I am Director of Bow Valley Habitat Development, based in the Town of Cochrane, Alberta, Canada. I love to fly fish and it is this past time that prompted me to get involved in the field of riparian and fish habitat enhancement. I have been working in this pursuit for over 50 years!
There is no doubt about it, willow or tree cover, surrounding a pool habitat, is the best type of trout habitat that you can add to a pool, by planting along the water’s edge. You are pushing in the plant cutting, so no disturbance to stream bank stability is done. The plant will take a few years to reach a relatively good level of stability, with its root systems, but the benefits will start to become quite apparent.
Knowing that we planted these willows as part of the BVRR&E Program, makes us probably the few that do know and can appreciate. It is the results that provide the real reward here. If it looks like it is natural, we can consider the riparian planting program a success.
The student plantings are always followed by additional planting to insure that there is some success on a particular planting site. On the left side of the stream bank, in the photo above, there is already good riparian growth, so it was a perfect site to show the difference between both stream banks, to the students and teachers involved in the first planting.
In recent years, on West Nose Creek in Calgary, there appears to be a growing interest in the stream, which runs thru the few communities along its course. I believe much of this has to do with social networking, focusing on the creek. So basically, the more the name “West Nose Creek” comes up in conversation or online, the more interest can build in the creek. This will result in more friends available to take care of the stream. A good example is the Facebook group “Friends of Nose Creek”, which helped out with a planting on the creek, the year before last. Besides helping to plant native willows and trees, the group also conducted some clean-ups on both Nose and West Nose Creeks.
Other community groups are also involved, by planning clean-ups along the West Nose Creek. My personal observations are that the creek appears a lot cleaner than it was a few years ago. One thing about doing a lot of planting along streams in cities and towns, is that you meet folks that are keen on what you are doing and often involved in some form or fashion, in taking care of the local stream. Thanks to Trout Unlimited Canada, other people that share an interest in the West Nose Creek, can join in on some survey work and educational events aimed at getting people more knowledgeable in the life surrounding riparian zones and below the surface of the stream.
I have always thought that communicating your point of view and showing folks that you can make a difference, helps stir up the pot and get more involved too. In the Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program, it was also important to keep those volunteers that chipped in, informed of how progress is unfolding and also see a few photos of some results.
Erosion Site Rehab
Some of the most challenging erosion sites are the ones that have highly unstable slopes. There are critical times when one should not plant on such sites. The experience and knowledge of the potential hazards is a must for this type of project planting.
The eroding slope shown in the photo above is just one of many planted erosion sites that will go thru slope adjustments into the future, until the entire stream bank is stabilized, but it will happen. A bad time for unstable stream banks is when the frost comes out of the ground, the ground is saturated with water and any step exposed, unstable slopes will collapse. This is not a time to be near these steep slopes, when planting. My choice is to plant during rain,post flood or frost thawing periods. It seems to work alright, from the results I have documented.
There is no doubt that this type of riparian stream bank restoration work is effective, over time. It may require multiple plantings over a few years, but the results will come eventually and the costs are very minimal. I do all of the planting along the toe of an erosion slope, so there is plenty of experience to back up my claim. An erosion slope can be planted very quickly, and with caution. The stage one grown cuttings are simply pushed into the clay or soil mix, at the base or toe of the stream bank. Sometimes, a hand held hoe punch tool is used to pilot a hole for the plant.
The planted cuttings will also re-enforce the toe of an eroding stream bank, so this will help the plants to get started, with some root systems to help hold the soil or clay together. The results does take time, but over the years, the transformation is well underway.
At some point in time, in the future, I will summarize these project sites in a report for the many partners that were involved in funding for the “Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program. In the mean time, I will be happy to keep you all informed of how things develop.
In recent posts, I have shown you some examples of our plantings, some of which are excellent trout habitat. It may be hard for some to visualize what good trout habitat looks like, but you can take my word for it that what we are creating is excellent trout habitat. Any willows that are hanging above the surface of the water or plunging below the surface, is considered good trout habitat.
The willow shown above is showing new shoots and leaves already. The willow will grow thicker in this next stage of growth. The more branches, the better. I am also hoping that the plant will sucker further away from the stream bank. Some of our planted willows can really take a beating, if they are growing on the outside bend in stream bank. The force of a flood and floating log was probably what took out the limb on the left side of the plant. the dead limb was part of the original cutting and when it was broken at the base, the new limb started. So basically this photo tells a story of what the plant has been through.
The survival of the pre-grown cuttings that we plant is sometimes dependant on numerous variables that can happen over time. Rodents and natural events, like floods are on the list. This is just the way nature works to thin out the weaker plants and let some of the heartier plants make it to maturity. The rodent damage is just bad luck, or an over abundance of those that feed on willows and trees. In other words, the planting we do to restore riparian zone growth takes many years of planting. Lots of plants need to go into the ground every year, until the job is done. This is how you get results. Keep building the seed crop and natural recovery will also spring into action.
I have planted with Glenbow Elementary in the past and always enjoyed working with the kids. The high level of enthusiasm was very contagious and enjoyable to be around. The completion of the project of planting native willows and trees was of major interest to the planters as well.
