Ecological Restoration Field Trips

Galiano Island Conservancy Wetland Restoration, 2021

From November 6th to the 8th 2021, 8 Ecological Restoration Graduate students went on a volunteer trip to Galiano to assist the Galiano Conservation Association with some planting in their recently restored areas.

We had a wild time getting to Galiano the first night and just barely made it onto the last ferry that night. When we arrived at the Conservancy, we were met with a beautiful night sky full of stars and a toasty warm cabin classroom where we all had a chance to hangout and chat until we decided to go to sleep that night.

The next morning, we woke up to a grey, windy day but we got our many layers on and headed out to the North East part of the Conservancy’s property to start planting. As like with many of the gulf islands, Galiano has a high population of deer so we needed to construct deer-proof cages to surround the newly planted plants so they wouldn’t disappear overnight by hungry deer.

On the last day, Adam Huggins, the Restoration Coordinator for the Galiano Conservancy Association, showed us around the property and the many places they have restored and plan to restore. One such part is the Nuts’a’maat’ Forage Forest in which they are attempting to cultivate traditional food and medicinal plants in a restored and regenerating ecosystem.

We planted about 300 pants over two days we had to plant while also having some time to hangout and explore the property. Saturday night we managed to get a fire going despite some gusty wind, and on Sunday we watched the sun set at Chrystal Cove on the property. Just before we left for the ferry terminal, we checked out Montague Bay to watch the last of the light fade behind the Vancouver Island mountain ranges. We finished off the weekend by getting pizza at a restaurant in town called Babes in the Woods. We highly recommend their BBQ Chicken and Galiano Sweetheart pizza.

While this was a one-time volunteer opportunity with the Galiano Conservancy Association, we hope to continue this relationship and visit with them year after year to help them with their grand plans to restore the land that they promise to protect.

Mission Field Trip Day 1, 2021

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the second-year’s  field course was re-scheduled from May 2020 to September and October 2020.  The course was unique in the sense that the course was split between online and in-person learning. The course was spread out over the first two months of the semester with the lecture portion being held weekly that were complimented with in-person practical sessions. We were lucky enough to have five in-person/in the field sessions, which allowed us to learn and practice the field techniques that we were taught.

In September, the second-year cohort ventured out to the Mission Tree Farm for our first in the field session. This session was led by Doug Ransome, Brent Matsuda and Pontus Lindgren and we covered many field techniques that focused on amphibians, small mammals and raptors.  We began the first with amphibian sampling. We conducted terrestrial encounter transects, with some success. We also looked at cover boards and the pitfall traps that were already set up.

Following the amphibian sampling, we practiced our telemetry skills as we used the equipment to locate a transponder somewhere in the forest. It was definitely much harder than it looked but a great (and fun) learning experience.

We then separated into two groups to set up the small-mammal traps. There are two grids set up at the tree farm, one in a second growth stand and the other in a remnant patch of old growth forest. The old growth stand had been left unlogged so the grid was difficult but memorable, as it is very unique to be walk through an untouched old growth forest. The topography, the dense understory and downed logs made it difficult to move through as we set up the traps.

When the second-growth grid group were finished setting their traps, we set up the amphibians gee traps in the small wetland at the site that we would come back to the next day. 

We finished the day off with raptor  and owl call playback surveys. While we did not have any call back, it was a great way to cap off the first day! As we had a second day at the Mission Tree Farm, some of us camped out overnight nearby.

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus in March, doing science has not been easy for the second-year master’s students. Stringent restrictions have directly impeded progresses of some students’ research projects. Show and tell over Zoom virtual educational sessions as well have their shortcoming because restorations are mostly hands-on in which ecologists and biologists or student alike have to go down to the field and physically do science, for example, sampling, tagging, and vegetation removal, just to name a few. Therefore, to keep up with our progress that we have worked diligently for since the first term in 2019, we have to work in a more meticulous way so that we can keep doing science, and simultaneously help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by doing our parts.

