Meet the Wild River Guardians

WWF- Canada, Heather Crochetiere

The Liard River is one of Canada’s longest wild rivers, free flowing from headwaters in Yukon Territory through northern British Columbia all the way to its mouth at the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories. It is home to Indigenous communities as well as grizzly bears, bull trout and woodland boreal caribou.

Despite its importance to people and wildlife, there’s so much we don’t know about this river – from the quality of the water to how fish and bugs (benthic invertebrates) are faring. And not knowing means it’s hard to make the best land-use decisions in the watershed.

The Liard River (c) Heather Crochetiere

To fill these gaps, the Dane Nan Yḗ Dāh Guardians of the Daylu Dena Council and Dease River First Nation, Living Lakes Canada and WWF-Canada worked together this fall to start a water monitoring program for the Guardian’s stewardship program. This involved identifying new monitoring spots and training in Environment Canada’s CABIN protocol, a standardized monitoring technique.

A good monitoring spot is one that is wadeable (not above the knee) with flowing water. We chose sites that aligned both with community interests and with national monitoring needs.

© Heather Crochetiere

Raegan Mallinson from Living Lakes Canada explained how to take a proper bug sample. We looked at which species were present, and which species were not, to determine if the river is healthy.

© Catherine Paquette/WWF-Canada.

Vanessa Law and Heather Crochetiere put the bug collection techniques to the test. To get a good sample, you twist and stomp your feet to send the sediment into the net.

© Raegan Mallinson/Living Lakes Canada.

Some species, like the caddisflies seen here, are sensitive to poor water quality. When you find them in a river, it’s usually a good sign that the river is in good condition. (We found a lot of caddisflies in the Liard River watershed!)

© Catherine Paquette/WWF-Canada

The CABIN protocol involves taking measurements of the site, including water quality, depth, velocity and rock size. Here Guardian James Malone takes measurements.

© Heather Crochetiere

One of the reasons so many areas are data-deficient for benthic invertebrates in Canada is that samples are expensive and time-consuming to analyze. A taxonomist must go through and identify each bug in the sample – and there can be a lot. That’s why we’re sending the samples we collected to a lab at the University of Guelph for analysis using eDNA technology. Researchers extract all the DNA from the sample and can tell us quickly and easily which species are there. This faster and simpler method allows for better decision-making in the watershed.

© Catherine Paquette/WWF-Canada

With CABIN certification in hand, local Guardians are equipped to build their own benthic monitoring program based on community priorities and needs, with standardized results that can then be compared with other monitoring sites in the watershed.

“The whole purpose of the Dane Nan Yḗ Dāh program is to monitor what’s going on in our traditional territory,” said Corrine Porter, executive director of the Dena Kayeh Institute, which manages the program. “Being certified on the CABIN protocol will allow us to contribute valuable data for the management of our water.”

Partnerships like these are essential as we work to create a national citizen-science program for benthic macroinvertebrates that will inform national conservation decisions. To learn about your watershed, go to

Health of Pacific Coastal watershed revealed for first time

VICTORIA, Sept. 11, 2018 – Despite significant signs of stress in some southern sub-watersheds, the Pacific Coastal basin – stretching from Vancouver Island to Yukon Territory – has been found to be currently in good health overall based on new monitoring results from 33,074 monitoring sites reporting on water quality, water flow, fish and benthic invertebrates.

The finding provides an important baseline for a region ravaged by wildfires, and already enduring stress from pollution, climate change and, in some sub-watersheds, habitat fragmentation.

Until now, an overall health score for the Pacific Coastal watershed couldn’t be tabulated for World Wildlife Fund Canada’s Watershed Reports due to a lack of data for water quality and benthic invertebrates (including flies, beetles, aquatic worms, snails and leeches). While nearly two-thirds of Canada’s watersheds are data-deficient for health indicators, the lack of data in this region was especially worrisome since southern sub-watersheds in B.C. experience a high level of stress.

Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) published new water quality data last year, and WWF-Canada worked in partnership with both Living Lakes Canada and ECCC, with the support of Loblaw Company Ltd., to collect benthic samples that were then analyzed and assessed alongside previously collected data using WWF-Canada’s Watershed Reports methodology.

