Building resilience in the Kootenays - a key c​omponent of survival in the Anthropocene

These pages describe a number of local projects that are:

     - examining ongoing threats to biodiversity and communities,
     - assessing vulnerabilities, and
     - identifying opportunities for building resiliency.

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Why do we need to build resilience?

Resilience – the ability of a community or ecosystem to recover from a disturbance or adapt to change - will be key to the survival of our communities and ecosystems as we move into the Anthropocene.  Communities that are more informed, knowledgeable and prepared will have increased resilience in the face of climate-related events that are occurring today and expected to increase in the future. This website serves as collective of projects and information focused on building resilience in the Kootenays.

The ecosystems of Southestern British Columbia are highly diverse and rich in biodiversity, ranging from inland temperate rainforests and dry open grasslands at low elevations, to alpine meadows and glaciers at high elevations.. The area also includes the headwaters and major portions of both the Columbia and Kootenay River watersheds.

Over the past 10,000 years since deglaciation, First Nations’ peoples, including the Ktunaxa, Sinixt, Shuswap and Okanagan, have successfully occupied the landscape with cultures adapted to sustainably utilizing the resources made available by those ecosystems.

Over the past two centuries, as European settlement has encroached on the area, development has steadily increased pressure on those ecosystems. Early mining, railroad construction, logging and rural development activities resulted in significant local forest harvesting, streambed disturbance, sedimentation, pollution and over-hunting. Early agricultural development resulted in forest clearing, wetland drainage, stream diversions and over-grazing of grasslands.

Development impacts intensified with the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River in the 1930s. This terminated annual migrations of approximately one million salmon from the Pacific Ocean into Upper Columbia ecosystems. In the second half of the twentieth century, signing of the Columbia River Treaty resulted in the flooding of extensive areas of low elevation valleys throughout the East and West Kootenays. Intensification of forest harvesting in the latter half of the twentieth century has resulted in significant loss of forested habitat and the construction of access roads into almost every major watershed in the area. In recent years motorized recreation, including heli-skiing, heli-hiking, heli-biking and off-road vehicles have further extended human disturbance into even the most remote areas.

As the twenty-first century begins, a new human-caused threat is placing all of the planet’s ecosystems in peril – climate disruption. In the Kootenays, climatic extremes have already resulted in flooding, landslides and extensive wildfires – and the intensity and frequency of these events are projected to increase over the coming decades. Ecosystem vulnerability assessments have become important tools for assessing risks, and providing a basis for updated conservation planning. The need for hydrologic monitoring has increased as flooding and droughts have increased the risk to aquatic ecosystems. ​ Ongoing negotiations for the updating of the Columbia River Treaty offer an opportunity to reduce the impacts of the dams in the region, as well as reduce ecosystem vulnerability to climate disruption.