The planting method for the Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program uses plants that are grown from cuttings. They start out as a clean shaft with no branches and the buds or bud nodes are in the early stage of development. This is because they are collected in the late winter. From this point on, the growing process begins. In the spring, when the frost is finally out of the ground, the pre-grown cuttings are ready for planting. They will have developed roots and leaves and greening buds by the time they are ready to go into the ground, along the stream banks.
The cuttings come in two different options, a stage one and stage two plant. The stage one have early root and leaf development, and the stage two is more advanced. So this time around, we can talk about the stage two plants.
Presently, I am working on a paper introducing the collection, growth and planting of stage one and stage two plants. I have done some advanced research into the interest in my planting program and it seems there is plenty. The paper should be ready for publication by the winter, maybe the new year.
It amazes me how much flow we have in our local streams right now. Most of our plantings are near or under the water right now, with stream banks full of spring water. The abundance of water in our trout streams is always well accepted by local fly fishers and those that enjoy seeing nature thrive. Below the surface of flow lives a complex cycle of life, from invertebrates to fish, these living things will all benefit from this year’s run-off. Just watching everything grow in the spring is uplifting for folks that spend time outdoors. There are lots of people outdoors these days, with the present day reduction in travel abroad and the stay at home restrictions for many.
Right now there are a lot of our plants growing with just the tops above water. When the water levels drop in the creeks, the willows will have a chance to recover. The tops of the submerged willows are like a salad bar snack for traveling beavers and muskrats. The plants will grow larger and thicker over time, hopefully with some of them suckering further back from the water’s edge.
Some varieties of Salix willow produce seeds early in the spring and some in the later part. In the shaded, north facing valley bottoms, everything gets a start, later in the spring. Exposed areas thaw out faster and the growing season starts earlier. This is beneficial to those animals that depend on a harvest of sweet nectar from the flowing catkins. I do know that bees feed heavily on the catkins of willows in the early spring. It is a good thing too, when you know that the willows are in pollination.
Right now, the water is still a little discolored and I know that most of the extra flow in the streams is from unconfined aquifers, so this flow will continue for some time. I am still looking forward to when the clarity of the water improves enough to reveal the clean gravel and cobble from our spring run-off. We had a really early first flush on Bighill Creek, just as the ice was disappearing from the channel. Just after that is when the water cleared up enough to see the clean gravel underneath. Now that our stream bank stabilization sites are planted and stabilizing the slopes, there is less soil and clay entering the stream channel annually. These are the first big results of our riparian planting program.
Every year I am personally seeing the improvements on the creeks, both in habitat and stream bank stability. To have all of this work completed on a volunteer basis is very encouraging. Future planting programs have so much to offer, I hope that those interested in this type of approach to habitat creation, can make a good argument and continue with planting programs. I know that the parks people that I have dealt with over the years have seen the results too, and this should help.
3,300 More Plants This Spring
Despite a pandemic and tough times this spring, I did manage to get all 3,300 plants into the ground this May. This completed the seventh year of our riparian planting program. This year, BVHD stepped up and was responsible for another good crop of 900 plants to add to the total plants planted. There were excellent planting conditions this May, but the recent lack of rain has a little worried. An afternoon rain or good shower will take care of my concerns, but this has not happened yet. There are always worries when another crop is planted each year, just like the sod busters that took their chances on our prairie lands, as pioneers.
The first signs of significant trout habitat, as a result of our plantings over the years, are now taking shape and easily identified. This was always the primary goal and now to see the development of new trout habitat, it feels really great. We have not imposed on the streams that we plant on, because all of the willows and trees are native, grown from the same watershed, by the use of pre-grown cuttings. The plant crop looks like those plants found on any other natural trout stream, if left to their own, they can grow without damage from livestock or development by the hand of man.
Usually on spring creeks, the dense shoreline growth will speed up the flow in the creek, and help scour deeper pools, runs and riffles. It creates an annual flush for the system. The invertebrate populations increase in number and so do all of the different fish that live in the stream. Even coarse fish live suckers and minnows play an import roll in the health of some trout streams. Brown trout and brook trout are predator trout, so they thrive on a good population of forage fish. It appears that some balance is created on some trout streams, with every living thing playing an important roll in the stream’s ecosystem.
It Takes Many Years
Recovery planting on streams that are barren of native willows and trees is not an easy task. It takes many years of planting and thousands of plants to make a difference. I have heard many people comment that willows grow like weeds along creeks, well, not in this part of the country, they don’t! This is why I developed this system of planting pre-grown cuttings. It took me a while to finally figure it out, saturation planting, annually, is the only way to get things started. If you want to speed up the process, design an effective beaver management program, to take pressure off of your new and existing willows and trees.
However, I knew right from the get go, it was plant, and let both nature and park management do things their way. Which may have resulted in some spraying of herbicide that killed some plants, or lots of starving beavers that were desperate to eat anything that is available. Desperate beavers will take just about anything and chew it off at ground level. This does not happen in a natural environment, the beavers simply move on. In the city or towns, they may not have any place to go, once their own territory is eaten barren.
