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  • Writer's picture Lorna Visser

We're thrilled! Proof we're protecting at-risk critters at our nature sanctuary

Updated: Aug 29, 2023


Our Snk'mip ecological monitoring report is now complete and being released to the media and colleagues in government, scientific organizations and the conservation community. The year-long monitoring study examined conditions at the Snk'mip Marsh Sanctuary following the Valhalla Foundation for Ecology's multi-year ecological restoration project there. Biologist Amber Peters documents exciting findings including confirmation of two at-risk species not previously found in this area, use of the sanctuary (including restored areas) by diverse megafauna including cougar, coyote, deer, black bear and grizzly bear, and a surge in amphibian breeding and colonization of newly created ponds.

Good news for nature and congratulations to Amber for producing such a solid piece of work.

The full report on the results of our restoration and stewardship will be shared upon request. If you would like to receive this report in its entirety, contact us via this website or you can e-mail Amber Peters directly at amber.vfe@xplornet.ca to let us know why this data may be relevant to your work.

 

At-risk species have been confirmed protected at the Snk’mip Marsh Sanctuary (located at the north end of Slocan Lake in the West Kootenay region of BC, Canada) following six years of intensive wetland restoration work there by the Valhalla Foundation for Ecology (VFE).

Presence of a rare turtle and an at-risk salamander species were confirmed by a year-long baseline-monitoring study done by VFE biologist Amber Peters.

These at-risk species were found very close to a contentious section of a local recreational trail that borders the VFE's nature sanctuary and is within the overall ecosystem of the marsh. For years the organization has advocated for the trail to be for strictly non-motorized use only, in order to protect sensitive amphibians, reptiles, birds and other species in this habitat. (See post "Tough Talk About Roads" for more on that.)

The study, conducted throughout 2022, revealed a significant diversity of wildlife including Western Painted Turtle and Coeur d’Alene Salamander (shown at right). These are two species not previously documented in the north Slocan Valley area where the Valhalla Foundation stewards this nature sanctuary.

“This is incredibly exciting and highlights the importance of restoring this ecosystem for biodiversity and species at risk,” said biologist Peters. “To find two species not previously known to inhabit this area, that is truly an endorsement of the Valhalla Foundation for Ecology's restoration work.” Peters is shown above, she is monitoring salamander eggs laid on a branch taken from a pond the Valhalla Foundation for Ecology created.

Peters surveyed many ponds, former roads, and diverse habitats at the marsh property. Conducting transects for the study took her there late at night, early in the morning, and during the heat of the day. Peters paddle-boarded along the verge of the main wetland water-body to record the species found there (at times accompanied by a very curious beaver swimming alongside), to compare that habitat to the new ponds created by the VFE. Interestingly, she found that amphibian breeding was more concentrated in the newly created ponds than in the main wetland waterbody.

In addition to confirming the presence of a wide range of bird, amphibian and reptile species, the study’s findings also confirm the VFE’s long-held assertion that the recreational trail that runs through the marsh ecosystem must be strictly non-motorized in order to protect the many sensitive and at-risk species that live on the verges of the trail and nearby. (See related post: Tough talk about roads (and our fight to de-motorize one) for more on the VFE's multi-year effort, including being prepared to sue to stop damaging motorized use, to make this recreational trail better for people and safer for wildlife.)

A Western Painted Turtle (photo at left) was found basking on a log in one of the ponds constructed by the VFE in 2020, a pond situated in what had previously been a massively ecologically degraded gravel pit. Restoring this area was a considerable engineering challenge, so to find a threatened turtle calmly basking in a pond they built there was a thrill for biologists and restoration experts.

In the same area and also situated near the trail, a previously unknown population of Coeur d’Alene Salamanders was identified. These salamanders are highly sensitive to disturbance and occupy very specialized habitat. “We want to give them a fighting chance to survive and occupy more habitats at the marsh,” Peters said.


Western Painted Turtles are a federally listed Threatened Species of Special Concern and Coeur d’Alene Salamanders are federally listed as of Special Concern and are on the provincial blue-list of Species at Risk. Both designations mean these species are particularly vulnerable to extirpation due to human activities and changes to their habitat.


In her monitoring study, Peters also discovered that several ponds, newly created by the VFE using amphibian-safe pond-liners, were particularly good breeding habitat for Long-toed Salamanders, Pacific Tree-frogs and Columbia Spotted Frogs. Western Toads (also a species at risk) were also found using one of the larger ponds (see photo below: child holding a toadlet which has just grown its legs).

Alligator lizards and two species of Garter snakes were documented throughout the nature sanctuary, including near three constructed hibernacula structures. “They’re very cryptic, but we know they are breeding here,” said Peters, referring to an Alligator Lizard found carrying young. “These hibernacula (underground chambers filled with rocks) provide habitat for not only reptiles but also hibernating amphibians, invertebrates and small mammals.”

Marsh has deep historical and cultural significance: Indigenous village site In addition to its ecological significance, Snk’mip Marsh also has an important cultural history: it was once a Sinixt village. VFE director Lorna Visser thanks the Autonomous Sinixt for their support for the restoration and their advice on best traditional ecological practices. “This place is deeply significant for Sinixt People, the rightful and original caretakers of this land, as it is for all the living beings that take refuge here,” she said.

Snk’mip Marsh is located in Hills, B.C., at the head of Slocan Lake and in the heart of Sinixt territory. Recent settler arrivals named it Bonanza Marsh but in 2023 it was renamed with its original Sinixt name, Snk’mip, by Autonomous Sinixt Matriarchs Marilyn James and Taress Alexis at a ceremony and feast held there on National Indigenous Peoples Day (see post: "Bringing Back the Name" on Indigenous Peoples Day at Snk'mip Marsh")

[Photos by Amber Peters, Wayne McCrory & Lorna Visser]

Media inquiries and requests for the full report: click here to contact us via our website or e-mail Amber Peters directly at amber.vfe (at) xplornet.ca We're pleased to share our data with biologists, other scientists and those in the conservation community. Members of the media are encouraged to contact VFE biologist Amber Peters directly at the e-mail address above.

 

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