Join the planting party in Cowichan

World Wetlands Day is coming up on Monday and the Nature Conservancy of Canada is throwing a party in the Cowichan Valley.

A planting party, that is.

On Monday, Feb. 2, volunteers are invited to head to the Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve near Duncan to get their hands dirty and help with the ongoing wetland restoration project.

"Wetlands are one of our most important conservation targets," said Hillary Page, director of science and stewardship with the Nature Conservancy, B.C. region. "We know that at least half of the wildlife in North America rely on wetlands for at least part of their lifecycle, and yet we don’t have a really complete picture of the extent and health of wetlands in this province."

Especially in the face of climate change, wetland restoration must be a top priority, she said.

The importance of such restoration can be seen locally.

The Garry Oak preserve is located on the shores of Quamichan Lake. The lake provides drinking water for hundreds of households in the area, as well as serving as habitat for a wide range of wildlife.

But the lake’s water quality has been deteriorating, with algal blooms taking place as excess nutrients are washed into the lake. Part of the reason this is happening is because many wetland areas around the lake have been drained over the past decades and the lake has lost its natural filtration system.

The Nature Conservancy has been working with the Quamichan Watershed Stewardship Society and others to reconstruct a system of wetlands along the shore that will help improve the water quality of the lake, as wetlands filter the runoff of the excess nutrients and purify the water before it enters the lake.

Volunteers at Monday’s planting party will put in native plants along the banks of the wetland, capture and identify invertebrates, remove invasive plants and conduct water quality testing.

Special guest speaker Meg Loop of the Cowichan Land Trust will make a presentation.

The day runs from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and those interested should meet at the end of Aitken Road, just off of Maple Bay Road. Bring warm clothes, a lunch, water, rain gear and gardening gloves.

For more information go to bcvolunteers@natureconservancy .ca or call 250-479-3191.