Trout Stream Restoration by enhancement of riparian zone and natural in-stream habitat
Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program
Starting in 2014, the “Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program” was off to a good first year. The program objective was to restore riparian habitat to three local streams that were in need of some attention. Those streams are Bighill Creek, West Nose Creek and Nose Creek. All of the above are tributaries that flow into the Bow River. By the end of the year 2019, a total of 71,914 native willow and tree plants have been planted in the program. All of the planting is carried out by volunteers.
Willow planting is a great way to restore over head cover habitat and in-channel fish habitat and stream bank stability. The end result will be more fish and cleaner flowing water, thanks to a huge reduction in silt loading from unstable stream banks with soil and clay entering the creek channel annually. A stable network of roots helps to hold the soil together and the buffer of willow growth along a creek also filters much of the ground surface run-off, before it enters the creek. It has been proven that woody growth along streams will also enhance trout spawning habitats over time. The submerged woody debris and live limbs from willows, helps to collect and enhance spawning gravel in riffle areas, where trout will spawn.
The willow and tree plants that are grown from native stock cuttings, which are small at first, but over time they will grow and produce the obvious benefits of a riparian habitat, in years to come. In the first few years after planting, the new willows will start to cast seed and promote new native growth from seeds that are dispersed in the area and downstream. The growth is exponential.
Stream Bank Stabilization Sites
The most obvious planting success stories are the stream bank erosion sites that have been planted with primarily willow plants. These sites also reap the largest benefits that are quite apparent after only a few years. In some cases, what were once terrible eroding stream banks, where tonnes of clay and soil slide into the creek every year, are now stabilizing slopes with a buffer of green growth, along the water’s edge.
One of the truly biggest rewards a planter can get, apart from the satisfaction of doing something beneficial to the streams ecology, is watching the plants grow over the years. There is a slow transformation that is taking place and you can witness it first hand. I like using before and after photo to demonstrate the positive change that is occurring. But sometimes just a photo of new growth will heighten our enthusiasm and help keep the program going.