Making the Grade on Stream Sampling Techniques

Making the Grade on Stream Sampling Techniques

Pam teaching our sampling course

Tests are important. They allow us to assess progress and gauge preparedness. Some of us still remember tests from school. (And some of us, who were chronically unprepared, may not have the fondest memories of those tests.) But what’s better than the feeling you get when you pass a test with flying colours?

The Beaufort Watershed Stewards (BWS) were tested recently. Annually, we send our stream sampling data to the on-line provincial database. This year when we sent in our data, we were asked a new and somewhat surprising question: have all of our stream samplers received training from the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN)?

The RDN has been our mentor organization. We have been fortunate to have had access to some of their training. But we hadn’t realized that the RDN training was a requirement for our data being accepted by the province. A quick phone call to Ms. Rosie Barlak sorted things out. Ms. Barlak is a biologist. Specifically, she’s an Environmental Impact Assessment Biologist for the Environmental Protection Division of the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. She’s the person who helped the RDN set up their training program and she’s the person to whom we submit our data every year. And even though she’s a biologist and not an elementary school teacher, she’s the person who grades the data we submit to the province.

Not all data are equal. There are different levels of quality, or grades, of data. The equipment used for testing, its condition, how often the equipment is calibrated, the sites chosen for the sampling, the level of training for the samplers – all this and more affects the quality of the data. To be included in the provincial database data must attain a minimum standard of rigour. And a key to data quality is how well-trained the sampling teams are.

As we expanded our sampling program and increased the number of volunteer samplers, we weren’t able to send everyone to the RDN training sessions. So, we developed our own training program. Now the question is – is our training program adequate? Can the Province have confidence in our data? To answer that question, we had our training program tested.

On a cool, sunny morning in April, Ms. Barlak and a colleague joined us to audit a BWS training session for two new sampler volunteers. As our trainers held forth on the reasons for our sampling, the details of equipment calibration and best practices for successful data collection, Ms. Barlak and her colleague took notes. When we went into the field for the hands-on portion of the session, they watched and listened. We were confident in our training but, just like taking a test in school, you don’t relax until you get the results.

Thankfully, there was no surprise. We can now say with certainty that BWS has an approved training program that meets provincial data collection standards. This allows us to continue to train new volunteers without having to rely on the limited number of seats in the RDN training sessions. It feels like a milestone; another step along our path to being a mature stewardship organisation. It feels good to have made the grade.