Giving Nature a Facelift: Nature Conservancy Canada and NEXT Environmental join forces to protect and restore natural spaces

November 1, 2013

swishwash2Environmentally degraded lands around British Columbia may be offered a new lease on life thanks to a new partnership between the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and NEXT Environmental Inc. The two organizations are pooling their expertise to advance the conservation of ecologically significa

nt land in British Columbia, including sites that have been damaged by industrial activity. NEXT Environmental Inc., like the Nature Conservancy of Canada, specializes in land transactions and has extensive experience investigating properties, providing environmental assessments and information critical to evaluating the many remedial options available to address contaminants and restoration.

The partners kickstarted their partnership in September 2013 with a trip to Swishwash Island, a small (22-hectare) island in the mouth of the Fraser River that sits as a jewel of biodiversity in the midst of an increasingly urbanized landscape. NCC received the island by donation from BC Packers in 1999 after it was used industrially for nearly a century. Now, after 14 years of conservation management, Swishwash Island is beginning to return to its natural state as a thriving habitat for migratory birds, small mammals and the all-important Fraser River salmon.

First paddling, then working side by side, Gavin, Reid and John from NEXT, Tim Ennis—NCC’s West Coast Program Manager, and Dick Loomer—a retired physician and NCC’s Volunteer steward for Swishwash Island, all examined the island from their different areas of expertise looking for evidence that the island’s natural values are recovering after decades of industrial use. NEXT conducted soil and water sampling while NCC checked bird nesting sites and areas known for beaver, mink, coyote and river otter use.

Dick, who became known as the Warden of Swishwash Island shortly after NCC took ownership of it, proved to be an expert guide with over a decade of experience in helping the island (actually a series of three islands) recover both naturally and through scientific management of species. In that time he has planted hundreds of native trees and spent thousands of hours removing invasive plants, such as blackberries and Scotch broom. While most of the area’s ecological integrity has been badly compromised by urban development, Swishwash Island has remained pristine, protected and a small sanctuary for local wildlife.

The island is a unique preserve among NCC’s natural areas as it is located within one of the greatest salmon rivers in the world in an estuary which is equally as productive and utilized by hundreds of species of resident and migratory birds. Unfortunately the last century has seen the destruction of habitat along the Fraser for both fish and birds. Many of the sloughs, wetlands, and side channels have been paved over or otherwise altered for housing complexes, industry, or diking. There are few natural habitats left in the lower Fraser estuary. As time passes and the human population demands more space, the impacts on fish and wildlife habitat in the estuary will increase. However, the creation of Swishwash Island Preserve has protected vital habitat in the estuary and will foster an appreciation among the local residents of estuarine and wetland conservation.

A few weeks after the site visit, Gavin from NEXT Environmental Inc. emailed to say he had received the analytical results for the samples they had collected at Swishwash Island – and that so far all the concentrations appear to be either non-detectable or below applicable standards (mainly B.C. Water Quality Guidelines for pore-water and sediment). Given a century of industrial use, this was just about as good a report card as Swishwash Island could get.
ncc-logo View article on the Nature Conservancy Canada’s website