Where the impacts of human activity have either directly or indirectly affected the natural state of fish-bearing streams, mitigation or remedial measures may be required to compensate for those negative impacts. The methodology designed to repair or enhance both riparian and fish habitat has been used to facilitate the recovery of many streams in recent years. The technology used is still being developed, especially in the area of bio-engineering plants for the enhancement of riparian zones. It is of major importance that any in-stream structures emulate the appearance of natural stream habitat. This is achieved by the use of natural materials such as boulders, timber and living plants. The used of these materials adds a special challenge to the engineering and construction of structures that will stand up to the influences of high flow events, winter ice and frost conditions. Also important is the necessity of having all of the necessary permits and permissions from government agencies that are responsible for managing our flowing waterways. In some cases, this can be a lengthy process, but it is required by law and common sense. Riparian and fish habitat enhancement programs are not only beneficial to maintaining our streams, but they also arouse interest from the general public and help educate people of all ages about the importance of our flowing waters and how we all can protect them!
Back in the late 1980’s, a project idea turned into a reality. I am talking about my first major project on the Jumpingpound Creek. The project was titled the “Jumpingpound Creek Resting Pool Habitat Project”. Fortunately for me, the regional reach biologist Bill Griffiths, got me started in the field of “Fish Habitat Enhancement”. The JP project involved the creation of resting pool habitat for spawning rainbow trout. Over a rather long stretch of the JP Creek, the channel is wide and had no pool or deep run habitat for rainbow trout moving upstream in the spring, to spawn.
Alberta Environment’s river engineer, Sheldon Lowe, was completing the design and I would take care of the rest. I worked with Sheldon for years after this first project on the Jumpingpound Creek. I Also attended a training workshop that Sheldon organized. A few years later, Sheldon published his “Fish Habitat – Typical Structures”.
The title of the project may be the JP resting pool habitat project, but let me explain this further. In the spring of the year on the JP Creek, rainbow trout are moving up the system to spawn. Over a dry period of years, the flow levels in the creek were very low and there were a number of beaver dams preventing trout from completing their migration. When the trout do move thru this long shallow stretch of the creek, during low flow, they are very vulnerable to predation. By creating some pool habitats, the trout will have a place to escape to, or rest. Thus the name “Resting Pools”.
Time past since the project was completed, and years later the Jumpingpound Creek Chapter of Trout Unlimited were conducting a willow planting program on the creek, in the area of the resting pools. At one of the resting pools, the group stopped to watch trout feeding on the surface, at one of the resting pools. Suddenly, someone made an inspirational comment about feeding the trout with grasshoppers. Also suddenly, there was a race to catch a live grasshopper to feed to the trout.
TU Chapter member Ed Johnson was the big winner, with a rather small greenish color grasshopper. Ed also happened to have hip waders on, so out he carefully walked, trying not to make too much noice. As he waded the shallow, fast moving flow, a small trout continued to feed on something in the surface film, at the tail end of the pool. If Ed placed the live grasshopper at the right spot in the flow, upstream, it would drift floating over the hungry trout.
There were multiple currents flowing upstream of the trout, and approximately 7 metres from where Ed dropped the bug. Ed was an experience fly fisher, like many of the members at that time, so he was pretty good at reading water. On Ed’s first try, a small trout nailed the drifting hopper, “like a hammer hits a nail”. The drift was perfect!
We feed the trout a few more hoppers before the fish stopped taking the hoppers. Maybe the small trout thought that something fishy was going on.
Our break was over, so we went back to planting willows.
The Jumpingpound Chapter of Trout Unlimited
The Jumpingpound Chapter of Trout Unlimited was a great local chapter and club to be involved in. When I first joined in 1992, both “Bow Valley Habitat Development” and the “JP chapter”, as we called it back then, had partnered up on project near the confluence with the Bow River, a year later we operated the fish fence and trap. The 1993 trapping program was a partnership with DA Westworth and Associates. It involved a study of spawning rainbow trout. More or less, the study was a necessary move, to prove that rainbow trout were using the JP Creek as a spawning tributary to the Bow River system.
Back then, Darrell Downs was the president of the chapter and most likely got the ball rolling to form the chapter organization. In any case, we got a lot done, surprisingly as a rather small chapter, in its first years.
The work that the JP Chapter did back in those days, brought change. Some of the change for the better involved new regulation changes, some took years to implement, but our study work played a major role in getting protection for the JP strain of rainbow trout, which the majority of the newly hatched trout ended up in the Bow River. During spring floods, many of the JP trout ended up getting flushed down into the lower Bow River. However, the JP strain has dwindled away and only a few are caught every year.
Whirling disease and Diddy Moss may have been the main culpert in the reduced numbers of rainbow trout, on our reach of the Bow River, but fishing reports indicate that the population drop happened over many years.
The stream bank stabilization project was part of the Canmore Creek program. The site in the photo above, was located on some mine tailings from coal mine # 1, in Canmore. It was a historic site, so we had to do all the work by hand. The heavy rocks were lowered into the valley bottom, using a cable trolley. This project was one of a number measures that we completed to prevent mine tailings from entering the stream channel.
