Wayne Salewski. Photo courtesy Earth Day Canada.

For Wayne Salewski, it all started with rainbow trout, or a lack thereof. “I would watch my son stand on the banks of the Nechako River and cast a rod for hours and catch only trash fish. There were no rainbow trout because the river was unhealthy.” Salewski promised himself that when he retired, he would work to rehabilitate the Nechako and bring back the fish.

Five years post-retirement, Salewski volunteers full time promoting stewardship in and around Vanderhoof, BC, in places such as Murray and Stoney Creeks, as well as more broadly in the Nechako River watershed. Salewski’s passion and dedication led to him being named a 2014 Earth Day Hometown Hero, an award well deserved.

Becoming a Hometown Hero, and the recognition that comes with it, has meant a lot to Salewski. The award validates the work he and his partners are doing and confirms the success they have achieved to date. The award also includes a $10,000 prize to donate to a project, for which Salewski has chosen the Redmond Flats Wetland Project: a 36.5-hectare educational wetland managed by the Vanderhoof Fish and Game Club. The Earth Day award will help the Fish and Game Club leverage additional funding to complete its work on the wetland.

The Redmond Flats Wetland Project includes a number of components, such as improved fencing to protect the wetland from cattle, the installation of walking trails and bridged water crossings. The project also includes a strong educational component. Hundreds of students from School District 91 have already toured the wetland and taken part in conservation work they would never otherwise be exposed to. Reaching out to the next generation is important to Salewski, who is also working to develop curriculum on the Nechako White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative, which will bring students to the newly built sturgeon hatchery. All of this work will help kids learn stewardship as they work towards a healthy environment for all.

One important aspect of the Redmond Flats Wetland Project is finding synergy between farming and stewardship. “We are demonstrating that you can be a successful business and be environmentally conscious.” Most farmers have cautiously embraced their roles as stewards, even if it is not always simple to translate these values into new management strategies. Fortunately, the farmers have come a long way, with a supportive local ranching family even winning the 2014 Environmental Stewardship Award from the BC Cattlemen’s Association.

In the work Salewski does, maintaining relationships is fundamental. “You need to demonstrate your sincerity as an organization; that you’re not costing others their livelihood with your vision.  So you build a lot of partnerships and bring people on whether they want to be or not.” Salewski works closely with many partners, including the University of Northern British Columbia, the Fraser Basin Council, School District 91, the Nechako Alliance, the district of Vanderhoof, the city of Prince George, Northern Health, and local farmers and ranchers.

In collaboration with his partners, Salewski is starting to scale up his activities. What began as rehabilitating individual streams and wetlands has now grown into developing a management and stewardship plan for the entire Nechako watershed, all the way from Fort St. James down to Vanderhoof and Prince George. These may be new waters for Salewski, but he is up for the challenge.

Looking ahead, Salewski still sees much work to be done, including fulfilling his initial promise to bring rainbow trout back to the Nechako and its streams and rivers. “When I first started this, I thought we would be producing trout by year three. It takes a long time. In six to seven years of repairing Murray Creek, we’ve brought Chinook fry 8-10 km upstream, but it isn’t healthy yet.  It has a long way to go, but we are incrementally making successes.” There will be trout at the end of this rainbow. Wayne Salewski, we salute you!  

Kyrke Gaudreau is the Sustainability Manager at the University of Northern British Columbia. Dr. Gaudreau completed his PhD in social and ecological sustainability at the University of Waterloo where his research focused on the sustainability assessment of energy systems. He has consulted on various strategic and environmental assessments of energy systems in Canada, and has researched and written about energy systems sustainability in several different countries. 

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