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Wild Voices Program

We are very excited to share with you our new promotional poster for Wings Week (and beyond!). This highlights some of the amazing Wild Voices programs that teachers can book that go with the 2017 Wings theme.

Duncan Whittick - Executive Director for the Columbia Basin Environmental Education Network (CBEEN)












Profits from the festival are reinvested into conservation and education projects within the Upper Columbia Valley. Over the years Wings has supported several habitat research, restoration and environmental education. Wild Voices for Kids, which sponsors environmental education, is now being implemented throughout the East Kootenays by the Columbia Basin Environmental Education network (CBEEN). The program continues to support students in the Columbia Valley throughout the school year and during the Festival, with Wings speakers giving presentations in our local schools.

Columbia Wetlands Stewarship Partners

The Wings Over the Rockies Society is a founding member of the Columbia Wetlands Stewardship Partners that worked to establish boating restrictions to protect the Columbia wetlands from Fairmont to Donald, excluding Lake Windermere. We would like the patrons and presenters of the festival to be aware of new boating regulations and the potential impacts human behaviours have on wildlife and their habitat and to share and communicate this awareness.


By Lindsay Cuff, Wildsight

Photo by Pat Morrow

After 16 years of tireless effort from a broad spectrum of stakeholders, the final part of a three-part boating regulation, created to minimize threats to the Columbia Wetland ecosystem and enhance public safety, was enacted on October 19, 2016.

This precedent setting federal regulation, jointly requested by the BC Ministry of the Environment and local environmental organization Wildsight, restricts boats over 20 hp on the main channel of the upper Columbia River and its tributaries, from Fairmont Hot Springs to Donald (excluding Lake Windermere). The first two parts of the regulation were passed in 2009, banning motor vessels from the wetland portion of the Columbia Wetland Wildlife Management Area and eliminating waterskiing and wake-boarding from the main channel of the upper Columbia River.

“This is a day for true celebration. Not only does today’s announcement recognize the ecological importance of the Columbia Wetlands, the longest intact wetland in interior North America, but it also recognizes our communities’ perseverance and achievement,” said Robyn Duncan, Executive Director of Wildsight. “What started out as a jurisdictional question resulted in a groundswell of public engagement and support to protect the legacy of the Columbia Wetlands for wildlife and clean water for future generations.”

The Columbia Wetlands are the source of the largest river flowing into the Pacific Ocean in North America—the mighty Columbia. Internationally recognized as a wetland of importance, its rich ecosystem forms the life support system for hundreds of thousands of birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians and mammals, and freshwater to surrounding communities. This important regulation will help prevent habitat degradation and negative impacts on nesting waterbirds, like the great blue heron, species extremely sensitive to even minor disturbance.

“This is a gratifying and positive conclusion to over sixteen years of work. The best science along with the support of the vast majority of Canadians has led to long term protection for wildlife in the Columbia Wetland ecosystem. It’s also the first time that the Canada Shipping Act has been used for ecological protection, making it an example of how additional protections could be achieved for important waterways across Canada,” said Ellen Zimmerman, Wildsight lead on the Columbia Wetlands campaign.

Wildsight would like to thank all of our partners, funders and sponsors as well as everyone who wrote to the Minister of Transportation in support of the regulation in the spring.


1996 Columbia wetlands designated a Wildlife Management Area

1997 Provincial regulation under the BC wildlife act—no conveyances over 10HP. This is challenged in court.

2002 BC Court of Appeals rules that the Province cannot legislate where it concerns navigation, only the federal government can under the Canada shipping act.

After this, Wildsight, together with the Province of BC, becomes a co-applicant for federal regulation. It takes the next seven years, until August 2009, when the first two undisputed parts become law.

2009 Wildsight in conjunction with the Columbia Wetlands Stewardship Partners proposes a 20 hp restriction, the increase in engine size is supposed to accommodate the need for more power in the north portion where the river is faster flowing. A compromise.

