Stream Keepers: Febraury

Rain, we finally had some, seems like it is odd to herald the coming of rain unless in the middle of a drought but rain and more rain is what we need for the streams. If you go walking in the hills you will notice that most wetlands are more on the low side as opposed to overflowing which is the norm for January. Low rain events over the winter combined with low snowfalls does little for the re-charge of our watersheds. The rain has little chance to soak into the ground with the surface dry most water runs off towards the nearest stream or wetland without soaking into the ground and eventually re-charging the aquifers beneath.

Somewhere out there is an equation to calculate how long it takes water [rain] that has soaked into the ground to reach the aquifers and eventually discharge through wetlands, springs and evaporation. [It takes a long time] As we know forests can create their own weather and rain events from the evaporation given off by the trees, if you look towards the mountains during one of those now rare wet periods you can see moisture flowing out of the trees like wisps of cloud rising from the forest. Lately the only weather we have seen created by the trees is from all the fog we have been getting as the fog condenses among the needles creating rain beneath. This does bode well for the trees but does not give enough to recharge the wetland and aquifers; we need lots of rain for that.

Planting trees is one of the most rewarding and helpful experiences the volunteer’s do outside of salvaging fry. To plant a tree gives the volunteers a sense of ownership and pride when that tree eventually pokes its top above the shrubbery and starts it journey to become a mature tree, hopefully many hundreds of years old before it falls to continue its cycle of life and death unhampered by man’s need to cut them down. That is the nice thing about the estuary that being a nature preserve we have great expectations that any tree that survives the Deer browse, the Beavers lunch, Voles or Mice chewing them to feed on the bark and any other natural misfortune they may experience we will see them reaching for the sky. This also holds true to a certain degree for any tree planted by the side of any stream but the sad thing is that around human habitation trees tend to get cut down either for a view or paranoia that they may fall on the house.

Many years ago we had a tree that was around 100+ years old growing beside the road when the neighbour said he was going to cut it down as he stated he did not trust it, I replied ‘Trust it, how can you not trust a tree, it is not going anywhere and is not going to ask to borrow any money” and it is on the road right of way therefore not yours to cut down, his reply was that it may fall down, of course it may fall but also it may not as a mature Douglas Fir [menziesii] can live for a 1,000 years and around 200 years when seed production reaches its peak so as you can see most trees you can see on any given day is no more than a teenager far from the once mature trees which made this coast what it was prior to removing the vast majority of the coasts forest cover. Connect this to the productivity of our wild Salmon and you can begin to understand the great loss we have experienced this past mere hundred years. [Of course I came home one day and the tree was cut down] A true tragedy of the commons.

Down in the estuary at the head of the bay we had one flood where the streams overflowed their banks and created flooding all the way back to the rail tracks just short of the Petro Can station at NW Bay Rd during that one and only large rain event we did have. The water was at one point not much more than 6 inches from topping NW Bay Rd at one location, this demonstrates the speed in which our watersheds discharge when we do get some rain. Under normal [if there is such a thing] conditions the rain would soak in and discharge much slower taking days for water levels to rise, now we se it occurring the very next if not the same day as the rain. This can lead to Salmon eggs being flushed out of the substrate or being buried too deep for the fry to emerge due to heavy sediment loads washing off the land via roads and ditches leading directly to the streams. Speaking of roads we have thousands of kilometres of asphalt roads, which leach out toxic hydrocarbons into the environment. A recent study on leachate in road runoff was conducted to see what if any effect this leachate had on Coho Fry, water samples where taken and introduced into a tank with Coho fry from roadside ditches that had no vegetation, the result being that most Coho died from the toxic run off.

The next test was with water flowing off the road into a vegetated ditch which had the result of no mortalities when fry where introduced showing how the vegetation has the ability to filter out a portion of the toxins. As a result today if made aware of this most road maintenance crews stay away from so called cleaning of ditches and instead just maintain the culverts with a hand shovel to clean out any blockages.

Recently we have looked at the possibility of opening fish access above the highway at the fire hall on Knarston Creek. This will take the form of a fish habitat survey [fisheries level one survey] from the Salish Sea to the upper watershed. This will quantify the habitat parameters and allow us to see if it is possible to open up this long neglected habitat.

In years past some fry salvage was done on Knarston when time and conditions dictated and these fish where placed in Dumont Marsh for year round habitat. Some of these fish will residualise if they cannot get out to the Salish Sea but most if not all will migrate down the stream to the sea either as 1+ year olds or as two year+ olds. Anyone who went along the shore at Knarston this past fall will have had the treat of seeing many Wild Coho jumping along the shore, this does not mean that they were all awaiting the chance to enter Knarston because a lot of these fish could end up in any one of the streams around Nanoose Bay or even further like Nanaimo river and other streams around Nanaimo or even all the way up towards the Englishmen River. Without an active tagging program we can only guess the streams these fish will spawn in.

Coming up over the next two months is also a good chance to see the major forage fish during its annual spawning run along the shore, the once mighty Herring. Like the once mighty forests we had humongous runs of Herring every year spawning like a great silver wave hitting the coast from San Francisco in the south to Alaska in the North. Like a tidal wave these once abundant fish poured onto the beaches spawning in their millions providing a food source for all the fish in the sea and most important for our young salmon exiting the streams in the spring. Take some time towards the end of the month and into next month to walk to the beach and witness one of nature true marvels before it is all gone.

Due to mismanagement of the resource through over fishing a fish species, [read East Coast Cod] which can spawn for several years during its life cycle, taken solely for its eggs to sate an appetite in Japan. Last year we had no shallow water spawning due mainly to a whole fleet of seine boats being allowed to fish the stocks that were getting ready to spawn along the foreshore of Nanoose Bay and Lantzville.

Enjoy nature as much as possible and all its wonder, take the kids for walks so they can experience nature first hand other than on TV and they may grow up avoiding what is termed Natures Deficit Syndrome. That is when humans lose their connection with nature and experience only man made landscapes. When a city dweller gets a chance to walk in nature the one common remark they all make is how good they feel after such a walk, which shows how we all can benefit from a good walk along the foreshore or in the woods.

If you can get the chance to visit the central coast or as it has become known as The Great Bear Rain Forest do so as soon as you can to truly experience a real rain forest before it is all gone.

Posted in February 2014, Streamkeepers
One comment on “Stream Keepers: Febraury
  1. John Dunn says:

    More science: In my article I mentioned that Salmon use thier sense of smell to re-locate thier home stream, while this is still considered true new research points towards the earths magnetism, basically they seem to be born with a magnetic map, studies from young Salmon in tanks showed that if they changed the field to give the fish the impression that it was further north than thier range the fish turned south and the same with if they reversed the magnetic fields they turned north thinking they were too far south. As the fish tested had never been to sea that is how they figure that they are born with a magnetic map.
    Coupled with thier sense of smell they still make one awesome journey and with the help of science we may figure it out one day , maybe when we learn to speak Salmon?

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