Culture, history and ecology take the forefront in Yaqan Nuʔkiy project

A new project is helping the Yaqan Nuʔkiy—also known as the Lower Kootenay Band—restore traditional hunting grounds near the mouth of Goat River. This area has been known by many names, including anaxamnamki, which means “where the people hunt.”

In days past, the Yaqan Nuʔkiy people paddled canoes to use the wetlands throughout this valley bottom near Creston. But historical changes intended to improve a 517-hectare area ended up cutting off a portion of it from the flood plain, degrading habitat value and allowing invasive species, both plant and animal, to creep in.

Major improvements will restore habitat for a diversity of fish and wildlife species, including white sturgeon, burbot, kokanee salmon, rainbow trout, westslope cutthroat trout, northern leopard frog, western painted turtle and various waterfowl.

“We’re trying to create a lot of habitat for them,” says Community Planner Norm Allard.

The restoration will benefit plant life too, including wild potato, cattail, bulrush, sedges and other plants traditionally used by the Ktunaxa, such as early spring plants that become part of annual feasts.

“The people in the community utilize all of that,” he says. “We can go out and harvest a bit of it, and keep those practices alive.”

The area was once a natural flood plain, but human-caused changes, beginning in the 1930s, have had undesirable effects. This in turn has created a perfect environment for invasive species like the American bullfrog and reed canary grass.

The project will now use 1929 aerial photos that show the natural configuration of the wetlands, and the knowledge of Yaqan Nuʔkiy Elders, to bring the area closer to its previous condition.

The long list of actions includes removing 1.9 kilometres of dam surrounding the entire area, restoring a 1.2-kilometre reach of Goat River South that was separated from Goat River, enhancing 600 metres of ditch so it acts like a natural river channel, restoring wetlands and streams, and re-establishing a diversity of culturally and ecologically important vegetation. Significant erosion will be controlled along Goat River by resloping and restoring native vegetation on over one kilometre of vertical banks.

The plans have given Yaqan Nuʔkiy members hope for the future of these wetlands—a future that will hopefully look more like the past.

“Thirty years ago, you would see clouds of thousands of ducks,” says Allard. “Now, there are far fewer. We hope to restore more of their habitat and see how much population the area can sustain.”

Supporting and strengthening ecosystem health in the Basin

The Yaqan Nuʔkiy are undertaking this project with support from the Trust’s Ecosystem Enhancement Program. This five-year, $10-million initiative supports large-scale, on-the-ground projects that aim to maintain and improve ecological health and native biodiversity.