The rock armouring and re-vegetation work was completed in 1998. Before the project was started, the streambed of the creek was smothered with black tailings. When the project was finished, and after a number of years, the stream channel cleaned up considerably. This was another example of a bank stabilization project that was completed using the “Head Start” planting system.
I plan on returning to the site shown above, in the near future. It would be nice to get some follow-up photos of some of the sites. This return trip to the creek would be an enjoyable experience.
First And Second Year Plants
To insure a better chance of survival, when planting on possible future erosion sites on stream banks, it is a good idea to plant a lot of plants. This is my approach to make sure that we see plenty of willows growing on the outside meanders on stream like West Nose Creek, in the city of Calgary.
Once a planted area has enough native willows and trees to support a beaver population, there won’t be as much pressure on our planted crop. In the Town of Cochrane, where I live, there is an ongoing beaver management program, on Bighill Creek. This is why the majority of photos show more rapid growth on those willow and tree plants that were planted on Bighill Creek. Due to a control of the number of beavers, our natural riparian areas are more protected. There is a big difference in growth results for our plantings, on areas of streams where beaver management exists!
We do loose second year plants every year, but there are always those plants that will survive. Once multiple limbs start growing on a willow, the chances of survival are substantially higher. Beavers don’t bother with smaller limbs, but muskrats will graze on the small twigs. However, the muskrats usually take just the tips of first year growth. Colonial colonies of certain types of willows, such as Salix Exigua or other varieties will spread out over an area of stream bank by their root systems, so these plants can withstand heavy beaver grazing.
Another nice thing about Salix Exigua is that it is a primary recruitment willow. Another name for this willow is sandbar or coyote willow. It appears on sandbars, on streams and rivers where floods create new higher ground. The sandbar will provide nitrogen to the soil, over time. This makes them earn the title of nitrogen fixer. The sandbar also is a debris catcher, which catches floating logs, and other woody debris, during high flow events. When this woody debris decomposes, it enriches the soil as well.
On rivers and streams, in areas where the gradient of flow suddenly changes to a lower percentage, you will find braided channels, similar to an alluvial fan. This is the type of river or stream channel where most sandbar willows grow.
Willows can grow very close together, so if we planted some too close, no big deal. It was nice to see that willows from last year and before are growing well, along West Nose Creek, in the City of Calgary. I checked some of the sites upstream of the city and they are doing well also. The following two photos were taken upstream of Calgary, on West Nose Creek.
I stopped planting on the areas shown above, in the two photos, a few years ago, when the County of Rockyview decided they wanted $150.00 for an access permit. This is how much it would have cost, just to walk across their property, every year. I decided to let what we had already planted suffice. The money for a permit would have come out of my own pocket, and that is not going to happen. It is a matter of principal!
Yesterday, I was surprised to find that the lower reach of West Nose Creek’s channel is open and the water is flowing. In its slow flow areas I could see lots of life, hugging the shallow stream bank. Mainly water boatman, but I did spot a few of what I thought to be midge larva. It was a nice day and great light for photography. Mainly last year’s plants were on my mind, so that is what my shots were going to focus on. But I also got a few photos of some planting sites from 2014.
The small diameter cuttings are extras that I plant every year. Due to their smaller diameter, they are not included in the total plant count. When I am collecting cuttings for planting, some of the tops are long enough to plant, so I grow them and plant them. Why waste good growing stock! They are a little more difficult to plant, but they do very well. What a beautiful day for being out of the house and along a creek that you love!
My first attempt at growing and planting willows and poplars involved smaller diameter cuttings that had been growing for a few months. The addition small diameter cuttings, under 1/4 inch in diameter, makes the planting system that much more efficient and productive. The more plants, the more survivors, after planting. Come planting time, I always include approximately 10 to 16 small diameter cuttings in the bundles of 100 normal size cuttings. So the total per bundle is substantially higher than the recorded and documented count.
The key to success in this planting system is quantity! There must be many thousands of plants planted to witness quantitative results over the years. The more the merrier! This year’s crop may be smaller than in previous years, but it is still in the thousands that will be planted.
My collection of old photos sometimes captures my attention, and I will get mesmerized by old slide photos that hold a lot of great memories. While browsing thru photos, you can cash in on reviving thoughts of an experience from the past that has had a real influence on your own coarse in life. Exploring old photo files on my computer often reveals something that I find of interest and I expect some of my readers will too.
The Canmore Creek Project is like a “blast from the past” musical tune that you would hear on a radio or on TV. It brings back a lot of good memories and fortunately I took plenty of photos to document our progress back then.
It was determined that a log wall, with vegetation consisting of native willows and trees at the base of the slope, would be the most cost effective approach. An old beaver dam would then be removed to allow the stream’s flow to flush out the streambed. There was a considerable amount of tailings that had smothered the streambed, over the years.
The entire stream restoration and enhancement of Canmore Creek also contributed to the cleaner streambed on the creek today. A crew of 7 hard working men and women, helped to achieve this goal of a successful project’s completion, over a four year program.
