Ecological Reserve Warden Stewardship Handbook, 2013
This is the final draft version which is being published by BC Parks. It is also available in PDF. Click here for the PDF version.
BC Parks and Protected Areas
March 2013 Photo credit: Judy Millar
Table of Contents
The Ecological Reserve System.. 1
The Ecological Reserve Warden Program.. 2
Main Roles of Ecological Reserve Wardens. 2
Purpose of the Ecological Reserve Warden Handbook. 2
Warden Qualifications. 2
Warden Responsibilities. 3
Being Familiar with the Reserve. 3
Protection and Management 4
Public Education and Liaison. 5
Record Keeping. 5
Inventory, Monitoring and Research. 6
Supplies and Expenses. 8
Responsibilities of Government Staff 8
Safety and Security. 10
Volunteer Insurance. 10
Friends of Ecological Reserves. 11
Appendix A: Ecological Reserve Warden Annual Report 12
Appendix B: Suggested Research Topics. 13
Appendix C: Ecological Reserve Warden Orientation Package. 14
Appendix D: Sample Individual Volunteer Services Agreement 15
The Ecological Reserve System
Ecological reserves are permanent lands and water designated for conservation and preservation, established for ecological purposes such as:
- protection of rare and endangered plants and animals in their natural habitat;
- preservation of representative natural ecosystems;
- preservation of unique or rare botanical, zoological or geological phenomena;
- scientific research on the areas’ ecology, animal and plant life;
- perpetuation of important genetic resources; and
- scientific research and education.
In 1971, the provincial government passed the Ecological Reserve Act, which allowed for the establishment and protection of these unique and representative ecosystems throughout British Columbia. Further, the Ecological Reserve Regulations prohibit all consumptive resource uses in ecological reserves such as tree cutting, hunting, domestic grazing, camping, lighting of fires, removing materials, plants and animals, and the use of motor vehicles.
Ecological reserves can now be established by two means. First, they can continue to be established by order in council under the Ecological Reserve Act. Secondly, ecological reserves can now be continued or established through their inclusion in a schedule to the new Protected Areas of British Columbia Act passed in June 2000. The latter affords increased protection to ecological reserves since any deletion from or cancellation of an ecological reserve listed in a schedule requires an act of the Legislature.
The Ecological Reserve Act and associated regulations guide the management of all ecological reserves regardless of which Act they are established by. Amendments have also been made to the Ecological Reserve Act to provide for increased penalties for offenses.
The role of ecological reserves is protection, research and education; they are not created for public recreation or consumptive or commercial activities. Most ecological reserves are freely accessible to the public for non-destructive observational use such as nature appreciation, wildlife viewing, bird watching or photography. Some sites, such as seabird nesting colonies, are so sensitive that access is only allowed under ministerial permit.
The Ministry of Environment, Parks and Protected Areas Division (BC Parks) is responsible for the management of the ecological reserves in British Columbia. It is the intent of BC Parks that all ecological reserves have a management planning document prepared with input from interested parties, including the wardens of the ecological reserves, to guide the protection and management of the reserve.
BC Parks policy stresses that all natural processes will continue undisturbed in ecological reserves. Measures such as controlled burns or control of insect or weed (introduced, invasive plant species) infestations will only be taken in ecological reserves when such measures are required to protect the values for which the reserve was established. Biological or mechanical, rather than chemical, controls will be used whenever possible. Wild fires are part of the natural processes in ecological communities and will not be interfered with in ecological reserves unless there are human safety or property damage issues.
The Ecological Reserve Warden Program
Because of the increasing number of ecological reserves, BC Parks initiated a volunteer warden program in 1980. Wardens contribute their knowledge and enthusiasm for conservation to assist government staff in managing the reserves in accordance with the Ecological Reserve Act and Regulations. These volunteers continue to serve an invaluable role in the long-term protection of the reserves.
ER volunteer wardens come from a wide spectrum of the public: naturalists and naturalists clubs, foresters, biologists, interested individuals, and others living near ecological reserves.
