Volunteer Wardens Wanted as B.C. Celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the Ecological Reserve System
By Jenny L. Feick, PhD, Friends of Ecological Reserves
Commemorating Milestones in B.C.’s Ecological Reserve History
British Columbians celebrate an important anniversary in 2021. Fifty years ago, thanks to the advocacy of the founder of British Columbia’s biogeoclimatic (BEC) zone classification system Dr Vladimir Krajina with support from the Federation of BC Naturalists and the B.C. Legislature unanimously passed the Ecological Reserve Act on April 2, 1971. Ecological reserves (ERs) are permanent sanctuaries, located throughout the province, that preserve representative and special natural ecosystems, plant and animal species, features and phenomena. As the first legislation in Canada to facilitate the establishment of ERs, this law became the model for other provinces in Canada. On May 2, 1971, the BC government issued the initial Order-in-Council under that Act to establish the first 29 ERs. Regulations under the Act were brought into force on April 28, 1975 by which time Krajina “told a botany seminar at UBC that there were now 59 reserves covering 104,073 acres, while 235 proposals have been presented to the [provincial] government so far” (Drabek 2012, p 151). The BC government went on to establish 154 ERs, although in the early 2000s, it transferred jurisdiction for six of those reserves to national and regional park agencies, leaving 148 ERs in the system today. No new reserves have been established since 2009.
Another anniversary relevant to ecological reserves passed without fanfare in 2020. The volunteer ecological reserve warden service began 40 years ago in 1980, but with the pandemic and the provincial election, none of the planned celebrations could take place.
The Friends of Ecological Reserves (FER), along with BC Nature and the Elders Council for Parks in B.C. are urging the BC government to meaningfully commemorate both anniversaries in 2021. One way to do this would be to establish additional ERs. A second and crucial action would be to encourage volunteers to fill all of the current 66 vacancies in ER warden positions.
Identifying Volunteer Warden Vacancies
In 2020, BC Parks and FER worked together to reconcile their respective lists of volunteer ER wardens. An analysis of the resulting list revealed that of the 148 ERs still managed by BC Parks, 82 (55%) have ER wardens. Some wardens look after more than one ER. Forty-five percent or 66 ERs do not have wardens to help safeguard these sanctuaries.
Table 1 displays the regional distribution of ER wardens. Sixty-six of the 148 ERs have vacancies for ER warden positions. The Thompson Okanagan remains the only region with no vacancies. Despite the larger number of ERs in the South Coast Region, just six percent are vacant. However, many ERs in the Caribou, Kootenay-Boundary, Northeast, Omineca, Skeena, and West Coast are in need of volunteer wardens. These regions have smaller overall human populations, less road access, and vaster distances so present challenges for those interested in volunteering. Creative solutions, including collaborations with Indigenous and other partner organizations, could ensure the wardens’ stewardship function in these areas. The ERs in each region that lack wardens appear on the FER website. You can find this information under: Get Involved (Reserves Needing Wardens).
|Region||# ERs||# Wardens||# Vacant||% Vacant|
Although Columbia Lake ER #20 in the Kootenay-Boundary Region is included among the ERs with a vacancy, BC Parks and the Ktunaxa Nation are currently discussing the Ktunaxa taking on the stewardship of this reserve. This would be positive from both a stewardship and reconciliation standpoint. Both BC Parks and FER welcome more First Nations participation in the warden program to ensure their interests are respected and the natural and cultural resources of importance to them are safeguarded.
FER has contact information for ER wardens at 61 (41%) of the existing 148 ERs. BC Parks has contact information for an additional 21 wardens with whom they have a current active contract. The contact information can only be provided to FER by the individual warden due to federal and provincial privacy laws. Thus, 26% (21/82) of the current volunteer ER wardens do not receive FER’s newsletter, (called The LOG), or other information and support from FER and will not until those individuals send their contact information to email@example.com.