Elizabeth Hendriks, WWF-Canada’s vice-president of freshwater conservation, says: “Given the growing stress of climate change, it’s essential for wildlife – like salmon and other fish that move between freshwater and ocean ecosystems – and for communities that depend on access to fresh water that we maintain the health of these rivers and streams. While overall this finding is good news for B.C., when we look at the level of stress in southern subwatersheds, we know we can’t expect continued good health overall without a strong commitment to freshwater conservation. We’re on borrowed time now.”

Kat Hartwig, executive director of Living Lakes Canada, says: “Thanks to a growing network of community-based monitoring groups across the country and a robust baseline of data, we will be better able to track how events like this summer’s wildfires are changing conditions in our watersheds. With data baselines and trends, we will be better positioned to make science-based decisions and take the appropriate and necessary actions to safeguard the freshwater ecosystems.”

About the Pacific Coastal basin:

• This area is home to important freshwater-dependent wildlife including chinook and sockeye salmon (many populations of which are at-risk), grizzly and spirit bears, river otters, the coastal tailed frog (special concern), white sturgeon (endangered), western painted turtle Pacific Coast population (endangered).

• The overall health has been assessed as “Good” with many of the sub-watersheds scoring “Very Good.”

• Climate change is adding a high level of stress to the region, while pollution is adding a moderate level of stress. Why community-based monitoring?

• Canada’s geographic diversity and low density makes comprehensive monitoring networks a challenge to maintain. Community-based monitoring programs are far more nimble, with the potential for more comprehensive reach.

• WWF-Canada and Living Lakes Canada are championing community-based water monitoring (CBWM) as an efficient approach to fill national data gaps for watershed health indicators, and is calling for the Government of Canada to support CBWM by increasing resources and incorporating its data into national databases.


The Water Data Hub Proceedings are here


After a lot of hard work, we are so excited to bring you the proceedings from the Water Data Hub.

This document would not have been possible without the commitment from the event participants and exceptional speakers.

Please stay tuned for our executive summary, press releases, and newsletters to keep you up to date on what will follow.

Thanks again to all of you who participated in the Water Data Hub!


Water Data Hub Dialogue exceeds all expectations

On November 29 & 30, residents, guests and water experts gathered in Invermere, B.C. to discuss current water monitoring initiatives and water data storage hubs used in B.C., Canada and in the USA, and what the next steps are towards developing a collaborative water monitoring framework and data hub for the Columbia Basin.

The event — A Water Data Hub Dialogue: Cracking the Code in 3D — focused on two days of learning, sharing, and creative brainstorming amongst scientists, government, industry, community groups, First Nations, and technology experts with the goal of moving toward integrating the region’s water knowledge through freely accessed open source data and applied decision making.

Thank you to everyone who attended and contributed to this energizing and ambitiously successful event. A special thank you to Shuswap Band Chief Barb Cote and Akisqnuk First Nation Chief Alfred Joseph of the Ktunaxa Nation for welcoming us to their shared Traditional Territory.

Click here for a video of the Women’s Warrior Song welcome by members of the Shuswap Band (the song starts at the 0:46 second mark).

Some of what we have heard so far from the water dialogue attendees:

  • “Surprising mix of diverse expert presenters. Exceeded all expectations. Wonderful to see that so much of this work is already underway.”
  • “I will advocate for and help educate people about the Data Hub and its benefits, and get as many organizations in my community interested and involved as I can. I don’t make decisions regarding funding available, but will dedicate time and effort to keep my community involved in this important initiative.”
  • “Great couple of days. Very good speakers and very well organized.”
  • “Great job. Lots of information, partnerships and collaboration. Good initial planning for a great framework”
  • “Wow, excellent summaries, input and synthesis. Volunteer efforts of people stepping up to collect input is fabulous! Nice approach.”

A full proceeding of the dialogue including speaker presentations, breakout session brainstorming, survey results and next steps will be available mid-January.

To review live coverage of the dialogue including photos of slides and guest speaker quotes, visit Living Lakes Canada on Twitter and the event hashtag #WaterDataHub2017.

We would like to thank Pat Morrow for capturing the two-day conference. To view our photo albums, find Living Lakes Canada on Facebook and or go directly to the online albums “Cracking the Code in 3D Day 1” and “Cracking the Code in 3D Day 2”.


Photo by Pat Morrow

Traditional Teachings from Moose Nose Soup

Travelling down the Yellowhead Highway, I cross the continental divide, leaving the Pacific watershed and entering the Arctic.  As I follow the mighty Athabasca into Central Alberta, historic trading posts are scattered between energy extraction projects, a melding of historic and current evidence of our dependence on the land. The Upper and Central Athabasca watersheds are an important link between the Rocky Mountain, Foothills and Boreal forest and are home to grizzly bear, wolverine and other species at risk.

