Just outside Williams Lake, on an unusually warm October afternoon where the temperature was hovering in the mid-teens, early snow was a distant worry at the 148 Mile Marshes project. Here, DUC crews were putting the finishing touches on another busy construction season. Located within the historic ranchlands of the Cariboo Region, the 148 Mile Marshes are picturesque oases of blue in the rolling green hills east of the Fraser River.
The 148 Mile Marshes lie in the most important part of the province for breeding waterfowl, the Canadian Intermountain region, which covers almost 50 per cent of the area of B.C. and is one of the most ecologically diverse in Canada. With elevation rising from 200 metres to almost 4,000 metres above sea level, the region hosts 24 species of waterfowl and supports an estimated population of 1.45 million breeding birds (around 70 per cent of the provincial total.)
DUC’s project features 26 wetlands covering 346 acres (140 hectares) of habitat and more than 21 kilometres of shoreline. It represents one of DUC’s best efforts to conserve and protect these crucial ecosystems in the Cariboo. Wetlands are the lifeblood of waterfowl and wildlife, and as climate change intensifies weather patterns, the 148 Mile Marshes are becoming even more valuable for their critical role in providing water for ranchers and farmers.
Sarah Nathan, manager of provincial operations for DUC in British Columbia, says the ability to partner with ranchers and farmers makes up a core component of DUC’s conservation program.
“Agricultural producers play an important part in being the lead stewards of landscapes across the province. The wetlands on the 148 Mile Ranch encompass the very definition of biodiversity, providing critical habitat for waterfowl and many other wildlife. At the same time, they are vital to the success of the ranch.”
DUC first entered into a conservation agreement with the original landowners back in 1975. The ranching operation needed water for irrigation and other agricultural uses. The ranch’s success hinged on being able to get the water to where it was needed most. So, DUC installed inlet/outlet controls on many wetlands which only held water temporarily, and dug conveyance ditches to connect the ponds into functional wetland complexes.
As climate change intensifies, high volumes of spring runoff can be devastating to the agricultural community, and water control structures at 148 Mile Ranch need to meet more demanding provincial standards. A one in 200-year flood may have seemed a very unlikely occurrence back in 1975, but these events have become more frequent in recent years.
While DUC is at the forefront of rebuilding and conserving wetlands, Nathan says the success of the 148 Mile Marshes also depends on its partners before shovels are in the ground.
“Conservation takes co-operation, commitment, and contributions. Our partners, volunteers, and staff are what make conservation a reality.”
Project upgrades at 148 Mile Ranch were funded thanks to the Conservation Habitat Trust Foundation and bolstered in 2021 by the Healthy Watersheds Initiative. Projects across B.C. also received a $27-million investment from StrongerBC, the Province’s $10-billion COVID-19 economic recovery plan. The Province partnered with the Real Estate Foundation of BC (REFBC) to administer the funding and worked with Watersheds BC to support project implementation.
Eleven Ducks Unlimited Canada researchers will attend the international conference, presenting on recent research, and learning from a global network of waterfowl scientists.
Nick Krete is restoring on-farm wetlands thanks to insurance industry support and private landowners' active participation.
It’s taken a quarter-century to map one-quarter of Canada’s boreal landscape. But advances in policy and technology will make every minute count.