2016 Regulation brought into force limiting boats to 20 hp on the upper Columbia River from Fairmont to Donald (excluding Lake Windermere).

Protecting Canada's Freshwaters in the 21st Century

By Dr. D. W. Schindler

Photo by Pat Morrow

Two major factors threaten Canada’s freshwater lakes, rivers and wetlands in the remainder of this century: Human population growth and the quest for an economy that always expands, even though the resources (including water) that expansion depends on are finite. For the most part, we deal separately with the symptoms of these two problems, such as nutrient pollution, biodiversity, habitat loss, water shortage, climate change, and a host of others.

Water quality and quantity are excellent indicators of how well we are doing at protecting all types of ecosystems, because of recent advances in water chemistry and hydrology. Because water “sewers” all of our watersheds and airsheds, changes in water quantity and quality are very sensitive measures of how well we are managing all types of ecosystems. An important key to success of this approach is to have excellent background monitoring before major development occurs, and to have some vision for how far we are willing to let our waters be compromised. An envisioning process that considers number of humans, their “footprint” on the landscape, and the inevitable tradeoffs between conservation and economics is essential to long-term success.

Why Are Wetlands Important to Birds?

Article submitted by David M. Bird, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor of Wildlife Biology, McGill University

Of more than 1,900 bird species that breed in North America, around 140 are somehow dependent on wetlands. Birds not only use wetlands for social interactions, breeding, nesting and ultimately rearing their young, but they also use them as a source of drinking water and food. Bathing is also important to birds too; it is critical that they keep their feathers in top shape to flee from predators, migrate to and from summer and winter locations, attract mates, cool and warm themselves, and forage for food. Many songbirds will bathe in water before engaging in extensive preening. Bathing removes dust, dirt and parasites from feathers before birds work to put each feather into its proper position. They run their feathers through their beaks to smooth them out and reconnect the barbs that hold the feathers together.

Compared to mammals, birds have higher metabolic rates, heart rates and body temperatures. The avian respiratory system involving both lungs and extensive air sacs acting like a bellows and causing a continual unidirectional air flow throughout the body is also much more efficient than the dead-end lung system seen in mammals. While this does improve oxygen intake, it also leads to increased water loss during respiration. All of these physiological features mean that birds need to take in more water to maintain them and thus, birds are more dependent on the availability of water than mammals.

Some species like the bitterns and grebes depend totally on wetlands for breeding, feeding, shelter from weather, and cover from predators, and thus, are so adapted to wetlands that if the latter were to disappear, so too would those bird species. Other species like northern pintail or American widgeon may only require functional access to wetland habitat during a certain part of the year, particularly during the breeding or wintering seasons, but nevertheless depend on them for survival of their species.

And not all wetlands are created equally. The availability, depth and quality of the water, the extent of food and shelter, and the presence or absence of predators all contribute to the usefulness to birds. The presence of surface water or moist soils, as well as how long and when a wetland is flooded, are also important factors in the value of a wetland to a given bird species. The water could be available year-round or only seasonally, due to tidal influences, during or after snowmelt or rainfall, or ice cover.

When wetlands are destroyed, the populations of the bird species dependent on them suffer. Whether some species are able to move to less suitable habitats or not, inevitably reproduction decreases and mortality increases, causing a long-term loss in sustainability.

Since the 1600s, extensive losses of wetlands have occurred in North America, mostly due to draining and conversion into farmland. Less than half of the continent’s original wetlands exist today. Besides agriculture, other causes of wetland loss include commercial and residential development, road construction, impoundment, resource extraction, industrial siting, processes and waste, dredge disposal, silviculture, and mosquito control have all taken their toll. The wetlands that remain face the threat of degradation from pollutants such as sediments, nutrients, weeds, pesticides, heavy metals, salinity, to name but a few, as well as invasive plants and boating activities.

So what can you do to protect our remaining wetlands?

First, participate in a programs aimed at protecting and restoring wetlands by contacting your local government agencies or a local environmental organization.

