CoastalBC here, on a gravel bar in the middle of Holland Creek, Ladysmith, BC. The gravel is dry and useless for spawning salmon but there is a crew here with a plan to set the creek right and continue their long standing stewartship of these salmon runs. First we spoke with Greg from the Ladysmith Sportsman's Association and then with the cunsulting Biologist on the project, Dave Clough.
Greg: this year the Creek was so jammed off, practically nothing could get by there anymore. If you walk down the Creek you'll see there's a couple more spots like that.
We're tying in these logs and anchoring them with stumps and these big rocks. So what's going to happen is the Creek's going to come down here and run into the structures [spurs] and scour the gravel at the bottom of the logs and create a pool. There's going to be 4 of these things along through here. You see what's been happening here is we've been losing this bank and the trees are falling across the Creek and you get these big jams. Now log jams are a terrific thing for spawning salmon. Cover, shade, get out of the way the predators but there comes a time, like now when you need to have a place for the fry to go and stay out of the way in a deep covered pool.
CoastalBC: Is there an established run in this Creek?
Greg: 0h yeah. All these guys here and myself, 14 years ago built a hatchery. I was the coordinator of that program basically. We built a hatchery on Bush Creek just north of Ladysmith. When we started here 14 years ago we found two Coho. That's all. "Ralph, how many Coho we got in here now? There's got to be 100, 150 anyways."
Ralph: oh yeah, I'd say that.
Greg: and the Chum, if there were 100 Chum before, we got a couple thousand now so it's working but it needs help. We used to chase our Coho and Chum under the bridge and 1.5 km up the river. They're not getting there no more. They got stuck. So you know what happens? The first female lays her eggs here, next one in does the same thing, digs them up and scatters them. And this has been going on for years. This is the first time we've ever tackled anything like this. Our biologist is over there in the trees. He's the one you'll want to have come over and talk with you a little bit too. Without his guidance and knowledge, we'd be hooped
Between the Pacific salmon foundation and timber west, they gave us $10,000, and our club has had a few fundraisers. We've raised 2,000 or 3,000 bucks. This whole thing had to be surveyed in one of the local surveys from town, Dave McCallum, did it for nothing. That would have cost us about $4000. The town of Ladysmith has donated the backhoes and dump trucks that we're using and we've hired Dave Stocker to run the excavator in here. Timber West donated these big rocks and we drilled them.
It's taken about seven months between surveying and getting permits. There's a lot of behind the scenes work that nobody sees.
CoastalBC: how long is it going to take you to do all this?
Greg: I'd sure like to have all done this weekend, but I think we'll be here next weekend as well. We got a one month timeframe. You got to be out of here by September the 15th.
CoastalBC: when to the runs start in here?
Greg: normally the Chum will start to run in here on Thanksgiving Day. It's been just about bang on that date for 14 years now, and the Coho come a month later.
Here we go. Meet Dave Clough.
Dave: I'm a consulting biologist. Fisheries and oceans is covering my time here.
[We watch a large cedar crash to the ground]
CoastalBC: I always thought you wanted lots of shade around spawning channels.
Dave: that tree was going. It was coming down and you can see the other trees downstream had already come down. It really pains me to bring a tree like that down but it's within a season of coming. What we're hoping to do is save the rest. If we didn't address this now it'd get worse. What's happening is the debris dams are slowing the water down. We are standing on a sediment bar caused by that damning. Now you fill in the river with a sediment bar, where does the water go? It's got to go out there [points to the eroded Bank]. If you walk into the riparian zone around the creek right now you'll see other cedar trees falling over because their roots are just too wet. The creek belongs in the creek. The riparian zone we need and we're losing it, and these trees are too valuable to lose. We've lost about 10 and it's only been in the last four years that we've lost them. What we'll do is will under plant that [points back to the eroded Bank] with cedars. Obviously that tree is 200 or 300 years old. I'm not going to be able to replace that right away but I can tell you that maple next to where we took out the cedar, will love it. It will fill in the void quite nicely. There will be a lot more daylight, but there's not much we can do.
