By Lisa Bland –
Ella Parker has always loved rivers, even before participating in the Rivershed Society of BC’s Sustainable Living Leadership Program (SLLP) last summer. She grew up in the Yukon and has extensive river experience, including day- and week-long trips in the summer to the Takhini River with her family and multi-day river trips with high-school experiential learning programs.
For Ella, following a life-long love of rivers on an immersion journey into BCs largest rivershed seemed like an obvious and exciting thing to do.
“I was drawn to the SLLP program because of the outdoor education component and the desire to be in community in nature again, instead of just by myself in nature,” says Ella.
Ella grew up in Whitehorse, in the Yukon rivershed. After high school, she moved to Squamish and completed a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences at Quest University with a focus on natural science and multidisciplinary studies. Ella currently lives in Prince George, completing an internship with the University of Northern British Columbia’s Integrated Watershed Research Group.
“I wanted to get a better sense of the Fraser River and BC rivers because I’ve been in BC for four years for my undergrad, I knew I would be living in Prince George for my internship, and I still had an abstract sense of the Fraser River’s identity and diversity,” she says. “I think that’s what drew me to the SLLP.”
Along with the life-changing experience of being on the mighty Fraser for nearly a month with a group engaged in learning, the SLLP journey brought many academic concepts into focus.
“One of the most fascinating courses I’ve ever taken in university was called Inland Waters and covered the science of lakes and rivers—I’ve had a focus on water since then,” says Ella. “The course covered the physics and chemistry of lakes and rivers, understanding nutrient flows and interactions with the land, agriculture and development, the hydrological cycle, and our requirements for water and wastewater treatment—it was the heart of everything that humans do. Understanding it from a physics and chemistry perspective was really interesting.”
Ella’s interest in rivers also led her to a six-month internship as a research assistant with the University of Northern British Columbia’s Integrated Watershed Research Group.The group’s focus is to create a multidisciplinary approach to studying the health of the land and water at the watershed level, examining climate change, hydrology, sediment, ecosystem health, and the social aspects of watershed management, as well as developing communication tools for watershed stakeholders.
It is for this research group that Ella applied her SLLP community action project, called Stream Monitoring for Change in SD91: A collaborative video project. The film project is part of a pilot monitoring program between UNBC’s Integrated Watershed Research Group and School District 91 with the goal to connect high school students to their watersheds. The pilot program is called the Small Streams Living Laboratory (SSLL). Students will monitor and assess the physical, chemical, and biological health of streams, as well as future restoration initiatives using scientific protocols designed by the Pacific Streamkeepers Federation.
In her video project, Ella will facilitate the monitoring process and provide technical support to students as they document their experiences learning about stream monitoring, ecology, and environmental values in Murray Creek in the Nechako rivershed. The project goal is a 15-minute video with the potential to inspire and promote other collaborative student stream monitoring programs in communities across BC and the Yukon.
“Going into the SLLP journey, I didn’t have much awareness about what stream restoration looked like in BC and the Fraser River,” says Ella.“Meeting various teachers and learning about programs they were doing with their students and connecting with restoration consultants and water-related educational specialists helped put me in the context of the people involved in stream restoration and made the concepts easier to envision. Learning more about what’s possible and what people are already doing was really inspiring and gave me the confidence to put the movie project together.”
Other concepts, such as the health of the Fraser rivershed, emerged from Ella’s river journey, and provided a way to understand the issues.
“The biggest eye-opener I had about the Fraser River was the effects fishing has on salmon,” says Ella. “I knew a bit about fishing and the salmon industry, and how salmon were being overfished but I didn’t feel it until I was on the river and we talked to people who were interacting with the fish because it’s their food source, and they’re seeing it from year to year and noticing the changes. Because we were on the river for so long, it really hit home about how hard it would be to be a salmon.”
While the SLLP journey provided direction for her academic goals, in addition to building a sense of community connection, Ella’s highlights included direct experiences with the river, other participants, and her solo hike in the Fraser Canyon, where she had the space and time to think about the fate of the Fraser River, especially while blanketed in the intense smoke during the wildfires that occurred across BC in August 2018.
“Some of my highlights were singing in the boat and the group dynamic—it was great having all the relationships in the group,” says Ella. “Anytime we got to swim in the Fraser alongside the canoe or the rafts and I felt the power of the river taking me along, that’s when it hit me—the awareness of what we were doing, and that the river was bringing us along on this wild ride.”
Ella commented that the SLLP journey confirmed one of her suspicions.“I am happiest and come most alive in the kinds of environment where we are committed to a collective learning journey in an outdoor setting,” she explains. “Being in a group and having the fun aspects but also a shared dedication to developing ourselves and our ideas is the most invigorated I have felt in a long time—physically, emotionally, and intellectually. I’ll make an effort in my life going forward to recreate environments like this, whether it means going more into environmental education or incorporating it in the field I go into and the jobs I’m seeking. This is how the trip changed my life the most.”
“I realized I wanted water to be more of a focus of my life,” says Ella. “Every time I go to a new place, I want to go and find the water and to be aware of which watershed I’m in. It doesn’t seem right to separate any part of a watershed when it all flows together.”
Note* Filming and stream monitoring for Ella’s project was conducted in October 2018 with the film completed by December 2018. To read more about the project, see Ella’s blog post: Stream Monitoring for Change in School District 91.