Leave the land better than you found it: that’s a motto to live by for Terry Halleran and his wife, Michele. Together they restored nearly eight hectares of natural wetlands, protecting all manner of species.

“It’s not often that you walk onto a project where you’re enhancing habitat for everything from Western toadlets all the way to a thousand-pound grizzly bear.”

– Terry Halleran

Terry and Michele live in Meadow Creek, British Columbia, where the 40-hectare Halleran property dates back generations, to Terry’s grandfather in the 1920’s. It is also home to a wide variety of wetland species, including five-centimetre Pacific chorus frogs to 450-kilogram grizzly bears. Together they form a very unique ecological community, but before the restoration, many of these species were struggling to make a living.

Grizzly bears use the Halleran wetlands to raise their cubs. (Photo credit: Michele Halleran)

Although the property is considered wetlands, the water table was low. This meant that the soil tended to dry up quickly, killing juvenile amphibians like the Pacific chorus frog and the Western toadlet. Meanwhile, the grizzly bears, which appear in the spring with their cubs, suffered from the lack of coverage and passersby harassing them from the nearby road.

Terry and Michele decided to “uplift” the habitat with an ambitious restoration. With the help of the BC Wildlife Federation and a handful of other environmental organizations, they received federal funding to begin the project. This is an excellent example of private land stewardship: the management of private land that enhances the diversity and health of natural ecosystems.

In 2015, they added five ponds, collectively covering two and a half hectares, allowing the amphibians a place to mature in safety. The ground from the pond dig was used to raise the land and plant new trees, providing the grizzly bears with coverage to rear their young away from prying eyes.

A western toad swims through the restored wetlands of Meadow Creek, BC.

But this ambitious restoration came up against its own challenges in the form of invasive weeds and disgruntled neighbors. Even Michele and Terry had their doubts, watching as excavators overturned pristine meadows. However, their trepidations eased as they watched the land become its own “biological engine.” In 2016, they expanded the project, bringing the total amount of restored land up to eight hectares.

Terry explains that anybody can embark on “backyard wildlife conservation,” even on a small scale. It can be as simple as putting in native plants, which then attract other indigenous species. The important part is becoming invested, taking part, and learning that even the smallest species play an important role in maintaining ecosystems.

This coming August, they plan to expand the restoration by creating nesting habitat for painted turtles. This private wetland is thriving more with every year, but it will be decades before it reaches maximum productivity. Terry and Michele’s work will continue to enrich the natural world, becoming a true ecological legacy.

Hungry for more stories about wetlands for this year’s World Wetland Day (February 2)? Check out the full  story on Ocean.org.

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