The Lower Kootenay Band (LKB) partnered with the Canadian Army Reserve to host military exercises on the Band’s wetlands on Feb. 20, an initiative designed to simultaneously help with the restoration process of the Band’s marsh landscape.
Soldiers from the 39 Combat Engineer Regiment — many of whom were from Trail and Cranbrook’s 44 Engineer Squadron — spent the day honing their bridge surveying and design skills, as well as milling lumber and detonating explosives.
“The skills that we’re using — whether it’s demolitions, working the sawmill or doing that detailed bridge surveying — those are all core skills. They’re technical skills,” said Major Nils French, the commander of the 44 Engineer Squadron.
“This exercise let us get out there, refresh on some of those things, refine them a little bit, practice them. Essentially, we can’t be military engineers if we don’t keep those skills fresh.”
A total of nine craters — which are each roughly four metres deep and 10 metres wide — were formed through the demolitions. The hope is that Mother Nature will run its course and the craters will naturally fill with water over time, where they will serve as future habitats for ducks and geese.
“Those craters are going to become a flow of water,” said Nasukin Jason Louie of the LKB. “We still have a population in our community that depends on the wetlands for sustenance. This summer, they’ll be the nesting grounds for the ducks and geese.”
Although excavators could have dug the holes, Louie said that the demolitions were the more environmentally friendly alternative.
“The impacts environmentally are very minimal. We could’ve brought in our heavy equipment,” he said. “However, there would’ve been more risk of fuel spills from the heavy equipment versus this, where it’s just a more clean blast and it actually gives it more of a natural look.”
The lumber that was milled and the bridge surveying that was completed by the soldiers are preliminary steps that are part of a plan to build a bridge on the wetlands in the near future.
“It won’t be a full-sized bridge like the old one, but it will be big enough for an ATV to cross or on foot. This is going to make it a lot easier,” said Louie. “It discouraged a lot of our hunters if they didn’t have a little boat or a dinghy, so our people will be able to access those lands now with this foot-bridge that’s going to go across there.”
According to French, the 39 Combat Engineer Regiment has a bridge-building project scheduled in Haida Gwaii for the fall, so the bridge surveying drill on the LKB’s wetlands allowed for the soldiers to prepare for that.
“We often think of these tasks, these skills, as having a set purpose. But the versatile range in which these skills can be applied is quite staggering,” said French. “It’s the same basics applied in all kinds of different ways: technical reconnaissance, taking measurements, doing plans and designs for structures or fortifications or bridges of all kinds. These are all very important.”
Louie, a veteran who served with the 44 Engineer Squadron, said he hopes to bring LKB youth out to the wetlands once the craters are filled and the bridge is complete to strengthen their relationship with the land.
“I grew up on these lands. I loved summer because we would spend our entire summers out there. We would have our BMXs, we’d be swimming, fishing,” he said. “There were no phones or social media. We pretty much lived out there. We can’t go back in time, but I’d love for these younger people to have experiences like that as well.”
He added that he’s open to having more military exercises on LKB land in the future if the opportunity arises.
“There’s a lot of misconceptions about Canada’s military here. I’m well aware of the history of First Nations and the Canadian Forces. The one thing that stands out is what happened in Oka many years ago,” he said. “It’s a part of our history. We can try to— and should — reconcile the past, but let’s create a future like initiatives that we’re doing today.”
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