Main Roles of Ecological Reserve Wardens
- Assist government staff to protect and manage the reserves by acting as eyes and ears for staff
- Increase public understanding of the Ecological Reserves Program
- Provide liaison concerning the reserves between the general public and local and provincial government staff
- Provide input to management planning in the reserves
- Monitor the reserves for their capacity to continue to meet their stated purpose
- Report to government staff any changes or problems relating to reserve.
Purpose of the Ecological Reserve Warden Handbook
The Handbook provides a concise description of the duties and responsibilities of Ecological Reserve Volunteer Wardens and their status and functions in managing the reserves.
Volunteer ecological reserve wardens have an interest in and respect for the environment. They are willing to commit their time to carry out the required duties consistently and over a number of years. Specific knowledge of natural history is an advantage, but not crucial.
Warden duties for individual ecological reserves are usually handled by one warden however; a warden may be part of a group that takes responsibility for the ecological reserve. Naturalists clubs or similar groups may take on warden responsibilities in an ecological reserve under the leadership of one or two of their members. It may also be useful to have more than one warden for a reserve where those in question have different types of expertise.
BC Parks has started a ride-along program for students or young people interested in going along with experienced wardens to their reserves and helping in any way they can (e.g. mending fences, putting up signs, technical surveys, reporting, etc.). This program is intended to be a two way advantage as the wardens teach the students and the students volunteer their energy and technical expertise. This is also a recruitment opportunity as the students may become interested in becoming a warden some day.
A warden’s work is carried out under the supervision and direction of government staff. ER Wardens are expected to maintain close contact with the Area Supervisor of their ER. Contact information is available at local BC Parks offices.
A volunteer work plan for the warden may be developed with the Area Supervisor based on the warden’s interests, expertise, and available time. Any proposed changes to this plan must be discussed with the Area Supervisor. However, wardens must be prepared to work independently, with limited direction from the Area Supervisor. If a warden is unable to fulfill his/her agreed to volunteer responsibilities, he/she must notify the Area Supervisor.
Wardens’ responsibilities can be divided into four primary areas:
- Becoming familiar with the reserve
- Protection and management (by visiting the reserve at least twice a year)
- Public liaison and education
- Record keeping and reporting out
Under these categories, a warden should be prepared to carry out the following functions:
Being Familiar with the Reserve
It is important for new wardens to attend an initial visit with the Area Supervisor to discuss the ER, management issues of concern, current research projects, and other topics that will help new wardens understand their reserve and conditions there from the outset. A new warden will be provided with a package containing background and other information on the reserve, a report form template, and personal identification to wear on reserve visits. From the discussion, the information material and exploring the ER on the ground, the warden should know:
- Why was the reserve established?
- What ecosystems are present?
- What biogeoclimatic ecosystems are represented?
- What ecosystems and species at risk are present?
- Are there special features such as seeps, scree, etc. likely to harbour particular and perhaps rare or otherwise listed species of plants of animals?
- Is there a route to follow when visiting the site that ensures one seeing all habitat types in a convenient and consistent manner?
- What obvious problems, if any, are present such as invasive plants and animals damage from livestock, waste dumping, or other types of degradation?
- What information or data are available such as air photos, forest cover maps, geological rock and soil maps, climatic data, or species lists? (some of this may be provided in the Orientation Package but the warden may need to gather some)
A warden’s familiarity with a reserve is a valuable resource to other ER advocates. Information sharing and mentoring by the warden is extremely valuable to the ER warden program when a new Area Supervisor or new warden takes on responsibility for the ER.
Protection and Management
- The warden’s role is to observe record and report on all topics and issues related to the conservation and protection of the natural or cultural values in the ER, including natural events and human-use impacts.
- Examples of observe, record and report activities:
- Illegal camping
- Hunting or fishing
- Wood cutting
- Collection of plants, animals or other natural or cultural values
- Fence damage
- Recreational use and/or overuse
- Excessive day-use that compromises ecological values
- Invasive species or other ecological degradation
- Unauthorized discharge of waste materials
- Potential trespass issues
- Visit and patrol the reserve at least twice a year (more often if possible) to detect and report any activity contravening ER objectives.
