Our region is known for the grandeur of its mountains, lakes, rivers and forests. Yet wetlands and grasslands are also vital to its ecology.

The goal is not only to restore the landscapes, but to ensure critical habitat for the creatures that rely upon them.

For the Rossland Society for Environmental Action, located in the West Kootenay, this means taking on the job of rehabilitating the North Jubilee Wetland. This small urban wetland, once filled in and overgrown with grass, is now being returned to its natural state.

“The wetland is providing a home to the animals, it’s filtering our water before it goes downstream and it’s acting like a sponge to absorb runoff in the spring,” says society member Rachel Roussin. “It acts like a holding tank that releases water slowly over time, which is crucial to habitat.”

In the community of Tobacco Plains, located east of Koocanusa Reservoir, grasslands are important for wild and domesticated animals, traditional food and medicinal plants. This land used to be maintained by natural fires and fires set intentionally by the Tobacco Plains people. Since the advent of wildfire suppression, however, the grasslands are being taken over by forests. In 2016, the band launched a three-year project to start restoring this disappearing ecosystem.

“It’s filtering our water before it goes downstream and it’s acting like a sponge to absorb runoff in the spring.”

“When it gets choked like that with small pine trees, nothing does well,” says Tom Phillips, Lands and Resources Manager for the band. “The grass doesn’t do well and the trees don’t do well because they’re so jammed in there.”

A similar project is under way in the Wycliffe Wildlife Corridor between Cranbrook and Kimberley. Carried out by the Rocky Mountain Trench Natural Resources Society, this project involves restoring 40 hectares of prime winter elk habitat, which is also being encroached upon by dense forests.

“We’re looking to get rid of the ingrowth established over the years and trying to encourage the natural grasses to come back,” says project coordinator Dan Murphy. “We’re using conventional logging but we’re doing it on frozen, snow-covered ground to protect the sensitive soils.”

The goal is not only to restore the landscapes, but to ensure critical habitat for the creatures that rely upon them. Whether an elk, a badger, a kokanee, or the hairy-stemmed, endangered plant called Spalding’s Campion, all species in the Basin need healthy homes.