Mission Field Trip Day 2, 2021

The following day, we went to check out what we had captured in the small-mammal traps. Most of our traps were successful! We caught multiple Deer Mice, a couple Red-backed voles and two or three Townsends’ Chipmunks. In the larger mammal traps, we caught a three or four Flying squirrels, which we were all excited to see! We tagged the ones that we could (the ones that did not slip out of our hands) and released them.

Following this, we checked out the amphibian gee traps down at the wetland. We successfully caught a handful of Northwestern salamanders! To cap the day off, we headed back into the forest and discusses pellet count surveys and other types of bird surveys.

The two days in the woods was a great way to start the semester and see our cohort for the first time since the abrupt end to in-person courses in March.

Denman Island Field Trip, 2019

Back in November, students in the first-year cohort travelled to Denman Island for their first field trip as a class. Throughout the weekend, we met with the community members and visited potential restoration sites across the island. On our final day on the island, we presented three different restoration ideas for the sites that we visited to a group of community members. It was a great weekend that allowed us to step away from the classroom and have a hands-on learning experience.

When we arrived on the Friday afternoon, a small group of community members joined us and presented one restoration project idea at Windy Marsh. The marsh had been cut into two when a road was built across it, which altered the hydrology of the marsh. The community members that live around the marsh want the natural flow to be restored so the marsh can be restored.

The next couple of spots were related to re-connecting Windy Marsh to Morrison Marsh. One of the community members allowed us to come on to their property to get a better view of the marsh. We also went to another resident’s property on Morrison Marsh to look at the road that split the two marshes as well as a weir that helps prevent a local beaver from damming the marsh outflow.

We headed by to the camp and had a delicious lunch that was catered by a local chief. Following lunch, we headed out again for the last stop of the day. We went to Morningside Park to look at the bluffs along the beach. The bluffs are beginning to fail and the local residents are concerned that the slope might fail. The combination of beach and sunny weather made for a great final stop on our little tour of the island.

Following the beach site, we headed back to the camp, we were staying at and divided into groups to begin working on potential restoration ideas for each site. We also had one final presenter, the land manager of the Denman Conservancy Association, to tell us about the work that has been done on the island to help bring back the Taylor’s Checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas editha taylori). The butterfly species is considered Endangered under the federal Species at Risk Act and considered ‘critically imperilled’ on the global conservation rating. The decline of the butterfly species is directly related to anthropogenic activities, such as habitat conversion, and the population has drastically shrunk across the eastern Vancouver Island area.

Vancouver Island Field Trip, 2019

Visiting Cathedral Grove

This March, the first year cohort of MSc Ecological Restoration students joined the undergraduate ER students on a field trip up the east coast of Vancouver Island, starting in Victoria and ending up at Campbell River. As well as having a chance to explore the beautiful landscapes of the Island, we toured various restoration projects and learned about techniques and challenges from the practitioners on the ground.

We also got to try our hands at some hands-on techniques. At Cowichan River, we did live staking, a widespread technique developed in part by Dave Polster. It involves the ‘Polster Shuffle’, twisting a metal pole into the ground to make a hole for a stake to be pounded into.

Certain woody species will root from dormant stakes, and these can help to stabilize riparian zones and hill slopes that are prone to erosion. In this case, we were improving salmonid habitat value, when the water levels came up in the river.

We got to meet the man himself, in a different context. Dave Polster gave us a tour of a Garry Oak meadow restoration site. Garry Oak is the only native oak in BC, and an endangered ecosystem type (mostly on dry shallow soil on the Island). It was historically maintained by indigenous burning practices and is currently threatened by Douglas-fir encroachment (with loss of fire) and urban/agricultural development.

I really love the twisted, mossy branches of the oak trees. It was a very birdy spot, and we learned that nearby sites were used for reintroduction of extirpated Western Bluebird.