- Report to Area Supervisor all activities or events in their ER that require management or enforcement actions. Volunteer Wardens are not empowered as peace officers and are restricted to observation, recording, and reporting activities and events in their reserve(s). Vandalism or other serious issues that threaten an ER should be reported to the Area Supervisor immediately. Specialized reporting forms (“Observe, Record and Report” cards) may be available to the warden from the Area Supervisor. Under no circumstances should wardens place themselves in a position of danger.
- Bring to the Area Supervisor’s attention any activities on adjoining lands that could affect the reserve; monitor effects of the activities.
- Document occurrences of natural disturbances such as wind-throw, erosion, or wildfire, insect and invasive plant infestations, particularly new occurrences or major changes.
- Monitor condition of signs, boundary markers and fencing and report need for repairs, replacements or additions to Area Supervisor. A warden may be asked to take care of minor repairs or maintenance issues if he/she has the necessary skills, training and safety equipment, and the desire to do the work; a warden must have detailed instructions from and prior approval of the Area Supervisor prior to conducting repairs or maintenance.
- Though wardens are not charged to make management decisions, they may be asked to conduct protection or management related activities on behalf of BC Parks; a warden must have full instructions from and prior approval by the Area Supervisor to conduct protection or management related activities.
- Keep apprised of local Official Community Plans or zoning alterations and land ownership changes that might affect the reserve.
- Provide input to management planning for the ER.
Public Education and Liaison
- Wear or carry appropriate Volunteer Warden identification as provided by government when on the reserve or when requested and authorized to speak about the reserve.
- Greet visitors in the reserve and provide information about the reserve (boundaries, natural or cultural values, past and current management and research activities) and appropriate behaviour or authorized activities in it (staying on trails and roadways, keeping dogs under control, preventing invasive plant introductions by checking boots and clothing prior to entering or leaving the site, safety hazards like rattlesnakes and ticks).
- Be aware of research within the reserve and the locations of sample sites and ensure these appear in field reports, particularly if there is any disturbance in and around the area.
- Inform field trips leaders or research party leaders observed in an ecological reserve that permits from BC Parks are required for all research activities carried out in ecological reserves.
- Optional: make public and/or written presentations about the ecological reserve system and/or your ER. A provincial template for presentations about ecological reserves is available through the Area Supervisor.
- Maintain a field notebook documenting each visit to the reserve and dates, locations and times of observations. Observations address topics like (but are not limited to) wildlife, visitors, condition of reserve, repairs and maintenance undertaken, expenses incurred (if any), management needs and regulatory infractions.
- Submit an annual report (see Annual Report outline in Appendix A) on the condition of the reserve, problems, and activities that have occurred during the year. This report should also include a record of dates and hours spent on the reserve, including travel time, and of work performed on the reserve or elsewhere on its behalf to contribute to the government tally of volunteer hours and expenditures. The Area Supervisor will specify the date the annual report is due.
- By mutual agreement between warden and Area Supervisor, submit additional reports about visits to the ER or issues of ER management.
- Maintain a file of pertinent reports, letters, maps, photographs, inventory lists, and research data as a continuing body of information on the reserve to pass on to succeeding wardens. Submit these records to the Area Supervisor. Friends of Ecological Reserves ask that you also send these materials to them for posting on their website (email to: email@example.com). All data gathered remains the property of the province.
Inventory, Monitoring and Research
A volunteer warden is in an excellent position to make significant and valuable contributions to scientific knowledge of a reserve. The warden and Area Supervisor should discuss what the warden could do and how to best go about the work with regards to (a) complying with the standard field methods and data recording, (b) the appropriate timing for data gathering, and (c) assistance or cooperation from a ride-along student, BC Parks staff, other government agencies or academic institution (e.g., tools, training, funding).
Under the direction of the Area Supervisor, depending on the warden’s interest and ability, wardens might:
- Climate change long-term ecological monitoring as per BC Parks standards
- Keep records of wildlife and natural features of the reserve.
- Monitor special natural or cultural features that the reserve may have been created to preserve.
- Set up and monitor permanent research plots.
- Assist researchers holding a valid Park Use Permit to conduct projects in the reserve.
- Suggest candidate ecological reserve areas to Area Supervisor.
- Conduct independent research, provided the warden is properly qualified, the study and study design are approved by the Area Supervisor, and a research permit is issued.