The Spurs are going to help. Fish need cover and shade. The river needs cover and shade to keep it cool. Instead of having higher overhead cover here for a bit we are going to have "near cover". The Spurs here will keep the water cool and the fish hidden and that will help them a lot.
CoastalBC: and there'll be some depth in the pools.
Dave: well, that's the thing. It's a lot of work to get these things done. It's going to start scouring out this sediment bar that we're standing on and hopefully next year are feet will be wet right here. We're forcing this channel to go down the middle again instead of out and around. It's lost all its power and it can't keep itself clean because it's jammed up. Now the jams are not bad. Jams are good functional portions of any stream, but what happened is....
Greg comes over and interrupts us.
Greg: I'm going to go and see if we can try and get a couple more stumps. Before I go I'll get those two alders, order up lunch and be back around noon.
Dave: stumps would be good. I can see a stump going and there and there. I got four that can go here and in that spur over there.
CoastalBC: you know I just saw a dump truck full stumps go by when I was parking to come down here.
Dave: I remember back when I started about 15 or 20 years ago, when I was first doing stream restoration on the island here, I saw a dump truck operator go by with a lot of stumps for the burn pile. Remember the youth core? I go after that truck load of stumps in a van full of kids and we're hollering out the window "man can you stop?" We got a little utility trailer behind us and we say "hey man, can we have your stumps? We want to put them in the creek." He just couldn't believe it. He says "what!?" He'd never heard of that. Since that, thousands of stumps have been put in the creeks. They are food source, shade, scour, cover and they do a temporary job of imitating an old-growth tree.
So back to my story. When we started logging this valley, we removed all the large litter debris and we logged it all at once, even more severely than say a historic forest fire would do it and it has screwed up the woody debris inputs in the cycle of woody debris into this creek. Now what's happened is we've got some remnant larger trees living along the creek and whenever they fall in they are immediately collecting the thinning from the second growth from an even aged forest that was regenerated after the logging. Now normally you get a patch of forest opened from a forest fire or a patch opened from a slide and you get a little bit of alder in the regenerated forest [regen]. In this case it's all alder regen. You look at the debris that's in the stream bed here, it's all regen that's dying off now because it's now been 80 years since the last logging. The alders only live about 80 years so all those alders are falling in. Normally that's a good thing but when you get one big tree that falls across the creek it jams it all up. Normally trees don't fall at such a great rate but because we logged the valley completely we have nothing but regenerated canopy all the way up the entire valley. Not normal. There are a few leftover large cedars, very few and they're all down here. When they fall in, the logic used to be that they were causing jams and it's wrecking the channel and creating fish barriers. A lot of nonsense arguments really. Fisheries used to come in and clean the riverbeds right out. What you ended up with when you do that is a big gravel bar with no pools at all. The railway would've jumped on these debris dams. They would've pulled all these logs out if we hadn't. They would say they had to come out because they will plug up the culvert downstream so what we're doing is saving the wood.
CoastalBC: just rearranging and stabilizing the wood to the benefit of the stream.
Dave: yeah exactly. The rocks are there to anchor it. We have to make sure. I tell everybody that the wood has to be screwed, glued and tattooed. It can't move so an anchor system and then a backup system. The rocks are our back up. We are cabling around trees and using the roots to hold fast. The rocks act as ballast as well and that helps hold them in place.
CoastalBC: will you actually dig out any of these bars.
Dave: yeah. I'm going to encourage the river on its first flood to go this way. We're going to bar scalp this with the excavator. Just this bar and that bar downstream.
CoastalBC: and what are you going to do with the gravel? Pull it against that bank by the spur there?
