The joy of converting brown to green

By Anuradha Rao, Marine Planning Specialist. Reprinted from

I remember the first time I helped clean up a brown site devoid of nature. A month later, the new growth was overwhelming, as if all the plants were saying, “Thank you.” This sparked my interest in ecological restoration.

Ecological restoration — and brownfield restoration in particular — is a big topic in Squamish, B.C. Brownfield restoration involves converting a site that has been so degraded it can’t return to the ecosystem it once was without intervention. The Squamish River Watershed Society’s current brownfield restoration project aims to restore a decommissioned log-sorting site to estuary and wetland habitat. Earlier work restored another brownfield, bringing migratory birds back to the Squamish estuary.

The project — which includes six partners, five funders, a dozen team members and 100 volunteers — expands on the earlier estuary restoration. The restoration will bring back sedge marsh, which is found in seasonally flooded areas, by lowering the land gradient. The soil removed will fill the former wetland nearby and an old access road will be decommissioned. Tidal channels will be built to reconnect land and sea. An access trail for the community will balance public use and habitat recovery.

Bringing nature back so close to the centre of town connects people to the wealth of nature in their own backyards and brings communities together. “The most exciting part is seeing the community’s reaction as the area is being transformed,” says SRWS executive director Edith Tobe, remembering volunteer planting days in March. “The people coming out were so excited. One lady — a mother with her children — got stuck in the mud and just couldn’t stop laughing. She hasn’t had that much fun for as long as she can remember.”

This estuary is within the Squamish River Important Bird Area. The project will bring back fish and wildlife, including salmonids and migratory birds that use the estuary and the larger Howe Sound region. The society is also measuring the area’s role in carbon sequestration, and may boost it by transplanting eelgrass in adjacent coastal waters. Estuaries and wetlands are increasingly important as we contend with the impacts of climate change. The David Suzuki Foundation’s study of Howe Sound found that estuaries and wetlands provide up to $174,712 in ecosystem benefits per hectare each year. They supply water, sequester and store carbon, cycle nutrients, provide habitat, regulate storms and process waste. These ecosystems also provide valuable services such as recreation, tourism, science and education.

Interested in getting involved? Contact the SRWS by email or at 604-898-9171 for information on planting parties this fall.

(Photos: left, Squamish River Watershed Society; right, Rhiannon Boyle via Flickr.)

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