To ensure the value and validity of the data, all inventory, monitoring and research must employ standard field methods, data tabulation and analytical procedures. Specific, detailed methodologies are required for species at risk and invasive species. The Area Supervisor may be able to arrange for the warden to be trained (perhaps by other government staff) to assist in inventory, monitoring and management activities. The Area Supervisor will be able to direct the warden to appropriate experts for instructions and data forms prior to project commencement (e.g., http://www.ilmb.gov.bc.ca/risc/).
Below are some examples of projects to consider if wardens have the time, qualifications, and interest. All projects must have prior approval from the responsible Area Supervisor.
- If inventory of plants, animals, etc. does not exist or if existing data have not been updated for a number of years, a systematic inventory could be of great value.
- baseline inventory of what species are found in the reserve
- relative or absolute abundance of individuals of a species
- descriptions of biogeoclimatic subzone variant (vegetation inventory and soil profiles)
- inventory of invasive plants or animals in the reserve
- reports of species at risk found
- Monitoring projects are those that focus on changes over time in wildlife populations, habitat conditions or effects of external factors, and should adhere to standard methods and data recording. BC Parks has started a long-term ecological monitoring program that may be applicable to the reserve. Ask the Area Supervisor if such a program could be initiated in the reserve.
- photographic record of present status and changes such as increase or decrease in vegetation cover or composition, sea level rise, invasive plant increases or removals, erosion, or other natural disturbances
- monitoring of simple vegetation plots for changes in species composition and numbers of individuals, especially red and blue-listed species
- annual breeding success and additions to populations
- changes in wildlife activity in response to a disturbance
- participation in Canada-wide programs such as Frog Watch, Christmas Bird count, Important Bird Area Surveys, etc.
- documentation of restoration of habitat or re-introduction of extirpated species
- human use (e.g., visitors per day) at high use reserves
- monitoring species at risk or invasive species
- an annual count of species and individuals
- monitoring of simple vegetation plots for changes in species composition and numbers of individuals annual breeding success and additions to populations
- status of detrimental factors such as predators, weeds, or disease
- Research opportunities may be available in some ER’s. Wardens interested in conducting research should contact the Area Supervisor.
- Research could document features such as geology, climate, flora and fauna, and/or cultural values, investigate ecology or behaviour, or contribute to a comprehensive assessment (Appendix B). Ecological Reserves can serve as control or benchmark sites in studies of ecological impacts outside the reserve.
- Enquiries regarding research opportunities from the public, or elsewhere, should also be directed to BC Park staff.
- Permits are required to conduct research in ER’s and researchers must adhere to scientific and reporting standards, and conditions of the permit.
Supplies and Expenses
Upon appointment, wardens receive a Volunteer Warden Orientation Package (Appendix C) from the Area Supervisor. The package includes administrative paperwork regarding the warden program and available technical information about the specific ecological reserve with which the warden is involved. These materials should be kept in good order and must be returned to BC Parks when the warden leaves the program. For projects in an ER initiated by the Area Supervisor or warden, the Area Supervisor may be able to make special materials or equipment available on a short-term use basis.
Travel expenses and out of pocket expenses related to the warden responsibilities are not usually reimbursed, but may be, if budgets allow, with prior, written approval of the appropriate spending authority. Specific repair or maintenance expenses incurred may be considered for reimbursement, only with prior approval of the Area Supervisor.
Responsibilities of Government Staff
The Conservation Section, Victoria, will:
- Collect and act as a central repository for contact information on the volunteer wardens and submit all current names and contact information of ER wardens to the Friends of Ecological Reserves for their mailing list.
- Provide guidance to regions on policy matters that affect ER wardens.
- Confer at appropriate times with relevant non-profit organizations (e.g., the Friends of Ecological Reserves and BC Nature (Federation of BC Naturalists) on matters of mutual concern such as revisions to Ecological Reserve policy and wardens’ meetings.
The responsible Area Supervisor will:
- Receive volunteer warden applications submitted by new wardens and send out information to perspective volunteers in a timely manner (The Friends of Ecological Reserves serves as an information provider to potential volunteers in a general way, but does not receive or evaluate applications for government volunteers).
- Authorise new volunteer warden appointments by signing/approving the Individual Volunteer Services Agreement (Appendix D).
