Elizabeth Lake is rich in biodiversity. For example, 168 species of birds were seen here making it the most popular “hot spot” for bird watchers according to eBird Canada in 2021. An immature bald eagle watches as mallards, coots and a trumpeter swan enjoy the limited open water available as the lake froze over in November, 2020. Stewart Wilson photo

Elizabeth Lake is rich in biodiversity. For example, 168 species of birds were seen here making it the most popular “hot spot” for bird watchers according to eBird Canada in 2021. An immature bald eagle watches as mallards, coots and a trumpeter swan enjoy the limited open water available as the lake froze over in November, 2020. Stewart Wilson photo

The remarkable wetland that is Elizabeth Lake

World Wetlands Day is celebrated on February 2; to recognize the importance of wetlands to the planet

Stewart Wilson

Although the Columbia (River) Wetlands, which are the largest intact wetland ecosystem in North America, are recognized as a RAMSAR Wetland of International Importance, Cranbrook’s Elizabeth Lake is another wetland area regarded as important by those who enjoy observing nature and value biodiversity.

Elizabeth Lake is the top birding spot in the whole of the East Kootenay, with 168 species being observed there according to eBird Canada in 2021.

It is also home to the western painted turtle, which is a species at risk, and the Dione Copper butterfly which is the largest copper butterfly in North America and another species at risk.

You may wonder why Elizabeth Lake is so rich in biodiversity for such a small wetland? One of the reasons is that it provides animals from dragonflies to trumpeter swans with water, food and shelter.

Wetlands like Elizabeth Lake are also valued because they help reduce the risk of flooding, and have the capacity to store water, which is proving to be more critical to wildlife and humans during prolonged periods of drought such as we have experienced in recent years, one of the effects of climate change.

Elizabeth Lake also helps to filter waste such as nutrients used for fertilizing lawns as well as chemicals or oil pollution found on roads. These may be discharged into streams, rivers and waterways like wetlands from storm sewers after precipitation.

Turtle Day at Elizabeth Lake is usually held at the end of April/beginning of May. It is an initiative of the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program offering school groups an opportunity to learn about the western painted turtle from volunteer members of the Rocky Mountain Naturalists. Stewart Wilson photo

Pictured: Turtle Day at Elizabeth Lake is usually held at the end of April/beginning of May. It is an initiative of the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program offering school groups an opportunity to learn about the western painted turtle from volunteer members of the Rocky Mountain Naturalists. Stewart Wilson photo

In her presentation about Restoring Our Historic Relationship with Nature, the first of a three-part lecture series sponsored by the Cranbrook History Centre, Nasuʔkin Sophie Pierre (former Chief of the Aq’am Band), talked about how the Ktunaxa people’s relationship with nature goes back thousands of years. She stressed how the most important value passed on to her people from the Creator is to respect all living things. She also spoke of the need for us to get our feet back on the ground and get out there.

Pierre’s words should act as an inspiration to all of us who care about the daily threats that our modern way of life poses for nature and the environment. If we are to ensure that local wetlands like Elizabeth Lake continue to provide all living things including animals and humans with the advantages that a healthy, functioning wetland can supply, it is our responsibility to take action. World Wetland Day is a timely reminder that such places as wetlands need to be valued, protected and maintained so that our children, grandchildren, and future generations can enjoy the many benefits they offer.

Thanks to the efforts of volunteer members of the Rocky Mountain Naturalists the western painted turtle monitoring program helps to protect this species at risk. Stewart Wilson photo

Pictured: Thanks to the efforts of volunteer members of the Rocky Mountain Naturalists the western painted turtle monitoring program helps to protect this species at risk. Stewart Wilson photo