I’m on my way to teach a course on how to use CABIN (Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network), a protocol developed by Environment Canada to assess the health of freshwater ecosystems. Just a few years earlier, I made this same trip to train the Keepers of the Athabasca in the protocol. The Keepers are a cross-cultural community-based group determined to protect their watershed. Equipped with CABIN, the Keepers were able to begin monitoring the effects of a 670-million-litre coal mine waste spill into the upper tributaries of the Athabasca River.

And now we are partnering to train a group from the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation. Our Upper Athabasca Biomonitoring Program is expanding to 12 CABIN monitoring sites this year, and trained, committed and passionate CABIN volunteers are essential to the success of the program. The first day of training begins with an engaged, enthusiastic group. Cracking jokes, telling stories of life on the river and in the bush, they are as excited as I am to check out the macroinvertebrates that help us to assess stream health. The group is impressed by the holistic approach of the protocol, and make independently leading my first CABIN training course a real joy.

2015-10-01 12.13.22On the second day of training, I receive a phone call from some of the participants, letting me know they will be late due to a moose being hit on the highway. The participants collected the moose nose, in which I later learned is used for ceremonial moose nose soup, and investigated whether the meat was still edible. I am continuously blown away by this group’s connection to the land and surroundings, their ways of knowing, and constant reminders of the importance of a holistic approach to freshwater monitoring. As I share my scientific methods with them, they give me just as much training into the importance of including traditional ecological knowledge into the protocol.

After the training is complete, we join with the Keepers of the Athabasca and begin monitoring our 12 new sites on the river. As we work, the group’s insights continue to resonate. The importance of indigenous education systems—learning by doing, input from community members and direct learning from elders (mentorship) is imperative for a holistic approach to assess freshwater health. In order to learn about the current state of the ecosystem, like the bugs we collect in the CABIN protocol to determine potential past water quality impacts, we must also investigate the history of a place through community connections, and by accepting of other ways of knowing.

The Story of a Once Wild River: Collecting Data on Lake Koocanusa

By Heather Leschied, Program Manager

From my viewpoint looking out over Lake Koocanusa, I can’t help but imagine this landscape; pre-highway 3, pre-Libby dam, pre-flood. A wild river called the Kootenay. A river allowed to travel its course from riverbank to riverbank, and back again. Constantly depositing precious gravel, spawning substrates and nutrients to feed the river system. An endless system, originating north of Kootenay National Park, crossing the border into Montana, and back again to rest for a time as Kootenay Lake before plunging into the Columbia River at Castlegar.

At times the landscape seems stark, without life. When the wind picks up it brings dust and debris. 2,444. The number is repeated over and over. This is the current height of the reservoir. This number dictates life here. Too little, and the water is out of reach. Too much, and favourite swimming and fishing holes are lost. It’s a constant struggle. All this amongst the need to produce hydroelectric power and mostly importantly, revenues. Revenues that don’t benefit the people the reservoir impacts the most. Past compensation agreements excluded the people of Koocanusa, left out the nutrient needs of the fish and the wildlife that depend on them.

But today, an engaged community hopes to change this. I am here with the field team from the East Kootenay Integrated Lake Management Partnership, a multi-stakeholder initiative that has been developing Shoreline Management Guidelines for East Kootenay lakes since 2006. With moral support from the Lake Koocanusa Community Council, and financial support from the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, we are conducting a Foreshore Inventory and Fish and Wildlife Habitat Assessment with the intention to develop guidelines that will protect the most sensitive habitat values of the lake.

One cool morning we stop to collect samples and detailed habitat information at a low-lying grassy bank that is typically inundated with water at high pool. At low pool it is inundated by off-road vehicle use.

We are thrilled to be met by a long-billed curlew, the largest member of the sandpiper family. Curlew habitat has been documented at a handful of locations around the lake, and designated as Wildlife Habitat Areas. These shorebirds are protected under the provincial Wildlife Act and federal Migratory Birds Convention Act.

