In July 2019, some members of the Ghost Watershed Alliance Society (GWAS) took part in the CABIN training at Canmore. Bryne, Cal, Marina and Bob give an account of their experiences.
For the CABIN training, our team was made up of three Board members (Cal, Bryne and Bob) and the Executive Director (Marina) of the Ghost Watershed Alliance Society (GWAS). The Ghost River watershed is a sub-basin of the Bow River basin, largely situated northwest of Calgary, Alberta. The westerly parts of our watershed are pristine source-water environments within protected areas while other parts, closer and more accessible to Calgary, are intensively used for random camping and off-highway vehicle trails. It is a beautiful watershed but under growing pressure from recreation, logging and other activities.
Several of our members having science-focused backgrounds knew about the CABIN protocol which was developed by Environment and Climate Change Canada. The Canada-wide network offered a great opportunity for learning. “I became aware of this initiative from an article in the Alberta Society of Professional Biologist summer newsletter (BIOS). This article by Alexander Elliott and Raegan Mallinson of Living Lakes Canada was entitled “STREAM: a community-based water monitoring program”. I followed up on their website link (https://livinglakescanada.ca/projects/canin-edna). Marina became aware from a presentation which Kat Hartwig, Living Lakes Canda Executive Director gave at the Bow River Basin Council Quarterly Educational Forum in June 2019. We brought this forward to our Board of Directors and decided to become involved.” (Bryne)
We came with high expectations; here’s what we were hoping to accomplish together:
1 – to learn the techniques, processes and discipline of CABIN’s science-based approach to monitoring and assessing stream health;
2 – to better understand how aquatic ecosystems are impacted by land use and human activity;
3 – to learn and practice a sampling method that lends credibility to the findings and calls for restorative action in watersheds;
4 – to provide a solid foundation upon which to design a more comprehensive, systematic multi-year monitoring framework in the Ghost watershed;
5 – to learn of the resources available to watershed groups like ours to support water quality monitoring efforts; and
6 – to be part of a nation-wide method and network that contributes knowledge about the health of Canada’s rivers and streams!
That’s what we were hoping to learn and that’s what the knowledgeable and engaging STREAM team delivered – and more!
The pre-reading modules were essential, especially for those who did not already have a science-focused background. “For a non-science guy like me, the concepts were made clear, concise and yet sufficiently detailed to appreciate the importance of what was being sampled and why the method had to be done in a systematic, repeatable way.” (Bob)
The two-day workshop hosted by Living Lakes Canada with support from World Wildlife Fund – Canada (WWF) itself was engaging, very hands-on, and a lot of fun! Going over the procedures three times offered a terrific way to learn. Round one – “just watch the coaches do this – no magic here – you can do this too, just follow the protocols”. Round two – “put on your gear, all boots and hands in the water, work with the tools, follow the procedures – just do it!” Round three – “ok, we know what needs to be done now and how to do it properly – let’s see if we can get it right this time and do it perfectly!”. “While the first training day was pretty intense and we were all getting a little cold and wet due to the rain showers, we were able to deepen our newly acquired knowledge on the second day, feeling confident that we can now do a good job as a team to complete the CABIN sampling successfully on our own.” (Marina)
We really appreciated our bonus day with the field STREAM team following the workshop in Canmore – picking a site in the Ghost watershed and being coached through the process yet again – through rain and hail – a fourth run at getting the method under our belts while constantly receiving additional knowledge and insight by the STREAM team. We are thankful that there will be ongoing support from Raegan Mallinson (LLC) and Catherine Paquette (WWF) – we’ll do it right, keep learning and be part of something bigger that’s happening across Canada. Our data will contribute to the national community-based monitoring program developed by the STREAM project. With a goal to collect benthic samples for analysis by the University of Guelph, using cutting-edge technology of DNA metabarcoding, we know that our efforts are helping to validate this new technology while also filling important data gaps.
So what opportunities has this training opened up for our Ghost watershed team?
1 – one of us (Bryne) has signed up for the additional modules to become the Project Manager, able to design and lead a thoughtful, comprehensive sampling program in our watershed over the next three years; “This is a fantastic opportunity to fulfill one of the recommendations in our recent “State of the Watershed Report.” (Bryne)
2 – our Board has included the CABIN sampling program in our three year business plan as a Board priority. “The CABIN sampling program fits extremely well with the mission and vision of GWAS. The timing was good as we were trying to find a way we could better monitor the health of the creeks and rivers within the watershed. The CABIN program fits our needs perfectly, giving us a credible tool that non-experts can use.” (Cal) “I’d say it has also stretched our thinking to be more strategic about how we prioritize sampling locations and schedule this work as part of a more comprehensive multi-year research approach for our watershed.” (Bob)
3 – our team is keen to begin the sampling program in our watershed in 2020; assembling our Tool Kit and looking to expand the circle of trained volunteers. “Beyond those of us trained in the CABIN protocol now, we are looking forward to getting our membership involved in the sampling process, connecting them to the watershed and showing them that there is more to be discovered than what first meets the eye. I still remember the first time I saw a benthic invertebrate sample being taken in our watershed as part of an event several years ago. Seeing the diversity and abundance of invertebrates found in the stream significantly changed my perspective of the river.” (Marina)
We want to give a shout-out to the Canmore STREAM team – Raegan, Catherine and Alexander. “I was really impressed by the passion and enthusiasm expressed by the STREAM team – this was infectious and really made the whole experience very enjoyable!” (Cal) You taught us, included us in your circle and set us on a new path to better understand, document and assess the health of streams in our watershed – we appreciate your efforts and support very much.