Beyond the Bow: building community-based watershed stewardship in the Calgary region

 This post is part of a series of profiles for ESRD’s Land Trust Grant program. You can read other posts in the series here and click here to apply for a 2013 grant. 

Photo of a small island in the middle of the Bow river

The Bow’s Legacy Island in fall 2012

Although it’s easy to think of Alberta as one continuous mass, it’s not that simple: different parts of the landscape have drastically different ecosystems and face different needs.

Riparian areas – riverbanks and other areas where the land meets the water – are a great example of this. These areas support tons of life – and consequently, they are some of the most vulnerable to change, damage, and human activity.

To thrive, riparian areas in inhabited or heavily used areas require careful stewardship. The land is a shared resource and this stewardship is a shared responsibility – but taking action can be easier said than done. The solution? Provide landowners, recreational users, and the public with the information and tools they need to make a difference in these areas – which is exactly what Western Sky Land Trust is doing with its Bow & Beyond Initiative.

Started in 2010, the program has brought together landowners all along the Bow River to build and support community-based water stewardship projects. Their efforts include:

  • Conserving and restoring natural areas, in partnership with private landowners;
  • partnering with stakeholders to increase public awareness of the importance of the Bow River, and watershed conservation in general; and
  • spearheading community-based watershed stewardship activities that achieve conservation goals while continuing to provide Albertans with opportunities for recreation and enjoyment.

Three grants from ESRD’s land trust grant program have helped support this work – and the fantastic results have complemented Western Sky’s other projects, like the Bow & Beyond Riparian Health Initiative, which provides landowners with detailed riparian health assessments for their properties.

Photo of Legacy Island submerged by flooding in June 2013

Legacy Island, flooded – June 21 2013

As you can imagine, the impact of recent flooding on Western Sky’s projects has been intense – and in the aftermath, it’s only going to be more important. In the words of Jerry Brunen, Western Sky’s executive director:

“our conservation goals at Western Sky remain the same. However, the flood highlights and reinforces the importance of wise stewardship and sound management of our watersheds.”

In other words, the Bow & Beyond initiative will keep going and going – and if you want to get involved, now’s a great time to start! You can check out Western Sky’s volunteer information here.

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Check out this slideshow to see how key Bow & Beyond conservation areas were affected by the southern Alberta floods.

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