Origin and Purpose of the Volunteer Warden Program in B.C.’s Ecological Reserves
By 1980, the BC government had established 101 ERs. That same year, to effectively manage the increasing numbers of ERs, the BC government initiated a volunteer warden program. The objectives of the ERs volunteer warden program include:
. assisting BC Parks in the protection and management of ERs;
. increasing public understanding of the Ecological Reserves Program;
. liaising between the general public and BC Parks by providing information; and,
. providing input into the management plan for each ER.
Volunteer wardens represent a wide spectrum of the public, including naturalists, foresters, scientists, and interested individuals living in the vicinity of ecological reserves. They assist BC Parks staff in ensuring that ERs are protected and managed in accordance with the objectives of the Ecological Reserve Act and Ecological Reserve Regulations. The revised Volunteer Warden Handbook provides more information on the work of the wardens.
Why Become an Ecological Reserve Warden?
The reasons why people volunteer to become ER wardens vary. In 2003, Bev Ramey served as Conservation Chair for BC Nature. In that role, together with FER, she organized the Gathering for Ecological Reserve Wardens in Kamloops. Wardens from around the province attended, together with BC Parks staff. Dr. Bert Brink coached Bev well on promoting this gathering, as he recounted how such gatherings had been successfully held in past decades. After that weekend’s inspiring get together, she wanted to become a volunteer warden. Bev recalls, “My husband Bill, and I reviewed a list of the reserves requiring wardens in the Lower Mainland (where we reside). We volunteered for the Fraser River Ecological Reserve (#76), a group of undyked islands located in the centre of the Fraser River, near Chilliwack. Both of us had extensive experience as white-water paddlers, so felt confident accessing the islands. This reserve also fit well with our long time interest in rivers and our respect for the Fraser River.” Harold Sellers, warden for the Cougar Canyon ER (#108) says, “I became an ER warden mostly because of the ER I chose, Cougar Canyon, near Vernon. I was active with the Friends of Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park, a park that borders the ER. Past wardens and other members of the Friends [of Ecological Reserves] helped me become aware of the mystique of the ER. This mystique was and is largely because of the difficulty accessing it, its seclusion and the fact that very few people seemed to have ever traversed the ER, let alone visit it.” In the case of Marilyn Lambert, warden for the Oak Bay Islands ER (#94), she explains that, “I have been exploring the Oak Bay Islands area for more than 50 years, my interests in marine flora and fauna are all right there. That area is my happy place!”
Another major reason why people become ER wardens is that the work is personally gratifying. Harold Sellers says that “Being a warden for Cougar Canyon is rewarding because every time I visit, I feel like an explorer, anticipating a new discovery of plant or animal, geography or history. Recording, in reports and photographs, the special attributes of the ER feels like I’m not only a guardian but also a documentarian.” Smiling, Bev and Bill Ramey exclaim “We enjoy our semi-annual visits to the islands, especially when BC Parks staff or other interested people join us. Every visit is a new experience. The broad vistas are spectacular when one looks across the surrounding Fraser River, which is about two km wide at the islands and with the distant backdrop of the Coast and Cascade Mountains. Witnessing the aftermath of spring freshet that has moved ‘truckload upon truckload’ of sand and gravel dramatically demonstrates the power of the Fraser. The colonizing horsetails, willow and cottonwoods quickly establish their roots on accreting gravel bars where they show the resilience of nature. When our visits coincide with the spawning of pink salmon, the many gulls and eagles feeding on the carcasses provide a lively cycle of life exhibit.” As Marilyn Lambert says, “I love visiting my ER. I first learned to botanize there and became familiar with the rare plants that parts of the reserve had been set aside to protect.”
What is Involved in Being an Ecological Reserve Warden?
At the start of their term, each warden meets with their BC Parks Area Supervisor, regional BC Parks Conservation Specialist, park ranger, and/or other staff to develop a work plan based on their availability, interests and the peculiarities of their ER(s). Wardens are required to visit their ER at least annually and preferably twice a year to monitor activities that take place within or on the periphery of the reserve; and to report to the Area Supervisor on the condition of the ER and any violations of the Ecological Reserve Regulations. As warden Howard Sellers remarks, “Cougar Canyon presents some challenges to me, and others might find the same at another ER if they consider becoming a warden. One is the commitment when making a visit. A significant portion of the day, or all day, is required. And it requires physical fitness and attention to personal safety. The wildness and remoteness of the place must be respected. But even those challenges add to the thrill of being there. [I am] looking forward to spring and another visit.”
