Enhanced Pool Habitats

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.

All of the willows in this photo were planted along this stream bank starting in 2014. Multiple plantings got us to where we are at in restoration results, so far. I can envision in my mind what this site will look like in a few more years.
These planted willow were on a bank stabilization planting, on an erosion site. Now they are providing cover over a deep pool habitat.

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.

Students from Glenbow Elementary plant along Bighill Creek, in Cochrane. See the results below.
This is a recent photo, four years after the student plantings at this site. It is the same area as the photo of the students, above. You can see that the willows are now growing out over the creek. In a few more years, these plants will be much easier to see from a distance.

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.

Social Networking For Creeks

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.

This unstable erosion site was planted in the start of the “Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program”, in 2014. You can see in this photo that the plants are planted in a capillary fringe, along the water’s edge, where moisture will be present during the growing process.
This is the planted site, as of this spring. You can even see the clean gravel showing thru in the bottom right hand corner of this photo.
In recent years, the willows planted along the water’s edge, will catch a large chunk of sod, before it falls into the creek. This photo was taken in 2019, during a flood event on the Bighill Creek.

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.

This is a photo from the same position, two years later.

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.

This is the hand tool that I use to create a pilot hole in the hard ground. Most often it turns out to be clay that I need to punch a hole in.

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.

What We Are Aiming For

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.

There is a nice place for trout to hide, down under the overhanging willows. Once the leaves are full on the branch, it would be too hard to see under this cover habitat.
You just know that there are trout under this dense willow canopy. Some quieter water is visible below the tangle of branches.
Our planted willows are developing into prime riparian cover habitat for wild trout that live in the streams in our area. The photo above shows some willows still submerged under higher flows, but these plants will thicken up with leaves a little later on. The willow growth on both sides of the stream channel are creating a constriction in the flow, causing a deep scouring effect for the bottom of the stream-bed.
These planted willows are now encroaching into the stream channel, which is good. The added cover and network of root systems will keep this trout stream healthy and productive. It seems like there is always garbage in the photos of creeks that I working on. Just goes to show you that these streams need some attention.
The beavers have grazed upon this planted willow. You can still see the top of the cutting, right next to where the beaver has eaten the main shaft on this plant. However, new growth springs eternal.

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.

One of our older plantings is shown over the bank, in this photo. There are two small plants from last year’s planting on top of the bank, shown in this photo. Both of these plants were planted by a Glenbow Elementary School class in May of 2019.
Michelle Courage is the teacher that headed this group of volunteer planters. They did a great job last year, and I am confident they both learned something about the riparian zone, and they enjoyed doing so. The neat thing about all of this involvement with young students, is that they can come back to the same area time after time and see how native willows and trees that they planted, grow over time.

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.

How They Start Out

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.

This is a stage two, pre-grown cutting. These size of plants are only used for the hole punch method of planting. The hole punch method is used by all of the volunteer, student and corporate group plantings.
This is what the stage two plants look like, by the fall. This is how the stage two plants head into the winter of their first season. The survivors will show new buds in the following spring. Some will even produce catkins on the second season of growth.

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.

These are stage one plants that were push planted along the water’s edge, three years earlier. The beavers have been grazing on all of these willows.
Both of these willows that we planted were grazed down to stumps, shortly after this photo was taken. However, the willows will continue to grow and come up thicker than before.

Still Underwater

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.

These two planted willows are still submerged in the high flows. They will really start to grow fast, when the water levels drop a bit.
This is the first ATCO Planting that we did in 2013. The ATCO team planted for 6 years in a row. Great folks to work with and remember. This photo was taken a year prior to the initiation of the “Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program.
Our willow plants are now growing catkins for flowering and seeding. The Salix Lutea willow is commonly called yellow willow, because of the yellow color of the flowers on the blossoming catkins. The seed dispersal from our plants will generate new growth, usually somewhere downstream. Some seeds will end up germinating near the mother plant. This is how things start to take care of themselves on their own. The not so big secret is that once you get some seed producing stock established along the water’s edge, you will soon see more natural reproduction.

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.

Flash Update

It rained last night!

The Development Of Trout Habitat

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.

The habitat for wild trout is developing along the stream banks, on planting sites where we have planted for years. It is a slow process, but you can understand some of the benefits, when you look at the shoreline cover and submerged suspended habitat, for both trout and aquatic invertebrates.
Recent high flows in West Nose Creek have flooded some of our plants, but others are high and dry. This is why it is important to plant further back from the stream bank as well. You can see in the photo, this would be a perfect place for a trout to hold, under cover.
You will often hear me mention that we are planting native willows and trees. This is an aspen that we planted a few years ago. Few trees are planted in our program annually. Once the willows create a cover crop, the poplar trees will take to the riparian zone, but this will take time. The beavers always go straight for the poplars, but if you have a good selection of willows, this will take pressure off of the tree plants.
This planted willow is recovering from a high water event. The willow limbs will slowly grow back into an upright position. The roots of this willow have a good anchorage in the stream bank. There will be plenty more cover for resident wild trout, once the willow grows a few more years. This is natural habitat for our wild trout streams, is critical in maintaining stream bank stability and fish and wildlife habitat. The willow also constrict the flow in the channel, increasing velocity and cleaning the streambed annually.

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.

These willows were planted in 2017, and in a few more years they will provide some really good cover habitat for resident trout. They will continue to be grazed upon by muskrats and beavers. They will thicken up in a few more years.

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.

You know that the beavers are desperate, when they chew a tree down to ground level. Unless the beaver was an amateur sculpture, working on a self image. Sorry, I have been spending too much time self isolating lately!

A Tree Wrapping Technique

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

The willows don’t show up that well in this photo, but there are plants that we planted, on both sides of the stream bank, on West Nose Creek. They were planted right along the water’s edge, to provide good fish habitat. The present high flows have some of the plants submerged up to the tips.

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.

These willows that we planted in 2015, are coming into their most productive habitat stage, both in channel and out. Perfect riparian habitat now growing on West Nose Creek, where there once was none.

Great Growing Weather

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.

Hard to tell, but these willows were planted along the stream banks, over the years. Now, as the new leaves start to show on the limbs, the cover will grow considerably this season. The in-stream trout habitat is harder to measure, but for anyone that has been working in this field for some time, the benefits are a no brainer.
The planted native willows, behind the cattails in this photo, are going to dominate the riparian zone in a few more years. The cattails will stay, but the willows will add some pretty important habitat for all types of animals that depend on this unique environment to survive.

The Growth Stages

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.

This is what the cuttings will look like in their second year of growth.
This willow plant is in its third year of growth. The plant has already been grazed upon by either a muskrat or beaver, during the fall of the year before. The multiple limbs are a good sign the the plant is doing well in 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.

This is the last willow plant planted on May 26th, 2020. This year’s BVRR&E Program is now completed.

Early Program Plantings

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.

Native willows were planted in 2014, on the outside bend in the stream bank, to prevent stream bank erosion. This planting has been successful, as have all of the stream bank stabilization projects that use this planting system for gaining stability and improving water quality.

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.

The three survivors on the near side of the stream bank, were from the original planting on this West Nose Creek site. Nature decides where the surviving plants will stay along the stream bank. Natural selection has a lot to do with it. These plants were from the original 2014 planting, in the BVRR&E Program.
Some of our plantings, from a few years ago.

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.