Yesterday, I added a page title on tree wrapping, which you can find in the main menu at the top of the page. Check it out. The method uses slip wire loops to allow the tree to grow as the wire mesh expands. It is proven and works great.
More photos of past plantings
I know for a fact that the plants we planted on West Nose Creek will be heavily grazed upon as they slowly grow. The beaver and muskrat populations are just too high for a recovering riparian zone, so the beavers are on the verge of starvation for much of the time. This is what you have to deal with when planting on property that is managed in a different manor than what you would do.
The Bighill Creek will still show the greatest rewards of growth into the next decade. The town of Cochrane and property owners along the creek, have managed beavers for many years now. The property owner deserve most of the credit, because they have inspired the town to trap beavers to keep their numbers in balance on the stream.
Landowners don’t like to see their pasture land flooded, with constant vigilance being part of their lively hood. We are especially lucky to have one particular land owner that has considerable respect for native grasses and riparian cover along the creek. His family has had this respect for many years now and I truly believe that this tradition will continue, as long as they own the land. I would far rather have the well established owners of the land on the area creeks stay in that position. Developers tend to not have the same interest in the well being of a trout stream, except to use that information for the promotion of sales.
The heavy rain we received recently really got things underway on our plantings for this spring. The high flows have flooded some plants, but this will only be temporary and things will get back to normal. The thick plantings of willows are growing far enough along that they are establishing great habitat where they have taken, along some local streams. The water is a little discolored yet, so the streams are still flowing dirty, but another week of this and we will see the clean gravel bottom on streams like the Bighill Creek. West Nose Creek in Calgary will also shows some cleaner gravel in places, but this stream still has a long way to go in recovery.
Nose Creek, is another story. It will only improve over time, if the riparian plantings continue, but we are setting a course that will benefit the creek in the future. The City of Airdrie also has a major stream banks stabilization site in the works and I will be reporting on this in the near future. Every little bit helps, even if it will cost a lot of money to get this project completed. Preventative medicine is always the best approach to any streams that need some special attention.
You may be interested in knowing what the plants that are grown from cuttings look like, after a few years of growth. This is sometimes hard to show, because beavers will often snack on our plants when they are into the third year of growth and sometimes earlier. This however, does not kill the plant, unless the plant is bitten off too close to the ground for new buds to start new growth.
You have seen plenty of photos of what the willows and trees can grow into, after 5 or 6 years, but this will only get better, as the older plants start to dominate the landscape. The first few years, the grass around the plants gets so high during the growing season, you sometimes have to search the tall cover for our plantings. This is something I will continue to monitor and report on, over the years. The evidence of our planting results is important for the program and future projects by whom ever.
Presently, I am working on a paper that will be published later on, when the manual and video are completed. This will be very popular for those interested in this type of growing and planting program.
The Big News
As of May 26th, the final plant for the 2020 spring planting program is now in the ground. The Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program has now completed its 7th year. This years crop consisted of 3,300 plants and now the overall total for the past 7 years of planting is 75,214 native willows and trees planted.
The plantings completed in the early years of the Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program are growing nicely. The trout habitat benefits are really great, with lots of new habitat and this means more trout. The suspended invertebrate habitat has been increased as well, meaning more food for trout. When branches of willows become partially submerged, the habitat of wet branches is quickly inhabited by clinging mayflies, caddis and midge larva are among the many different aquatic insects that utilize woody cover habitat.
Live, growing plants, which were grown from cuttings, are pushed into the stream bank. This method of planting native stock, which was collected and grown as cuttings, does not disturb the stream bank in any way. On the other hand, shoveling, to plant, is very destabilizing to the stream bank. This non damaging planting system is fast and the initial survival rates are very high, but then nature takes its toll, as is the case with any size or type of planting that is carried out on a stream. However, persistence pays and over time, a new crop of native plants is established along the stream banks.
I have noted that the constriction in flow, created by native willows growing into the stream channel, helps clean out the bottom of the stream bed. This year it is looking exceptionally clean and I can hardly wait to see what the stream bottom looks like, after this springs run-off season has ended. The volume of flow appears to be really good for this little creek. I have witness some pretty dry years, especially back in the 1980’s.
Some people may not know that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada is a major partner in the Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program. The requirements of having a detailed plan of what you are planning and what are your goals is of primary importance. A big part of my own goals were those directed towards fish habitat enhancement. This has always been the driving force behind this whole program. DFO agreed with me on this ambition, so that set the stage for what was to follow. This is the seventh year of the program and I will be planning another season of planting for next year.
Millennium Creek Should Be Protected By The Town of Cochrane
The amount of interest in the town of Cochrane’s protection of a unique and valuable natural asset, Millennium Creek, is waning. The lower end, near where the town developed the park along the river, the creek is in pathetic condition and it has been that way for a very long time. Considering that the Town of Cochrane taxpayers contributed to the restoration of the creek, it should be considered high on the list of priorities. The town’s environmental record is starting to go dim as well.
Having a wild trout spawning tributary within the town’s boundaries is an incredible thing for a small community to have and cherish, but first we have to protect it.