Dave: no I'm going to pull it to that bar behind us. Around this spur is not a good plantable surface for trees. I've got to think about down the road. What we're doing is all temporary. This is all temporary stuff. What we need is this forest riparian zone to repair itself and we need the conifers, the red cedars, the Douglas firs to come back and regenerate. These woody debris structures might last 40 years. The idea is that by the time they are rotted out, there will be 40-year-old red cedars all along here. You look at that Cedar there, it's only about 40 or 50 years old. That'll be a pretty nice tree in another 40 years. We'll under plant all this. That'll be phase 2 in the winter. It's always fun to play in a creek like this and biologists love doing that, but if you want to fix a creek, the one thing you gota do is plant a tree. Trees make the function of the creek work. Everything about them from their shade to the day they die and fall in.
CoastalBC: Do you actually managed to the point of coming in and clearing out regen?
Dave: remember I mentioned the alders? If you have a thicket of 100 stems over maybe 100 feet, then you got too many. They are thick, they are thin, and if you've got no red cedar under planted and no conifers then you can go in and drop a few and put a seedling there. We're doing that on Kennedy flats near Long Beach. We're on Pacific Rim national Park property. We're going along Lost Shoe Creek and identifying areas. Right here in front of us I wouldn't drop any of those alders but I will put a red cedar in there. Brush it out with a chainsaw. Let's say there were 20 more alders there. That would be too many. In Lost Shoe Creek when they logged the Park, the loggers were just given free rein and they logged it and they burned it. What happened is alders jumped out of the ground everywhere and there was no reseeding. Because there were no red cedars around for miles they never got back there. We would go in and drop a few alders to make a plantable site and put a red cedar there. Then we would take the fallen alders and mound them up and piles around the red cedar to protect it from deer browse, but also the alder debris becomes forest litter which we use for insect production. Then we'll go up a larger alder if its next to five other alders about the same size. We'll take that one alder and scarf it up. We'll cut the top off, we'll stab it with a chainsaw and make back cavities so stuff can live in it and so it will rot down the center. We'll make wildlife habitat out of it. That's stuff we're doing on the West Coast. If there's any opportunities here for this, we'll do them. That'll be in phases. These guys are just starting this out. The program I've got out on the West Coast has been going for most 10 years. We've got some really good people out there that know what they're doing. Some real experts that volunteer their time. Some guys from the states come up and help us. Biologists from the various timber companies are helping us too. I got really good support out there. These guys In Ladysmith had a gut feeling that this was wrong and they were right. I went to school and learned hydrology and stream cover and functionality of fish habitat and I meet a guy that has gone trout fishing all his life and he knows just as much is I do. He may speak about it in different terms but he knows. If I said let's swing that log upstream and put it like this, these guys would all be going "I don't think you want to do that Dave". They know the scour would cause some weird things to happen on the bank.
CoastalBC: as these pools develop will the gravel buildup on that eroded bank?
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Dave: yeah we've learned a lot. When I started out in 1981, my bosses were still telling me to cut logs out of creeks. They had prison crews working on them. I was working at Victoria at the time and the Wilkinson Road in jail crews would walk up the creeks around Sooke and clean them all out. Fortunately I was working for Fish and Wildlife and they figured it out first. I was with a group of research fellows in Fish and Wildlife that were kind of pioneering the way and I learned a lot off those guys. I stayed with them for a couple or three years and then ended up with DFO and I took my training with DFO. The DFO started their special unit at about the same time and they were figuring it out to. A lot of good things started to get built starting in the '80s. The DFO started the salmon enhancement program in 1979. In 1979 they used to figure that the way to bring back the salmon was with hatcheries and that evolved to 1999. There hasn't been any new hatcheries built in BC since, but there have been a tremendous amount of habitat projects and optional habitat structures like the Chenainus side channel. In Port Renfrew their side channels, in Kennedy River there's a side channel. All up and down the coast we've built "off channel habitats" to help fish duck out from the torrents that are now happening in the rivers because of logging and because of urbanization. This creek is probably more a product of urbanization now than logging. The runoff from the parking lot right above us is way more than any logging patch. Pavement is instant runoff just talking about water quantity, let alone the water quality. This river is 18 meters wide here. It shouldn't be. It should be maybe nine meters wide. It's because of the torrents. All it takes is one big torrent to blow it out wide, and then you've got a wide shallow river.