Plant only native species of trees, shrubs, and flowers to preserve the ecological balance of local wetlands.

When planning to construct residential or industrial buildings, avoid encroachment on wetlands or at least employ “living shoreline” techniques to make use of plant roots to stabilize the soil.

Report any illegal activity such as filling, clearing or dumping to your government authorities.

Use phosphate-free laundry and dishwasher detergents to minimize algae growth which suffocates aquatic life, non-toxic products for household cleaning, lawn and garden care, and paper and recycled products made from unbleached paper which do not contain toxic chemicals that end up in wetlands.

Keep surface areas that wash into storm drains free of pet feces, toxic chemicals, fertilizers and motor oil.

Following any or all of these suggestions will ensure that the remaining wetlands are not only there for the birds, but for the generations of humans that gain enjoyment from them.

The Columbia River Treaty

The 1964 Columbia River Treaty (CRT) is an international agreement between Canada and the United States to coordinate flood control and optimize hydroelectric energy production on both sides of the border.

In 2014 the treaty could have been terminated, but both countries agreed to continue. For the next 10 years there will be extensive consultation to improve on the treaty to balance power production, flood control, ecosystem functions and include the First Nations perspective, who lost a way of life due to the loss of the salmon runs that for thousands of years have spawned in the upper Columbia River.

During his lunch presentation, Bob Sandford expressed hopes that reconsideration of the treaty will achieve an agreement similar to the recently ratified Northwest Territory-Alberta Transboundary Water Agreement.

Bob Sandford also recommended the following list of books.





Celebrating Two Decades of Education and Engagement

By Ross MacDonald, Wings Chair for 2000 and 2001

Photo By Pat Morrow

Has it really been twenty years?

In 1995, a creative group of valley residents hatched the idea for an annual celebration of the unique wetlands of the Upper Columbia Valley and its associated birds and other wildlife. The first Wings Over the Rockies Bird Festival took place in 1996. The rest is history.

What are the elements of Wings ongoing success? To recreate the success of the festival it is necessary to take all of the following ingredients and mix well:

Wetlands – 150 km of intact wetlands, complete with the beauty of adjacent grasslands, forests and mountains habitats that are home to nearly 270 species of birds and many other species.

3-Legged Stool – the Wings mandate has guided festival organizers from the beginning.

• CONSERVATION of birds and bird habitats

• EDUCATION of valley residents and visitors about birds, wildlife and habitats of the Columbia Valley.

• SUSTAINING ECONOMIC HEALTH in our valley by balancing the needs of humans and nature.

Wing Nuts – This is the affectionate name given to the dozens of volunteers who collectively donate over one thousand hours each year to festival planning, participant registration, and event leadership. Many volunteer year after year.

Extraordinary presentations and tours – Everyone has a favourite Wings experience - be it birdwatching with a passionate and knowledgeable guide; watching beaver while on gentle paddle on the river; or being inspired by an insightful speaker.

Sponsors – These amazing partners keep Wings sustainable and event prices affordable by donating cash, services or prizes to the festival. Please support partners who show the “Proud Sponsor of Wings” decal on their businesses.

Participants – Wings participants have come from all over North America and some from far-flung destinations including Scotland, Australia and Hong Kong. Over the years Wings has attracted “Fledglings” (those new to bird watching), “Lovebirds” (honeymooners) and “Twitchers” (maniacal bird-watchers seeking to add a rare bird to their life list). We’ve had several “casual migrants” who became “residents” after they discovered the Valley through a Wings festival.

Patron – Artist and naturalist Robert Bateman has been Wings’ patron since our beginning. Bob was the keynote for Wings’ 5th anniversary and continues to donate artwork to support the festival. His passion for wildlife inspires us all.

Legacy projects – Profits from the festival are reinvested into conservation and education projects within the Upper Columbia Valley. Over the years Wings has supported several habitat research, restoration and interpretive projects. Wild Voices for Kids which sponsors environmental presentations in schools; The Columbia River Greenways Alliance which establishes networks of corridors for humans and wildlife; and the Project Take Flight raptor rehabilitation cage are all programs which were incubated by Wings and then went on to become successful and independent non-profit societies. In a demonstration of sincere flattery, Wings has inspired the creation of several new wildlife festivals.

