Columbia Wetlands

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Ours to treasure, ours to protect

...one of the most precious things on a world scale...is the Columbia River Wetlands...Robert Bateman

The Columbia Wetlands are a natural wilderness in the heart of the Columbia Valley, between southern British Columbia’s Rocky and Purcell mountain ranges. These wetlands are one of the world’s living treasures.

Visits through the upper Columbia River and its wetlands are best experienced as a slow float or quiet interlude with binoculars or sketchpad or camera. River otters and beavers busy themselves nearby. Waterfowl linger in the reeds. Great blue heron stalk their prey in the shallows while osprey and eagles drift above, scanning for fish. Black bears rifle the berry bushes; coyotes pounce on rodents and whitetail deer graze — always alert to predators.

Everything is as it should be.

The Columbia Wetlands are the life support system for hundreds of thousands of birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians and mammals. They sustain the second-largest concentration of great blue heron residents in western Canada, more than 300 pairs. Migrating waterfowl — 15,000 each spring and autumn — depend on the wetlands to survive their journeys. Songbirds, shorebirds and birds of prey rely on the Columbia Wetlands, as do Kokanee salmon, Rocky Mountain whitefish, ling cod and several varieties of trout.

This ecosystem is essential winter range for hundreds of elk and deer. Moose, wolf, cougar, coyote, mink, river otter, beaver, and black and grizzly bear are found here. Reptiles and amphibians, including rubber boa, painted turtle and Columbia spotted frog, call this place home.

The Columbia River springs from this biologically rich beginning. It’s the largest river flowing into the Pacific Ocean from anywhere in North America, and it supplies freshwater to millions of people in BC and the Pacific Northwest.

In 1996, Columbia Valley residents and government agencies came together, agreeing that the stretch of the Columbia River and wetlands from Donald in the north to Fairmont in the south should be protected for wildlife. A Wildlife Management Area was established, protecting wildlife under the BC Wildlife Act throughout the whole 180-kilometre stretch. Recreational and historical uses — fishing, hunting and trapping — would continue, but under an innovative philosophy that places wildlife and habitat values first.

On June 5, 2005, World Environment Day, the Columbia Wetlands received much deserved international recognition as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. The largest wetland of its kind in British Columbia and protected under the BC Wildlife Act, the Columbia Wetlands qualified under all eight Ramsar Criteria and comprise a regionally unparalleled diversity of 16 habitats, sheltering around 216 species.

Over the past 20 years Wildsight has been instrumental in the development of boating regulations on the Columbia Wetlands and River through the Columbia Wetlands Wildlife Management Area (CWWMA). Wildsight, along with British Columbia Environment are co-applicants for these regulations. 

On June 28, 2008, a package of amendments to the boating regulations was published in Part I of the Canada Gazette, containing proposed amendments to the Regulations which would control the navigation of vessels in the Columbia River and Wetlands between Fairmont Hot Springs and Donald Station (north-west of Golden), BC in order to protect environmental values.  Two of these regulations became law, August 19, 2009:

A year-round prohibition on the operation of power-driven vessels in the wetlands of the Columbia River.

A year-round prohibition on towing persons on water skis, surfboards or other similar equipment in the main channel of the Columbia River at any time.

Here then is the legacy for the future. The Columbia Wetlands will remain intact for the benefit of wildlife and for the health of our future generations. Human visitors will respect its interwoven threads.

Wildsight is working to create layers of long-term protection for the Columbia Wetlands and its watersheds. We are working with recreationalists, biologists, conservationists, community groups and government to ensure this treasure is protected into the future. 

The Columbia Wetlands are an important part of our future, and you are an important part of their future.