Jack Emberly photo Channel along 128th Avenue from 216th Street, widened and made fish friendly.

Along the Fraser: Drab little ditch fish friendly again

Kids should see how easy it is to restore priceless fish habitat when the will exists.

“There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew.”

– Marshall McLuhan.

In the 1880s, salmon spawned in most Lower Mainland creeks. They should have forever, but in Vancouver alone, 50 streams were abandoned, or buried under sewers and culverts.

Recently, towns have restored streams – ‘daylighting’ or uncovering them. Volunteers have renewed others in the hope salmon and trout return to their traditional habitat.

In Maple Ridge, five streams where salmon spawned once could support adult fish again thanks to habitat improvements that DFO mandated to compensate for road upgrades to 128th Avenue, between 210th and beyond 216th streets.

Environmental consultant ISLA Engineering, the group retained by the city to create a plan, shows these streams flowing from the town centre into a widened ditch on the south side of 128th Avenue.

From here, water runs through new culverts into the Alouette River.

Restoration work was completed in 2016, said ISL biologist Erica Messam.

It should bring spawners back.

This fall, we could see them in McKenney Creek, Roberts Creek, Hardy Creek, ‘W’ creek, and T2, which bubbles past Davison farm.

All streams had coho, chum and pink salmon spawners once, said Messam.

Most support rainbow and cutthroat trout, too.

“We found an abundance of fish in all of them,” Messam said.

In May, I walked T2. Stream work added boulders to break water flow. Clear, bubbling water increases oxygen. We might see pink salmon here in 2017. In odd-numbered years, they come up the Fraser.

Geoff Clayton, of ARMS, said coho might do well in T2, too.

“People think all salmon are doing all right,” he said, “because they see a lot of chum in the Alouette. But it’s a mixed blessing. Chum have taken over coho spawning grounds. With a little pea gravel, they might use T2.”

I phoned DFO about gravel a few weeks ago, but it didn’t return my call. This was a bit after DFO – deciding stream restoration was no longer part of its mandate – issued job termination letters to staff of the Resource Restoration Branch; a bit before Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc announced his abandonment of the Salmon Enhancement Program, including stream restoration and Salmonids in the Classroom, probably on advice from senior DFO management who want out of the job.

LeBlanc’s reversal of that irresponsible idea was met with a huge sigh of relief from streamkeepers, the folks who know better, but weren’t consulted. The champions of fresh water streams were wounded emotionally by LeBlanc’s early announcement.

Sandy Budd of Maple Creek Stream Keepers told me it made her “sick at heart.”

But every cloud has a silver lining. It’s a wake-up call this time. Government can’t be trusted to protect the environment that we identify with as Canadians.

We can’t forget that citizens must do it, this generation, and future ones. That’s why programs like Salmonids in the Classroom – rescued in its 11th hour – are so important. I hope kids involved in that program learn how a drab little ditch along 128th Ave. became fish friendly again, and how streamkeepers bravely reversed a minister’s plan to make efforts like this futile.

Kids should also see how easy it is to restore priceless fish habitat when the will exists. Let them see the pools in the channel along 128th Ave., observe woody debris for fry to hide under, rocks placed to create ripples that sparkle in the sunshine, indigenous plants on riparian zones to provide shade and bank stabilization, new, fish friendly culverts under the four lanes of traffic.

Finally, the future crew of Spaceship Earth should learn the names of five, little known Maple Ridge creeks along 128th Ave., and more importantly, what the Katzie First Nations called them before Europeans decided some streams could be buried and forgotten in the name of progress.

Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.