Volunteer wardens observe, record, and report issues and incidents (such as vandalism) that occur within ERs. They are not empowered as peace officers. BC Parks rangers and conservation officers handle compliance and enforcement issues. However, under direction from BC Parks staff, they may place and maintain signs along ER boundaries at normal access points, and provide stewardship, conservation and/or management services. Warden Marilyn Lambert found that “Clearing an area that had been overrun by Scotch Broom for many years and seeing camas come up the next year was very rewarding.” Bev and Bill Ramey add, “We appreciate being the eyes and ears for this reserve. For most people this EcoReserve is out of sight and out of mind (except of course if you fish this gravel reach of the Fraser River with access by motor boat!) We trust that the observations we have contributed over the past seventeen years are helpful to further understanding of the dynamic nature of this reserve”.
With the guidance of BC Parks staff, the warden may greet and provide information to visitors encountered in the ER. They may act as a liaison between the local community and BC Parks by providing information to interested persons and groups about the warden program and ERs, through public presentations, slide programs and field trips. As Jim Borrowman, warden for Robson Bight (Michael Bigg) ER (#111), says, “In the last few years we have realized that more and more people are becoming completely unaware of the ER, where it is, what its purpose is, and why they are more important now than ever. Because of this lost knowledge of what it took to create this ER and why, we are developing a new exhibit in the [Telegraph Cove Whale Interpretive] Centre to show and educate our visitors the origins from the 1970 s to the present… We would like the assistance of BC Parks, perhaps in the form of some signage or posters to show the ER boundaries, a map, etc., to go along with this new exhibit”.
Wardens can assist BC Parks with biodiversity inventory (see BC Parks iNaturalist Project) and ecological monitoring. As warden Marilyn Lambert observes, “It is interesting seeing the changes in vegetation since I first visited the [Oak Bay] islands in the early 1980s”. Wardens may assist BC Parks staff in setting up permanent research or monitoring plots, or scientists with valid research permits who are conducting studies within the ER. They may make recommendations for suitable candidate ERs and/or suitable research topics. Some well-qualified ER wardens such as Dr Tom Reimchen at Drizzle Lake ER (#52) have even obtained research permits and conducted scientific research in their ERs, and published in peer reviewed journals. Wardens Bev and Bill Ramey state that “It has been helpful to communicate with other knowledgeable people about this reserve, for example with regards to the recommendation for the boundary adjustment made by expert geomorphologist, Dr. Michael Church.”
Wardens are required to submit a written annual report to their BC Parks Area Supervisor by December 31 of each year. The report should concisely summarize information about key activities conducted, projects implemented, and any significant stewardship, conservation and/or management issues identified within the ER. FER welcomes wardens to also send their reports to them to post on the FER website and to inform FER’s communications with BC Parks and other entities about the state of the ER system in B.C. and ways to improve it. Wardens Bev and Bill Ramey “We trust that our repeated recommendation that the boundary for this reserve [Fraser River ER #76] needs adjustment can be acted upon soon by senior BC Parks decision makers. Reasoning: Extensive portions of the reserve’s islands are eroding downriver, while new islands are forming upriver, just outside the reserve boundary.”
When resources and other conditions permit, BC Parks also organizes joint field trips between the wardens and BC Parks staff. Regional staff liaises with BC Parks headquarters staff in Victoria regarding issues identified in ERs by wardens. Wardens can also convey their issues to FER who will raise them in their bi-annual meetings with BC Parks headquarters staff.
When asked what advice they have for anyone who would like to become an ER warden, Bev and Bill Ramey said, “Choose a reserve that will be fairly easy for you to reach. Ask for help from other wardens and Friends of Ecological Reserves – perhaps someone can accompany you on your first visit. You don’t need to be a scientist or an expert to volunteer as a warden — your eyes and ears in the field during semi-annual visits, together with your reports, are important for the long-term understanding of the reserve and to alert BC Parks staff to any concerns.” Marilyn Lambert added, “Find an area that is special to you, and if there is an ecological reserve in the area that does not have a warden, apply!”