At Stoney Hill, a gorgeous escarpment with a shallow soil coastal Douglas-fir forest ecosystem along its peak, we heard about the importance of partnering with the Cowichan First Nation for restoration, to foster a sense of place and respect for the land, as well as an understanding of its history.†

Tidal channel with mudflats along the edges created by goose grazing

Introduced Canada Geese have been degrading the salt marsh vegetation at Little Qualicum River Estuary, staying around as year-long residents. 

We helped the local restoration group restore salt marsh habitat by removing the old fence posts and bright orange fencing.

We then replaced these with natural wood stakes and darker fencing, for a sturdier and more aesthetically pleasing structure.

We then lifted plugs of native sedges from healthy salt marsh areas and transplanted these into goose exclosures to help vegetation re-establish.

We visited Hanman Island and viewed some current shoreline erosion problems, as well as listening to presentations on foreshore restoration projects in the area.

Learning about experimental design with Doug Ransome – with a great view!

In addition to the more photogenic experiences, we learned about a wide range of other topics, including the Vancouver Island Marmot captive breeding program, elk translocation, eelgrass restoration, gravel loading in rivers, wetland restoration and connectivity planning. We even had a research methods seminar on location, arranged by our tireless first-year reps, discussing considerations for experimental design to draw rigorous conclusions.

Overall this trip was an amazing opportunity to meet dedicated and passionate people working in the field of Ecological Restoration. We really appreciated them taking time out of their busy schedules to speak to us about their work. We learned about a wide range of projects and ecosystems and had the chance to get our hands dirty with real ER projects. Visiting these locations, we had a chance to directly experience the beauty of our local ecosystems, and see where human activities had degraded them. This gave a deeper appreciation of their value, and the dual importance of conserving remaining natural areas and restoring damaged landscapes.

Field Course Day 1, 2019

The group on the final day of the field course – damp but still smiling!

Each year, the first-year cohort of ER Master’s students complete a Field Course to gain hands-on skills in sampling techniques and a practical understanding of study design for various types of surveys.

The course is divided into Aquatic and Terrestrial modules. This year, it ran on Fridays-Saturdays through March and April, which made for a hectic end-of-semester. On the other hand, it got us us outside in the field a fair amount which was a great change of pace.

In the Aquatic section, we learned about the Fish Habitat Assessment Procedure (FHAP) for assessing stream health, as well as fish ID and sampling.

We covered the CABIN protocol, which uses benthic macroinvertebrate communities as bioindicators. Many of these diverse but easy-to-sample organisms are highly sensitive to pollution or disturbance, making them ideal for assessing the degree of impairment of a waterway.

We also had a chance to try our hands at Large Woody Debris cabling and installation. These structures are commonly used in stream restoration to increase habitat complexity. To make them, we got to use power tools (drills to make log and stone holes) and epoxy (to affix cables into rock holes). No one got injured or permanently attached to any object. This was perhaps thanks to our focus on safety – from a dedicated module at the start of the course, to tailgate meetings we ran before every session, and a full complement of PPE (personal protective equipment, for those not up on the lingo).

That wrapped up the Aquatic component of the Field Course…

To be continued… in Part 2: The Terrestrial Module…

Field Course Day 2, 2019

In the second half our 2019 Field Course, the first-year cohort shifted focus from Aquatic to Terrestrial survey techniques.

We covered bird and vegetation surveys on campus at BCIT, but on our final weekend in the field we ventured further from town, traveling out to a field site near Mission, BC.

We set out small mammal traps on two grids, one in a second growth stand and the other in a remnant patch of old growth forest.

Moving through the old growth was a particularly memorable and challenging experience. The stand had been left unlogged, likely because it lies in a steep bowl that would have made dragging out the huge trees prohibitively challenging. The difficulty of traversing the initially rugged topography was compounded by the challenge of scaling downed logs (large woody debris) and moving through understory vegetation.