Dave: if you look at the meander of the river, what you are always going to get is a bit of a pile up right there [immediately upstream of the spur] and I'm hoping that that void we've created will collect all the alder debris coming down the river. I want everything along that bank above that spur to jam, plug up nice and tight, be a little bit wet, and push the river back into the center. There's a rule with these spurs. Never go out any more than a third into the channel. That way if there's a spur on that side of the channel that comes at one-third and a spur on the side of the channel that comes at one-third, then you also left channel that is one-third. In this case this channel is 18 meters wide so we are coming out six meters on either side with the spurs and leaving a 6 m hole. Just looking at the debris piles along this river, most of those pieces of debris are four to six meters long so we know they'll fit through the hole. I can live with that hole being that wide because I know that based on the capacity of the channel for water flow it'll still work and it'll still scour. If you make them too flush they hold on really good but they're virtually functionless. They just don't scour because they're not aggressive enough. You got to watch it because woody debris structures placed poorly will blow out and then you look really bad. Of course they'll blowout in the middle of November when trying to repair them is almost impossible so if these things wind up and down at the E&N Railway culvert I'm in trouble. Screwed, glued and tattooed. Cable them, ballast them, and we may come in with what is called duck bill anchors after that.
CoastalBC: what about all this branch litter coming off the tree the you just dropped? Will you haul that out?
Dave: We'll jam some of it into the spurs to help weave them together. Today is mostly a machine day and that's why everybody's standing around. Tomorrow after he's finished with the big structures, the big As, these people will all go in and jam in and tightened up the Spurs. We'll put logs in, we'll put stumps in, we'll put rocks in, but all those nooks and crannies we'll jam all those cedar bows into. The ideas is to harden it up. Can you imagine small fry being chased by a predator. They just go into all those nooks and crannies. Also we're creating more surface for mayflies, stone flies and caddis flies.
CoastalBC: the project on the West Coast, that's a full-time gig for you?
Dave: no it's every year though. There's an organization over there, the Central West Coast Forest Society that helps shepherd that project along. With them we work with whoever in the community we can hire. It's very labor-intensive. It's a two-week project this year because we have virtually no money. In the heyday of watershed restoration we were able to hire unemployed loggers, First Nations, fishermen and people of the community. We had up to a four-month work window and we had budgets of $650,000 but what was really neat about it was our project was very labor-intensive and that money went right into people's back pockets as wages. We weren't spending at all on helicopters and excavators. A lot of watershed restoration outfits, when they do stream restoration they hire a lot of guys like myself, and they jack up their rates. They write up a proposal and hire a helicopter and a big excavator and all they do is build one or two structures. On the Kennedy flats over the last 10 years we've probably done 250 or 300 structures. We've covered over 30 kilometers of stream habitat. We've anchored probably 20,000 pieces of wood and we've put out a payroll of maybe $2 million.
CoastalBC: how long have you personally been at this?
Dave: since 81
CoastalBC: the technique must've evolved a lot in that time.
The DFO branch that I'm working for is called the community programs branch. For this project and for many like it, community volunteer organization's are provided with technical assistance from people like myself or administrative assistants from a person called the community adviser in DFO. That person basically cuts the red tape and allows them to be here. The guy that's not here, Barry Cordocedo , wrote the permit and put it through and got these guys the license to be able to drop that tree and run this machine in the creek bed. Speaking of that I've been very careful and made a judgment call on whether or not to try to isolate and remove the fry. Most of our work here, we can just put logs bunkers down so the machines are stepping over the creek. If I thought there was a lot of concern here about machine activity in the creek I'd isolate it. We'd run a pipe from here downstream around the construction area and put all the water and fish through it. This machine is only just crossing this creek and then working from the top of this gravel bar. So far I am comfortable with what is being done. The mortality rate from this construction should be zero. I really don't expect that were going to have any loss of fry.