- Ensure the warden (or every individual volunteering as part of a group taking on the warden responsibilities) signs an Individual Volunteer Services Agreement (Appendix D), thereby ensuring the warden is covered under the government’s third party liability and accident insurance. The Individual Volunteer Services Agreement will be filed in the regional office and at BC Parks Headquarters in Victoria.
- Provide the Volunteer Warden Orientation Package (Appendix C) containing administrative and technical information and supplies necessary to carry out warden work safely and effectively, and review the material with new wardens.
- Report each ER Warden’s volunteer hours annually (for the period April 1 – March 31) by May 31 of each year to the BC Parks Community Engagement Specialist in Victoria.
- Communicate to wardens when there is new research being conducted in their reserve.
- Ensure the warden activities comply with all requirements of the provincial government’s Safety Management and Accident Prevention Program (SMAPP).
- Visit the Ecological Reserve with new warden appointees and provide an orientation to the program.
- Provide limited direction to wardens through joint preparation of work plans, timely feedback on reports, approval, permitting, technical review and monitoring of research, inventory and monitoring projects. Area Supervisors must ensure wardens are prepared to work independently, without considerable direction from the Area Supervisor.
- Answer questions and investigate reports submitted by the wardens concerning inappropriate or illegal situations or activities in the reserve.
- Provide equipment or tools to wardens for approved and mutually agreed to activities, where needed and as budgets allow. Some tools may require training and protective equipment for safe use and operation.
- Facilitate an annual meeting of area wardens to maintain communications with and among wardens, recognise them for their work, discuss matters of mutual interest and concern, and provide opportunities for training and to meet other regional staff. Budget, workload and logistic constraints may determine if, when and where these meetings will occur.
- Participate whenever possible with other Area Supervisors, wardens and relevant non-profit organizations (e.g., the Friends of Ecological Reserves and BC Nature (Federation of BC Naturalists) in a provincial wardens’ gathering. Scheduling will depend on the availability of funding and resources. Budget and workload constraints may determine which Area Supervisors attend.
- Submit names and contact information of current wardens to Conservation Section, Victoria.
Safety and Security
Safety of wardens and the public is of utmost concern. Wardens will receive information about personal safety and procedures for emergency and evacuations in the Orientation Package (Appendix C). Safety should be an on-going topic of discussion with the Area Supervisor.
The Area Supervisor is responsible for ensuring the warden’s activities comply with the policies and procedures of the provincial government’s Safety Management & Accident Prevention Program (http://www.smapp.ca), as they apply to volunteers. The Area Supervisor and the warden should prepare a plan describing how the warden will deal with issues of personal safety and emergencies while visiting the ER, including a trip plan, emergency procedures, an emergency site map and emergency contact list.
The warden must take reasonable responsibility for his/her own safety. Notifying family or friends of plans and expected time of return from a visit to an ER should become a habit. Wardens should use common sense and wear or carry adequate clothing for the weather and personal protective gear when using tools or other equipment. If special training is required to use equipment offered or suggested by the Area Supervisor for a particular activity, the warden has the right and responsibility to request training and the Area Supervisor must ensure the warden is sufficiently trained. A cell phone is a good way to ensure communication in the event of an accident.
Individuals who volunteer as wardens are covered by provincial government insurance policies, once they have signed the BC Parks Individual Volunteer Services Agreement (Appendix D) provided by their Area Supervisor as part of the Orientation Package (Appendix C)
The Province provides two kinds of insurance to volunteers when they are performing work on behalf of BC Parks:
Comprehensive General Liability
This insurance policy insures volunteers against third party claims for bodily injury, personal injury (libel, slander, etc.) or property losses that the volunteer may accidentally cause. The policy also provides defence and pays related defence costs. The limit of liability under this policy is up to $2 million per occurrence.
Accidental Death & Dismemberment
This insurance policy covers volunteers for accidental death, bodily injury and/or disability they might suffer while performing ministry duties. The policy has a principal sum of $40,000. Accidental Death and Dismemberment coverage terminates on the 85th birthday of the volunteer.