What will the future bring for the festival? Like the legendary Phoenix, symbol for rebirth and renewal, the Wings Over the Rockies Bird Festival will be reinvented each spring to excite and engage us in this remarkable part of the planet.

Article in Science Daily: Study shows that bird watching and hunting boost conservation:


Lake Enid Restoration Project

The Lake Enid Recreation area west of Wilmer has long suffered from the area’s popularity with riders of quads and dirt bikes. Vehicle tracks have produced mud bogs, destroyed vegetation and damaged animal habitat. The situation highlights two of the Valley’s most contentious social and environmental issues: the clash between motorized and non-motorized use of the backcountry and the danger of ecological degradation. Under the leadership of Wildsight, local community groups are attempting to remedy the situation and restore riparian habitat.

One complaint of quad and dirt bike riders is that, currently, no location is advertised as suitable for their recreation, despite all the abandoned logging roads up the side drainages of the Valley. In 2014, volunteers began to address that concern by creating an alternate quad trail at Lake Enid, a new route away from the sensitive riparian zone.

Where quads and dirt bikes had churned through the area next to the lake, the area’s aesthetic quality was destroyed and the ecosystem damaged. This riparian zone is normally where aquatic plants stabilize the shore, waterfowl nest, heron fish and other organisms depend on undisturbed space to survive. In 2013, with financial assistance from the Grassland and Rangeland Enhancement Program, volunteers reseeded large areas around the lake. More recently, members of The Windermere Valley Dirt Riders, Crazy Soles Running Club, Toby Creek Adventures, as well as other community groups, have co-operated with Wildsight to replant native shrubs and plants, to fence off damaged areas to allow recovery and to construct a 150 meter boardwalk above the riparian vegetation.

Join Gail Berg and Baiba Morrow on Tuesday, May 5 in the Lake Enid: In Recovery to learn more about the restoration project.

A Safer Highway for Kootenay National Park

By Ross MacDonald

Question: Why did the moose cross the road in Kootenay National Park?

Answer: To get to the other side - if it can.

It is not easy being an animal in the mountains. To find food, connect with a mate, or rear their young, animals need to move between patches of habitat in a landscape that is pinched by rivers, rock, ice and predators. As they move between winter and summer ranges their routes often cross a busy highway.

Kootenay National Park is a highway park. Kootenay was created in 1920 as part of an agreement between the federal and provincial governments to build a road across the central Rockies.

But highways and animals don’t mix well. In the decade between 2002 and 2012, 500 large animals were killed in wildlife-vehicle collisions in Kootenay National Park. These accidents also endanger people.

Highways change animal behaviours and alter ecosystem health. Commonly seen animals, like deer, are attracted to roadsides that provide forage and easy travel. Wary species, such as wolves, grizzlies and wolverines are reluctant to approach and cross roads. With time, populations can become isolated from each other and from vital habitat.

How can we improve highway safety and reconnect habitats? Fortunately there is a solution.

From 1983 until 2013 Parks Canada built 38 underpasses and six overpasses in Banff National Park. Fences keep animals off the Trans-Canada Highway while crossing structures stitch together habitats. The crossing structures work! They are being used by all large species. Wildlife-vehicle collisions have been reduced by about 80% for all species and by 96% for deer, elk and moose.

Kootenay is applying the lessons learned in Banff to make Highway 93 South safer. In 2013, three wildlife underpasses and 4.7 km of fencing were built in a high collision zone near the Dolly Varden Day Use Area. In August 2014, the Government of Canada announced an additional $9.6 million investment for phase two of the Kootenay Wildlife Crossing Project to support construction of at least four wildlife crossings and approximately 6.5 km of further fencing along this busy highway in 2015. Funds earmarked for this project are part of a multi-year, agency-wide investment to achieve tangible conservation outcomes while connecting Canadians to nature as part of Canada’s National Conservation Plan. Parks Canada’s monitoring of how animals use the new crossing structures will inform further mitigations and help make future highway travel safer for all animals – including humans.