With six years of planting completed, in the “Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program”, it is rewarding to walk the stream banks on areas of the three streams that we plant on and see the difference. Willows and trees that we planted on that first year, in 2004, are now growing to significant height and thickness, to transform the landscape. You may see my tracks in the snow, from my visits to the planting sites. Thoughts of how I can both improve on the program and also identify some areas to plant in the spring of 2020. Most of this has already been figured out.
This year will definitely be a great one for doing some photography of the many sections of stream banks that have been planted, now that the native indigenous willow and trees are large enough to show results. Videos will also be in the program for this spring and summer. It is my enjoyment to share both follow up photos and video of the results of our planting program, over the years.
The days are now getting warmer, so there is hope for a normal thaw this spring, probably starting in early April. All it takes is a warm spell that lasts a week or two. This year will be a good one, for getting back into gardening. I am clearing off all of the junk that is presently covering my old garden, so this should be entirely completed by the time to dig is upon us. I am preparing for the “long haul”!
A few posts ago, I showed some before and after photos of Millennium Creek. Due to popular demand, I decided to publish a few more. Nowadays, I seem to have plenty of time on my hands, staying close to home like everyone else. This provides an opportunity to go thru some old photos and spend some more time adding on my blog posts. It is a good time to have some indoor hobbies to while away the hours of isolation, during this present situation.
It is amazing to see how well the entire restoration program has developed over the past 17 years! There is now a healthy stream channel flowing thru a pristine riparian environment. On the particular area of the creek, shown above, an old pipeline from the old water treatment plant was installed across the creek, creating a damming effect on the lower reach. The grading was never restored to its previous gradient, but we took care of that when we restored the stream. Now things are much better!
COVID-19 Will Change Planting Program For This Spring
The way things look right now, I suspect that volunteer groups will not be part of the program this year. However, not to worry, the plantings will be carried out by me personally this year, this is a guarantee! It is just too close to May to expect that this pandemic will be over by the time the frost leaves the ground. I have still not contacted those that have already made a commitment yet, but this may happen soon. It is all dependent on how the crisis unfolds this spring. Group plantings are part of the program, but everyone’s health and well being is the priority right now.
There are over 2,400 native willows and trees growing right now, and when they are ready to go into the ground, the job will be completed!
The lower reach of the Bighill Creek has sections that rarely freeze, if the flow in the channel is large enough in volume. Some storm drain inflows from urban areas, have spring water also flowing in them. This adds warmer water into the creek and helps keep it free of ice in the winter. One such storm drain inflow is located close to the Lions rodeo grounds, and the baseball diamond. It adds a bit of warmer water, but the main influence is downstream. Downstream of this inflow, the channel is often open in the winter, mainly because there are ground water springs coming out of the ground, in the stream channel.
Recently, I was inspecting some planted sites along Bighill Creek, Bow Valley Habitat Development, Partners and Volunteers, planted at this site, over a number of years ago. We are also continuing to plant at these sites. The willow crop is looking great and I even noticed a birds nest in one of our plants.
The 2020 hatched trout on Millennium Creek are getting fat and growing fast. For me, it is a good excuse to get outdoors and enjoy the day and some of my secret haunts, while taking some photos. A crystal clean spring creek is the perfect place to sneak into position, hunker down and watch the small world of baby trout, hoping to find one. After minutes of waiting, a peripheral glimpse of movement draws my focus. Then slow movements to get my camera in place for a shot or some video. Maybe both, if the shooting is good.
The flow in Millennium Creek is now dropping in volume, after a long winter of good flow, this should be expected. Soon the frost will leave the ground and new snow melt and spring rains will replenish the ground water flows. There is enough flow to help get these young trout off to a good start, however.
With April only a few weeks away now, it is time to start thinking about the spring plantings. It is still hard to say for sure, at this point in time, but the frost may be a little late coming out of the ground, along the streams this year! This could delay the planned events, but other than this, late thaws are known to happen in some years. I suspect a one week or possibly two week delay from our start date, last year. April will be the true test as to whether we are in for a late spring thaw. If we get some real warm weather, with some rain, there will be no delays.
I haven’t talked about the current COVID-19 yet, but it is time to mention something. Shopping for groceries lately, has “driven home” the seriousness of this present situation. My own personal habits are being modified to meet this threat. I hope that all of my readers are also taking all of the necessary measures to stay safe and help meet the challenge. “To err on the side of caution”, is a response often considered by someone who is wise!
It is hard to realize that it has been 12 years since we completed the Millennium Creek Restoration Program, finished in 2008. Yesterday, I was sorting thru some old pictures of the creek, before the restoration work began. The photo below shows what the creek looked like, before we cut a new stream channel, narrowing the old one by a factor of approximately 3, over the entire length of the stream.
Every year, trout spawn in this tributary to the Bighill Creek. The newly hatched trout regenerate the populations in the BH Creek, annually. The most important thing to do now, is too protect the stream. It is an environmentally sensitive gem, in the hear of the Town of Cochrane.