonder that there is a growing consensus that wetlands are worth protecting.
Changing tides in wetlands protection
In Canada, we hold 25 per cent of the world’s wetlands and 20 per cent of the world’s freshwater. Yet, large swaths of wetlands have been drained or developed, having been falsely perceived as wastelands with little use to be reaped in their preservation. Today, tides are changing in policy as scientists continue to uncover more about the exceptional role that wetlands play in maintaining ecosystem health.
The benefits wetlands provide to humans, wildlife and the environment are being protected by regulations that recognize their international importance.
The Columbia River Wetlands were granted the designation of a Wildlife Management Area in 1996, the guiding principle being that all activity occurring in this area must have a neutral or positive effect on wildlife, fish and plant communities.
Other provinces have developed similar policies. In Prince Edward Island, provincial policy includes the goal of no net loss of wetlands or wetland function. In Ontario, local governments are required to prevent development from harming the hydrologic functions of wetlands. The city of Calgary has adopted a Wetland Conservation Plan, through which local governments can require the public dedication of gullies, ravines, swamps and floodplains in the construction of a subdivision.
Respect for our natural infrastructure
Sustainable community planning is increasingly founded on a principle of respect for the natural environment as ‘green infrastructure’. Invermere residents can see this philosophy exemplified in The Imagine Invermere Community Sustainability Plan, which states that by 2030, architectural and urban design should reflect the natural environment and support the conservation, enhancement and continued vitality of areas possessing special scenic, historic, architectural, environmental or cultural value.
These are important steps towards protecting what draws so many people to this place, not unlike the little red fish. Whether for photography, fishing, spiritual tradition, paddling, curiosity, there is a suite of recreational activities to explore that make Invermere unique.
In the minutes before the sun disappears behind the Purcells, I sit dangling my feet in shallow waters shared with flocks of geese and cattails. A dragonfly lands on me with an electric buzz. After the business of summer, I relish in the quiet moment floating along and it gives me energy to paddle against the current on the way home southward.
Beneath The Surface is about delving into murky spaces, based on the principle that there is often more to know than is visible from the ‘surface’ of an issue. If there is something that concerns you on the lake and you want to get to the ‘bottom of it’, give me a call and inspire our next column! (250-341-6898)