It’s one thing to read about the importance of habitat complexity in old growth, developed over long time frames through as trees grow massive and fall to wind and disease. It’s another experience entirely to clamber over and under the fallen logs, and to crane your neck up towards the tops of the massive trunks.

While our weather for all previous field days had been excellent, we ran out of luck on the final weekend, with intermittent periods of heavy rain falling on us. In the old-growth, any non-waterproof surface quickly became saturated, and full head-to-toe rain gear was a definite asset. But the moss was happy, in its element in the temperate rainforest. Lush and green, it swathed almost every available surface that wasn’t taken up by liverworts or lichens.

Despite the rain, our mammal trapping was highly successful. We caught the expected Deer Mice, Douglas Squirrels, Red-backed and Oregon Voles in numbers – but also trapped two Townsend’s Chipmunks and a Southern Flying Squirrel. We were even able to release the Flying Squirrel off of a lone-standing snag, so that it launched itself off the top to glide over to a nearby tree trunk.

For amphibian sampling, we also had the chance to check the coverboards that were in place from past years, and reconstruct the pitfall arrays that had fallen into disorder (and maybe been chewed on by a bear). We also checked out the margins of a nearby wetland and using Gee/minnow traps and nets.

Finally, we attempted some radio telemetry – we’ll use the excuse of inclement weather for mixed success in actually locating the transmitters.

Squamish Field Trip, 2018

On October 13-14, the first-year cohort went on a weekend field trip to Squamish to tour restoration projects run by the Squamish River Watershed Society (SRWS).

The Squamish Watershed has been heavily impacted by industry, agriculture, and urbanization, and the Society works in partnership with Fisheries and Oceans as well as the Squamish Nation to help repair this damage.

Our first stop was the east side of the estuary, where we looked at restoration work that had been done to deactivate a former industrial log sort site, creating a network of tidal channels. Since the area is also a popular local recreation area, the SRWS built walking trails to help channel traffic.

Edith Tobe from the Squamish River Watershed Society explaining the process of restoring a former industrial log sort area to a tidal sedge marsh (with the help of her puppies)

In the afternoon, we crossed to the west side of the estuary, where the river had been diked, separating it from its natural connectivity with the estuary and disconnecting it from the tidal marshes.

Currently the dike has been breached by culverts, but they don’t seem to be working well to let salmonids through, so there are plans in the works to add channels with bridges.

Before starting any restoration project, it is very important to gather baseline data. That way we can figure out how severe the problem is, and track whether the changes we make actually work to improve it. Our class got to help out with the collection of baseline data, as well as learn some field skills by practicing invertebrate sampling in the tidal channels as well as doing some water quality monitoring.

We also helped plant native shrubs around the base of a bat condo that the Squamish River Watershed Society had recently installed.  The bat condo was built and installed with help from local volunteers and can house 3000-5000 individual bats. It is also useful for providing public outreach and education, while providing valuable habitat for a key vulnerable component of the ecosystem at the same time.

Our tour continued upstream into river systems the next day. We drove up to the Ashley River, to learn about the complexities of off-channel habitat restoration – which seems to be summed up as ‘rivers are unpredictable’. The constantly changing dynamics of channel cutting and debris movements from storms and flooding means that intakes for channels can get blocked or run dry.

This makes long-term monitoring highly important – if problems can be identified as they arise, we can respond to them using adaptive management, and keep our restoration treatments working. Unfortunately, another theme that we keep encountering is the lack of funding for maintenance and monitoring – most projects are lucky to get money for monitoring 3-5 years after implementation.

Finally, we spent the afternoon at the Mamquam river, practicing water quality sampling in constructed channels that have been connected to the river by placing an intake valve through the dike.

All in all, we had beautiful weather to experience a really cool area, and see restoration work at various stages of development, showcasing the complexities of getting restoration projects off the ground and succeeding in the long-term.