This spring, a new exhibit about crossing structures will be installed inside the pedestrian underpass at the Radium Hot Springs pools. Follow the walking animal silhouettes under the highway to learn how moose, wolves, bear and other species are crossing the Kootenay valley in safety.

Join Ross on his Wildlife Crossing Tour on Thursday May 7th at 1 pm. Check updates on the Wildlife Crossing Project in Kootenay National Park: http://www.parkscanada.gc.ca/hwy93s

Westside Legacy Trail

The Columbia Valley Greenways Trail Alliance has a new project underway which is a 25 km trail from Invermere to Fairmont Hot Springs. Similar in concept to the Banff-Canmore and Cranbrook-Kimberley trails, the Westside Legacy trail will be a multi-use, non-motorized, paved trail parallel to Westside Road, constructed mostly on private donated land.

The largest donation of land came from local landowners, Barb and Bob Shaunessy who own 12,000 acres on Westside Road. The Shaunessy’s are local “watershed heroes” and have restored some of the major streams to their original state after a long history of poor logging practices. They planted trees along the stream margins and brought in clean gravel to cover the previously silted beds. They also added 75 culverts and deactivated many old logging skid trails to reduce erosion into small creeks. The majority of the trail will be located on their property and will be a significant distance from Westside Road allowing for a tremendous natural trail experience for walkers, hikers, runners, cyclists and wheelchairs.

The project goal is to complete the trail with community engagement, encouraging residents, businesses and local governments to participate in unique ways they find meaningful. There will be a strong interpretive signage component to provide environmental and cultural awareness along the trail corridor. Although the immediate project is the first 25 kilometers linking Invermere and Fairmont, the vision is to expand the trail north to Radium for a total length of 51 paved kilometers anchored by our two world-class mineral hot springs, Radium and Fairmont.

History of K2 Ranch

Historic K2 Ranch, which originally encompassed 640 acres, was homesteaded in 1898 by Tom “Blanket” Jones who named it Ellenvale Ranch after the small creek that flows through the ranch. Initially it was cleared for potato production for local sale, as well as cattle grazing, making it the oldest still active cattle ranch in the Columbia Valley.

The ranch has had many colourful owners over the years but the best known was Captain McCarthy who owned the ranch from 1921 to 1941. McCarthy was an avid climber and sidekick to the famous Konrad Cain and in fact, accompanied Cain on the first ascent of Mount Robson as well as numerous other first ascents in the Canadian Rockies.

McCarthy’s first ranch was on Toby benches, near Wilmer and was called Karmax 1. After a time, McCarthy wanted a bigger spread and purchased Ellenvale Ranch and renamed it Karmax 2 or K2 for short. The name has remained unchanged ever since.

McCarthy built many of the historic buildings still standing on the ranch today, including the spacious 5 bedroom Whitehouse, the cozy Cookhouse, and the fabulous barn – now home to many valley civic events and good old foot stompin’ barn dances.

Locals Bob and Barb Shaunessy have owned Salter Creek Ranch for 20 years and more recently the K2 Ranch for 10 years. During that time, they have painstakingly restored most of the historic buildings to their former glory. In addition, they have done substantial land and habitat restorative work to repair post logging by previous owners, as well as extensive watershed and riparian restoration work on Brady Creek, which includes the construction of a cutthroat trout spawning channel.

K2 Ranch, a no hunting preserve, now encompasses 11,700 acres, three significant creeks and 10 ponds and small lakes as well as 3 km of Lake Windermere frontage. The ranch is home to a tremendous diversity of ungulates (white tail and mule deer, elk and moose) and other wildlife and numerous species of waterfowl, raptors (osprey, golden and bald eagles, horned owls) and many other bird species.