Nicole Bach (Environmental Assessment and Restoration ’99) respected the outdoors as a southern Alberta kid. Now she knows how to separate the cows from the fish. Here’s her story.
Growing up in Lethbridge so close to the mountains brought out a real love of being outdoors. I had a strong love of biology and chemistry; I didn’t know what I wanted to do with either, but I knew I needed a technical learning atmosphere.
Fishing on the Oldman in the foothills with a group of friends one year, I can recall the water level so high we couldn’t wade easily. It became more like a swimming hole to us that year. A few years later we returned to the same spot and couldn’t believe the change of the water level; it was exponentially lower than our previous visit. The questions started flying around in my head: why the fluctuations? How can we keep the water from one year to the next? What caused this drastic change? Is there a field in which I can study this?
That brought me to the Environmental Assessment and Restoration program at Lethbridge College. It was such a natural fit, with approachable instructors, a busy workload, frequent field trips studying what we’d learned, and a close and supportive group of students. It opened doors to a career I could love.
Within two weeks of graduating I was hired by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration.
My recently gained knowledge all came to life; I was hired as a soil technician and was the assistant to the district soil conservationist. My work focused on the permanent cover program, water quality testing, using ArcView for pasture management, surveying for excavation of dugouts and networking with others in this field. Soon I was introduced to people who work with a program we had studied in school. Their calling card is “Cows and Fish,” the nickname of the Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society. It was somewhere I could make a difference.
Cows and Fish is a voluntary stewardship group that increases knowledge through ecological awareness of the watershed we live in and its riparian areas. It’s about creating relationships between landowners, agencies, neighbours and communities to create a better understanding of our land uses for both the rural and urban audiences.
In the beginning, my primary role was collecting riparian inventory data working on the field crew. Packing enough food for a week in a cooler, long work days and many weeks living in a tent on Alberta’s creeks and rivers were truly satisfying. I got to meet so many wonderful people from all parts of the agriculture world that shared in my enthusiasm and love of the landscape, and also those whose opinions differed greatly from mine.
It wasn’t always sunshine and fun, a lot of controversial topics come up with those who make their livelihoods off this land and dealing with the nuisance of beavers and floods is no walk in the park. But if anything, helping others who want to understand how these riparian areas function differently from their uplands can be such a big part in the evolutional way of thinking. These riparian areas, if healthy, can improve water quality by trapping sediment, which reduces erosion, storing water for those years of drought. They can provide healthy livestock, clean drinking water and wildlife habitat.
Proudly, I am celebrating my 10th year with Cows and Fish. I’m thankful for the education and knowledge I have received through Lethbridge College. It gave me the appropriate tools to make this career an incredibly rewarding one.
For more information, visit cowsandfish.org