Field School 2018


While the concepts and ideas we cover in the classroom are the foundation for our work in restoration, learning the nitty-gritty details of how to apply them is equally important to success. Enter field school: two intensive weeks learning the practical techniques for monitoring and data collection. These skills will let us will let us evaluate if our projects are working and adapt them to be more successful. Plus who doesn’t love going outside to muck around? It’s  a big part of the reason why most of us are here.

We were lucky enough to have two full weeks of sunny weather in the beginning of May. We started with a safety module and a lesson in being ‘Bear Aware’, learning how to avoid conflict with bears while out in the field. We all made sure to pack up our lunches while in the field at Mill Farm to avoid any Ursus from nosing around.

Through the semester we learned the importance of standardized scientific methods, and the value of efficient monitoring and data collection to accurately determine if the project goals were reached and facilitating successful restoration.


For our first week, our focus was terrestrial: we trained in completing terrestrial surveys (including amphibians, birds, and vegetation), performing radio telemetry, and doing small mammal trapping. We learned from several experts who gave their insights on methods such as amphibian species collection and giving and hearing bird calls.

In the second week, we shifted focus from the woods to the water, learning about aquatic ecosystems and survey methods. We covered the sampling and identification of  fish and benthic macroinvertebrates, and learned how to gather the data used in Fish Habitat Assessment Procedures (FHAP). Several students also participated in a certification class for electrofishing, a process when done correctly is a safe and efficient way to survey fish species in streams.

Learning how to kick-seine
Various salmon fry collected and measured

We didn’t just learn how to sample for monitoring, we also got some practical experience with habitat enhancement! Field school wrapped up with construction of large woody debris (LWD) using log drilling and cabling methods. LWD is used in restoration to improve stream complexity and create habitat for fish.

Overall, field school was a fun crash course in the common techniques used for restoration projects in both terrestrial and aquatic environments. We had a chance to get our hands dirty and learn a wide variety of monitoring and restoration methods that we may go on to use in our restoration careers.

Stanley Park Intertidal Sampling, 2018

On October 9, the first-year cohort went on a field trip to Stanley Park to do intertidal sampling and learn about experimental design. We assisted Dan Esler from the USGS to gather data on the distribution of Pacific blue mussels (Mytilus trossulus) in the intertidal off the northwest side of Stanley Park as part of a larger project on trophic relationships in nearshore marine ecosystems.

Blue mussels are fed on by diving seabirds including the sea duck Barrow’s Goldeneye (a mussel specialist). A long-term study has quantified Barrow’s Goldeneye numbers in this stretch, but gathering data on mussels allows us to relate this to variation in their prey numbers. Since mussels are sessile and easy to sample their abundance, this data can then be related to their predator densities.

After hearing Dan’s introductory presentation, we headed over to the shoreline and divided into groups. It was a gorgeous, sunny day but we couldn’t stop for too long to take it in – we were fighting against time, as the tide would only be low enough for us to access the intertidal zone for about 2 hours.

Photo credit: Dan Esler

We messed around with our GPS units until they led us to the start of our transects – 16 transects in total, which were evenly spaced but with a randomly chosen start point. We laid out a measuring tape at a right angle from the shoreline, and sampled from randomly spaced quadrats within the lower, middle, and upper intertidal zones. The quadrats varied in size depending on mussel density – we needed at least 20 mussels for measurements, but in some places they were so packed in that we could gather enough in 6.25 x 6.25 cm, while other locations needed to expand to 25 x 25 cm or larger. The rocks the mussels use for substrate were slippery and the mussels themselves liked to hide in nooks and crevices.

We did our best to be thorough, even as the waves began to splash at the far ends of our transects. Then we headed back along the seawall to turn in our data sheets and  mussel samples.