CoastalBC: these are all natural runs in this creek?
Dave: no. This group also has a hatchery and they work in partnership with the local first nation's. So we've got Chemainus First Nation, Penelakut , Lyackson & Halalt First Nations. Four tribes all in the area, that work very closely and have offices within 10 or 15 kilometers of here. Together with the Ladysmith Sportsman's Association and the Nanaimo River Hatchery we take a modest amount of Chum and Coho from the systems and augment the run with fry in this creek, Stocking Creek, Rocky Creek, and Walker Creek.
CoastalBC: so that's fish taken out of this river, put back in this river.
Dave: put back in this river. You can imagine, what do you think the survival of spawn on this gravel would be? [points to the gravel bar we are standing on] It's high and dry. The fish come in, they think it's safe, but because of our alterations, the changes to this river made by man, this gravel, this fantastic spawning gravel isn't always wetted. The fish don't know that. They don't know that we've altered anything. They've got these preprogrammed behaviors so yes, they're going to try spawning here. Chum especially are not as smart. They hit gravel, they're just going to spawn on it so Chum runs, especially on this creek have gone down and we're trying to help. It really depends on the run size, but we would typically take, well, some years there's only been 25 Coho and 25 Chum in this creek so we take five. Five Coho and 5 Chum and try to make our broodstock for hatchery. 10,000 Coho and 10,000 Chum fry. The rule is you never want to take all of them because of if water in our hatchery turns off, then we'd be hurting.
So these guys are doing the full meal deal here. They're enhancing the runs and they're enhancing the habitat, and they're doing education. They do school programs.
CoastalBC: when a creek gets stocked, do those fish always return to that creek? They become chemically imprinted with that creek?
Dave: especially if you're using stock that's from that creek. If you start fooling around with other stock you get more strays but just to cloud the issue, all salmon stray. Fortunately there are a few other little preprogrammed adjustments in their behavior. For instance if there was a really dry year and the Coho that are from Holland creek couldn't get up here a lot of the Coho would eventually figure it out and migrate to a creek that does have water. Not all of them mind you. Some of them will just sit and sit and sit. They may all go to that one creek and spawn. This year that's quite a concern. The Chum will do the same. They will move around the beach looking for the first creek with water it, to a certain degree. You can say anywhere from 20 to 30 percent stray.
CoastalBC: Is that right? Well that's hope for creeks that have lost their runs.
Dave: yes. We know that and they've done that and they've come back. You know what I do to help them along? I bring Coho carcasses over to those creeks and I put them in because there's nothing like a stinky old Coho carcass to bring more Coho. You know these fish have an ability to smell 1 ppb [part per billion] so you put a Coho up there that has just spawned and it will send a scent trail downstream.
For instance last year in Qualicum we opened up Brandan creek. We put a "fish way" in it and we opened up habitat that Coho and steelhead hadn't seen in 40 years. The Qualicum stream keepers were very worried about that. I said let's help them out so we took some Coho carcass from the lower portion of the creek and we dragged them up a km. We put about 5 in there and within a week we had adults salmon right up next to them. That's why salmon, if there's one hole in a net, they'll all find it. That's why when they go up over a waterfall and there's five different routes they can take, they jump and batter themselves till one finds its way through. One ppb and that fish is leaving a scent trail. I don't know how it is. Can you imagine all that water is torrenting through, thousands of gallons of water every second and the Coho are leaving a trail that is actually detectable and the other salmon will then be able to follow the successful fish up and over those falls. Most of them will. It doesn't always work that way, but most of them will move to that spot and leave a trail that the next one follows and so on.
CoastalBC: that's a new one for me.
Dave: we know so little about these organisms. We're just at the tip of the iceberg stuff.
Update from Dave Sep/10/2004
Greg called me yesterday to say they got in and planted 250 cedar and fir seedlings last weekend.
We will be down there first flood to check it out.
We are all eager to see the water go through it.