Additional details on the insurance coverage can be found here: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/volunteers/about/how/docs/BCParks-VolunteerCoverageSummary.pdf
Friends of Ecological Reserves
The Friends of Ecological Reserves (FER) is a volunteer organization that raises public awareness of Ecological Reserves through public presentations, publications and other outreach. One of FER’s strategic goals is to help volunteer wardens by providing support and information. To learn more about their mission through their strategic plan and other activities that FER is involved in visit their website https://ecoreserves.bc.ca.
FER publishes a newsletter called “the Log” which can be found on their website as well. It is published two times a year and includes reports from wardens, field trip stories and other items of interest. The Friends of Ecological Reserves helps BC Parks recruit new volunteers for the Warden Program.
The FER website is a resource for wardens. It provides links to research papers conducted in reserves, wardens’ reports, photos and field trip reports. FER invites all wardens to share their observations, images and reports by e-mailing these to firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also upload reports directly to the site by obtaining a password from FER.
*Note from the Friends of Ecological Reserves: We appreciate your support as an ER warden and those who maintain a membership with FER. As a warden you are under no obligation to join FER. Membership application is available through our website or by mail to Box 8477 Victoria BC V8W 3S1.
Appendix A: Ecological Reserve Warden
ER Name: _________________________________________________________
Ecological Reserve # _________ Report Date: ___________________________
Warden Name: _____________________________________________________
Number of volunteer hours logged during the past year: _______________________
Possible Topics to Include:
i.e. when (state dates), where, why, how, who:
- Extent of the reserve visited, or tour route
- Plant and animal Species Observed
- New Plant and Animal Species Observed
- Public Access Issues
- Signage Issues
- Maintenance Issues
- Visitor Activities
- Warden Activities
- Wardens’ Proposals or Suggestions (ER management, research, public presentation, etc.)
- Total number of hours contributed and travel incurred by the Warden during the year.
Appendix B: Suggested Research Topics
Research increases the level of knowledge about a reserve for both the BC Parks agency and the warden. Working with their Area Supervisor, wardens may select from a variety of valuable research topics, depending on their interest and expertise that would contribute to a comprehensive assessment of their ecological reserve through systematic surveys and reporting. Some examples include:
- History – Local history of the reserve area, why it was selected, legal description.
- Geomorphology – Landscape and physical characteristics.
- Hydrology – Flowing and static water.
- Ecosystem classification – assessment of biological, geological and climatic characteristics.
- Geology – Mineral and soil surveys.
- Climate – Climatic normals for nearest recording station; systematic temperature and precipitation measurements at the site.
- Vegetation – Flowering plants and ferns, mosses, liverworts, lichens and fungi. Identification and taxonomy, species lists, community associations, phenology, productivity, ecosystem or habitat mapping, species or ecosystems at risk.
- Wildlife – Birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and invertebrates. Ecology, habitat use, seasons of use, reproductive status and productivity, food habits, link to special features, species at risk.
- Exotic species – Status of infestation, ecological impacts, effectiveness of control activities.
- Special Features – Condition and status of cultural, geological or biological values.
Appendix C: Ecological Reserve Warden Orientation Package
- Ecological Reserve Wardens Stewardship Handbook
- Individual Volunteer Services Agreement (Appendix D)
- Copies of the Ecological Reserve Act and Regulations
- Volunteer Warden Identification Card
- Applicable Protected Areas Organizational Chart
- Introductory section from “Guide to Ecological Reserves in British Columbia”, 1993
- Warden contact list for local area
- A copy of The Log from Friends of Ecological Reserves
- Information on personal safety and emergency procedures (trip planning, emergency contact information, procedural instructions).
Technical Information for the Ecological Reserve
- biogeoclimatic zones map
- air photos
- other photographic records, as available
- inventory lists
- management plan, management direction statement or purpose statement /zoning plan
- checklist of flora and fauna of the particular reserve’s area, as available
- any other materials available on that reserve that would help the Warden in monitoring it effectively (e.g., previous annual reports, study reports, relevant material from ER file)
Appendix D: Sample Individual Volunteer
BC Parks staff can access the editable form at: http://iwww.env.gov.bc.ca/ppa/volunteers
 The SMAPP manual, policies, procedures, worksheets and forms are available publically on the following website: http://www.smapp.ca.