But this particular site is a new find, and the curlew is not nearly as thrilled to see us. Long-billed curlew have had a rough go of it. They are Blue-Listed in British Columbia, and federally listed as a Species of Special Concern. Urbanization, forest encroachment due to fire suppression, noxious weeds, conversion of native grasslands to agricultural crops, and soil erosion and other disturbances from Off Road Vehicle use, all threaten these amazing birds.

We promise not to stay long. We collect our data and manage to document the encounter before we depart amidst the tire tracks, new and old, laid into the sand and grass, as the sun shines through the storm clouds to remind us that nature is still at home here.

Wild and Scenic Film Festival Stops in Nelson, BC

The Wild & Scenic Film Festival Tour is stopping in Nelson on Friday June 12 for a cinematic evening of stories set in wild landscapes around the world. Join Wildsight for a journey to spectacular places and tales of adventures living life outside- all with a conservation mindset.

The Wild & Scenic Film Festival, North America’s largest environmental film festival, will bring two hours of the beautiful, the exciting and the inspiring to Nelson’s Capitol Theatre on June 12 at 7:00pm, just in time to inspire your Kootenay summer adventures.

From big ski lines, to a secret surfing beach in Norway, the wilds of BC’s Flathead, and meditations on life in the outdoors, Wild & Scenic is the perfect mix of action, exploration and beauty. The festival also features humorous films, a visit to Alaska, the peaks and valleys of California and the beautiful rivers of Fiji.

Tickets are $10 for Wildsight members, $15 for non-members and $25 for a New Member Package that includes a Wildsight membership and a film fest ticket. All proceeds support Wildsight’s conservation and sustainability work here in Nelson and throughout the Kootenays.

A Reason to Celebrate

As Canadians celebrated Canada Water Week last week, and the world celebrated World Water Day, here at home, one of our local Kootenay residents was also celebrated. Nelson’s Heather Leschied—program manager for Wildsight’s Living Lakes Canada water team, one of the founders of the Lake Windermere Ambassadors and Friends of Kootenay Lake, fly-fisher, sailor-in-training and water advocate—was honoured as one of WWF Canada’s Water Heroes, and named a finalist for Water Canada’s Water’s Next Award.

The Water Heroes are Canadians who are working tirelessly to monitor water quality in local waterways, restore habitat for frogs, turtles and fish, repair degraded riverbanks and engage their communities in stewarding local waters. Heather was profiled specifically for her work on the Flathead River. The Flathead River is a trans-boundary tributary of the Columbia River, located near Fernie. The Flathead River Valley is the only unsettled, low elevation valley in southern Canada. With support from WWF and the Loblaw Water Fund, the Flathead River Biomonitoring Program uses watershed health as a framework for advocating for landscape conservation. The results of the program will provide tools and fill a knowledge gap with respect to forestry impacts on freshwater and fisheries, so that our communities can advocate for the protection of this world-class ecosystem.

Water Canada’s Water’s Next national awards program honours the achievements and ideas of individuals and companies that successfully work to change water in our country. Heather was nominated for her role in furthering our understanding of water through her leadership in the East Kootenay Integrated Lake Management Partnership, Columbia Basin Watershed Network, and BC Lake Stewardship Society, and for supporting water stewards across the Columbia Basin as a Streamkeepers Instructor and Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network Field Instructor.

World Water Day is marked on March 22nd every year as a day to celebrate water, to commit to making a difference for the members of the global population who suffer from water related issues and to prepare for how we manage water in the future. In 2015, the theme for World Water Day was ‘Water and Sustainable Development.’

Celebrating Canada’s Water Heroes

Our own Heather Leschied—scientist, campaigner, fly-fisher and advocate for a world in which humans and nature can both thrive–honoured as one of WWF Canada’s Water Heroes! ‪#‎CanadaWaterWeek‬

The Flathead River is a trans-boundary tributary of the Columbia River, located in southeastern British Columbia near the town of Fernie. The Flathead River Valley is the only unsettled, low elevation valley in southern Canada. With support from WWF and the Loblaw Water Fund, our Flathead River Biomonitoring Program uses watershed health as a framework for advocating for landscape conservation. The results of the program will support the Flathead Wild campaign goals of expanding the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park and establishing a Southern Rocky Mountain Wildlife Management Area in the Flathead Valley and will provide tools and fill a knowledge gap with respect to forestry impacts on freshwater and fisheries, so that our communities can advocate for the protection of this world-class ecosystem.

Visit the World Wildlife Federation Canada’s special Water Week website to meet Canada’s water heroes.