Morse Creek and friends it now has

People who live alongside Maple Ridge streams encouraged to adopt them, care for them

Rex Rutherford is a long-time friend to Morse Creek.

It runs through his back yard at Abernethy and 224th Street to the South Alouette River.

To the unsuspecting, Morse looks like a ditch – storm drains empty into it – but Rex has seen chum salmon spawn here in the fall, and herons stalk fry.

Rex recalls crayfish, frogs, lots of fry, and plenty of salmon in Morse.

But recently, during spring run-off, he’s found ivy, garbage bags, even TVs, radios.

Rex, and neighbours, like John and Laurie Dwulit next door, clean up messes like that.

Rex wonders how many other folks would become stewards of Morse given the invitation.

He also wonders if there enough fish to make this once abundant little brook worth nurturing.

Last week, Rex got answers to his questions. The Alouette River Management Society’s newly funded Adopt-a-creek Program already had one proud member, T2 – or Hillside Creek, – a stream that runs along 222nd Street.

Amanda Crowston, ARMS office manager, thought Morse might be another one. She’d assess its potential: what lives in Morse today; what the water quality is; whether there’d be volunteers to help find the answers.

Step 1 was to set water traps on Feb. 2nd, and check them Feb. 3rd. I shared the dates with visitors at the CEED Centre, adding that volunteers were welcome. Nearly every hand went up.

Morse had friends it didn’t know about.

Probably, most of our streams do.

Thursday, noon, Feb. 2nd:

Fry traps are two-section, wire-mesh cylinders joined by hinges. There’s a wide cone-shaped opening at each end that narrows to the centre. Once inside, fish can’t find their way out.

Lori, an ARMS volunteer, demonstrated baiting traps for Blake, Ron, Elaine, and Laurie, and me. We placed soft fish-flavoured cat food into a small nylon sack that’s dangled from the middle of the trap before snapping it shut. The knack takes practice, but Lori was patient. Twine secures the cage to a branch on the stream bank.

Cliff, a retiree, is another ARMS volunteer.

“I was a banker until Friday afternoon,” he says, “and then I was in the bush.”

It’s Cliff’s job to lay six traps at various locations along Morse.

Traps 1 and 2 go into Morse near the Alouette.

Cliff avoids stepping in gravel that might be a nest for eggs. He finds a pool against a tree trunk, parallel to the current for Trap 1.

“Okay, that’s really fine,” he announces. “Ya, a very good set.”

We’ve walked through bamboo-like plants, but Nicole Driedger, ARMS education coordinator, says it’s knotweed, “a real problem because it spreads so quickly.”

Volunteers often replace knotweed, English ivy and blackberries with indigenous plants like salmon berries, or huckleberries, natural food for fish.

Rex has found ivy clippings in Morse. They’ll regenerate on stream banks.

Cliff kneels on the bank to set Trap 2.

“If I fall in,” he jokes, “I guess I’ll be some kind of invasive species.”

Gerry holds his belt from behind.

“I’ve got ya,” he says.

We’re learning today, and having a little fun too.

On our way up the bank, we meet angler Jim Andre with a six-pound hatchery steelhead – no adipose fin.

“How’s the steelhead return this year?” Cliff asks.

“Medium,” replies Andre, “compared to the ’80s. Between 112th and 240th there’s no fish anymore.”

Andre blames cutbacks at hatcheries and “hotspot” bragging on the internet that funnels anglers directly to their quarry.

Traps 3 and 4 go into Morse at the Dwulit place.

“Here to set the traps?” John asks.

We set Traps 5 and 6 in Morse headwaters off Edge Street, near Eric Langdon elementary.

Nothing to do now, but wait, and hope.

Friday Feb., 3rd, 10 a.m.

We’re all anxious to see what the traps hold. Trap 1 has good news.

“We’ve got one,” someone shouts excitedly.

Trap 2 yields another fry, and a 90 mm long, flat-headed fish that looks like a bullhead. This shy bottom dweller with fan-like fins has no scales, and no spine. It’s a sculpin. Some are protected.

“This is fantastic,” says Amanda, “I’m very happy about this.”

There’s more reason to celebrate. Traps 3 and 4 produce 11 fry 40–90 mm long. Fins, and side marks show 10 are coho. But one, an unexpected bonus, is a wild steelhead (red lateral line).

Traps further up are empty as expected. Thick debris blocks fish movement.

That could be a clean-up later, but it’s okay for now.

“I’m very pleased with what we found,” concludes Amanda, “and with the fantastic interest that people have shown in Morse. It’s an excellent creek for adoption.”

The next step? Water quality testing later this month, Amanda tells us.  I’m sure most of Morse’s new friends will be there. Adopting a stream is rewarding.

“My goal is to have every stream in the Alouette Watershed adopted,” Amanda says. “We’d encourage people who have one on their property to contact us to see how we can help them.”

Little streams throughout B.C. that once teemed with fish life can be productive again, and our kids can enjoy them as we did, if more of us  become their friends.

• Contact ARMS at 604-467-6401.

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