How to Become an Ecological Reserve Warden
If you want to volunteer as an Ecological Reserve Warden, you need to apply for the position with BC Parks on this webpage: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/volunteers/about/programs/er-wardens.html . The process can take up to two months, so get your application in asap before the summer season.
Visit the Friends of Ecological Reserves and the BC Parks ER web pages to familiarize yourself with ecological reserves that either need a warden now or might be of interest to you. Even in areas that already have wardens assigned, having additional wardens can help to share the workload and increase awareness, stewardship, and monitoring for these ecologically special places. Marilyn Lambert, warden for the Oak Bay Islands ER (#94), recalls, “I had been out several times with the former warden for the Oak Bay Islands Ecological Reserve, and when he stepped down, I wanted to fill his position.” As Harold Sellers, warden for Cougar Canyon ER (#108) says, “I joined a couple of people to be wardens of Cougar Canyon a few years ago. One moved away and another passed on, so now it’s just me!”
You can get more detailed information about individual ERs by reviewing the original description, location and purpose for the reserve, along with any management planning direction documents posted on the BC Parks webpage (purpose statement, management direction statement or management plan) for that reserve. The FER website contains much more information about each reserve, including past warden reports, a research archive, iNaturalist images, other pictures, species lists, maps, other reports, etc. Wardens can contribute to any of these categories to ensure the information about their ER is accurate and current. One can search for an individual ER alphabetically by name, on a map, or by number (which are in the order in which they were established).
Appreciation for ER Wardens from BC Parks
Rike Moon, BC Parks Community Engagement Specialist, expresses her appreciation for ER wardens in this way. “BC Parks is very thankful to work with passionate volunteers like ER Wardens, who dedicate so much time and care so deeply for protected areas. ER Wardens serve an invaluable role in the long-term protection of the Ecological Reserves they care for. ER Wardens have an interest in and deep appreciation for the environment. To become an ER Warden it is advantageous to have knowledge in conservation or natural history, but not crucial. More important is passion and an interest in life-long learning. The ER Warden program also offers a great opportunity to network with like-minded volunteers at volunteer appreciation events. Due to the pandemic we were not able to host in person events in 2020, but have offered a pro-d webinar around the iNaturalist program [on June 29, 2020] and will be hosting a virtual ER Warden event with West Coast wardens on February 13, 2021. We are looking forward to being able to host in person events again sometime in the future. If you are interested in connecting with the BC Parks Community Engagement and Education team, feel free to contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org. ”
About the Friends of Ecological Reserves (FER) This volunteer-based, not-for-profit charitable organization raises awareness and promotes the interests of ecological reserves (ERs) in British Columbia. FER works to promote and support scientific research, monitoring and reporting in and around ERs, volunteer wardens and the stewardship function within existing ERs; and the nomination, assessment and establishment of worthy new ERs. FER educates the public and government agencies regarding the significance of ERs, the values they contain, and the threats they face. FER welcomes new members. Find more information at the FER website (see https://ecoreserves.bc.ca/about-friends/ ) and in issues of the FER newsletter, the Log (see https://ecoreserves.bc.ca/news/newsletter-archive/ ).
In addition to material on the BC Parks and Friends of Ecological Reserves websites, and facts supplied by the BC Legislative Library about the Ecological Reserve Act, the following references were used:
Drabek, Jan. 2012. Vladimir Krajina, World War II Hero and Ecology Pioneer. Vancouver, B.C.: Ronsdale Press.
Feick, Jenny L. Jan. 2021. Ecological Reserves Management Issues Gap Analysis Summary, January 2021 Update. Victoria, B.C., Friends of Ecological Reserves, unpublished report.
 These could include damage or threats to an ecological reserve’s important biological resources, especially species at risk; to its significant geologic features, including fossils; or to any of the cultural and natural features of significance to local First Nations.
 Just be aware that 13% of the ecological reserves lack any management planning direction and 89% just have four-page Purpose Statements.