Fraser River Dialogues, 2017

On Tuesday, March 7th a small group of us, Brenley, Nicole, Donnah and Caroline, went to the Fraser River Discovery Centre (FRDC) to attend the first of the Fraser River Dialogues. The discussion was led by Dr. Brian Riddell, President and CEO of the Pacific Salmon Foundation, and the FRDC Executive Director. They spent the evening discussing the current state of the Fraser and Pacific salmon and some of the issues associated with salmon in the Fraser today. Many industry partners were present and interested to hear about the ongoing efforts surrounding salmon research and what their industry can do to help ensure they aren’t contributing to the overall issue of salmon decline. The great part about this dialogue series is the open floor questions to get the audience involved and broaden the range of the discussion.

Dr. Riddell was very positive towards the current condition of the Fraser and stated that it isn’t in as bad of a condition as people make it out to be. However, he pointed that the cause of salmon numbers is still an unanswered question and that we must act quickly to find the leading causes before the populations hit a place where they may never be able to recover.

We had a few moments following the discussion to speak with Brian and he was excited to learn about our program. It was great to hear that where we are headed following graduation there is plenty of restoration work! Especially involved with estuaries, rivers and salmon. Our group of young restorationists are the next generation that can help to really make a difference by restoring degraded systems associated with such global issues as declining salmon populations.

Stay tuned to view the whole filming of the discussion on the Pacific Salmon Foundations YouTube page!

Glenrose Tidal Marsh, 2016

For the program’s ECO 622 Policy and Project Management course, students competed against each other in teams to a restoration design competition for Port of Metro Vancouver (PMV). The winning team saw their planting plan come to life in the PMV restoration site at Gunderson Mudflats, located on the south side of the main Fraser River arm.

glenroseHere is the cohort and instructor (Jamie Slogan) geared up, muddy and smiling from Day 1 of planting (Image credit: Shane Byrne)

Here’s a video from the ECO 622 Project Management and Policy course last spring when the second year cohort worked with Port Metro Vancouver to do some supplemental planting at a tidal marsh habitat bank site just north of the Alex Fraser Bridge.

Four months after we completed our planting exercise, you can see how the treatment plots  has grown and flourished! We hope this experiment better informs tidal marsh planting efforts along the Fraser. (Image credit: Eric Balke)

Logan Lake, 2016

Logan Lake is a small mining community located just north of Merritt in British Columbia, Canada. This video show the joint BCIT-Logan Lake efforts to restoring wetlands to disturbed areas around the lake. Several BCIT/SFU Ecological Restoration MSc students and the BCIT ER undergrad class participated in a 7-day wetland construction course in September 2016 at Logan Lake led by wetland construction expert Tom Biebighauser. Tom is a wildlife biologist and wetland ecologist who has created more than 1800 wetlands across the US and western Canada.

Credit: Theodore Harwood

Capilano Watershed, 2016

CapilanoBCIT Instructor Ken Ashley takes the cohort up to the Capilano watershed to get a better appreciation of landscape planning and environmental protection. A truly precious place. (Image credit: Matthew Morrish)

Burns Bog, 2016


Here the 2017 Cohort takes a tour of engineered structures that were built to preserve the “Lagg” on Burns Bog. The Lagg is a natural transition zone that helps keep the bogs’ naturally acidic and ombrotrophic ecology separate from surrounding low lying areas. (Image credit: Matthew Morrish)

Willow Staking, 2016

Staking willows is a cost effective bank stabilization technique. Here is the 2017 cohort establishing experimental willow staking plots in Surrey along a watercourse. We tested the success of different sizes and densities of plots and are interested to see if it helps to shade out the reed canary grass! (Image credit: Victoria Farahbakchian)

First Cohort Field Trip, 2016

Bright eyed and bushy tailed, the inaugural cohort takes a tour of Aldergrove Regional Park and the restoration efforts lead there by Monica Pearson from Balance Ecological. Restoration in this park has focused on a number of areas to date including: Oregon spotted frog habitat enhancements, invasive species control and wetland restoration. In the the first semester of this Masters’ program, a team from this cohort provided a restoration a monitoring plan that will be used to help guide future efforts in the park.

Classphoto                                                                                                                                  Image credit: Eric Balke