Traditional base funding and resourcing is through the Ministry of Forests Lands and Natural Resource Operations through their Land Based Investment Program. Some funding has been contributed through the Habitat Conservation Program. In the future it is expected that other funding envelopes will be explored to support initiatives.
As the Murray Creek Stream Rehabilitation Project has moved forward over the past few years we have developed tremendous support from many individuals, agencies and organizations throughout the province. Much of this support has been in the form of funding, while other support has been more collaborative in working on the larger outcomes of bringing water stewardship and education to the Nechako Valley.
The Healthy Watersheds Initiative is a $27-million program, supported by the Province of BC, to stimulate British Columbia's economic recovery through investments in watershed conservation and restoration. The Real Estate Foundation of BC is administering funding for this program and working with Watersheds BC to support the successful implementation of more than 60 watershed security projects in communities across the province.
Perhaps one of the more satisfying outcomes has been the development and working relationship that has come from the education sectors. We introduced students from within SD91 very early in our program development. No students had been involved in this type of outreach in the past, and we quickly ended up with weekly and annual field trips of elementary and high school students from across SD91. Additionally, two highschool students have completed independent studies for credit on Murray Creek. A particular point of pride is the inclusion of Murray Creek in Project Agriculture - a program throughout the School District - as part of their one week hands on teaching opportunity that brings the school classroom to the farm to experience life and opportunity on the farm as possible career opportunities in the future.
We developed a working relationship with UNBC three years ago that has resulted in Dr. Margot Parkes of UNBC bringing two funded projects to the Murray Creek Stream Rehabilitation Project. These projects have brought national and even international coverage to Vanderhoof. Dr. Parkes is a Canada Research Chair in Health, Ecosystems and Society at UNBC with a cross-appointment in the School of Health Sciences, and the Northern Medical Program, a co-founder of the Canadian Community of Practice in Ecosystem Approaches to Health, and President of the International Association for Ecology and Health. Dr. Parkes has developed a research focus on the impacts of ecosystem change on determinants of health especially in the context of watersheds, and in the design of education, research and governance options to address the converging objectives of health, social equity and ecosystem sustainability. This involvement has further translated into a working relationship and collaboration with the Northern Regional Drinking Water Team, which will be covered off under a separate heading. UNBC currently has two students doing graduate work on our project and a third student working in the Nechako Valley as a result of our watershed approach. We believe that we will foster more students in the upcoming year as we also expand into the larger forum.
FRISP is designed to help provincial agriculture producers to protect and enhance water quality, to protect and enhance riparian vegetation, and prevent and mitigate agricultural impacts on streams and lakes. This program was the first funder of the Murray Creek Stream Rehabilitation Project and a Provincial asset that gave us credence as a respected group with the Regional Cattlemen’s Association. Lee Heskith as the Program Manager for the BC Cattlemen’s has facilitated a number of meetings on our behalf and has been a major supporter in moving our agenda forward successfully.
This Association represents the three area Cattlemen’s Associations in the Nechako Valley. The Murray Creek Group first approached the Regional Association five years ago with the idea of cooperatively working towards water stewardship, and although we can still say that the producers are concerned as an industry about the cost of moving into a program as high profile as ours, they appointed a member to our Board. We have been well received by the area cattleman with our approach and the trust that we will operate the same in the future.
The FBC has supported the Murray Creek Rehabilitation Project from the start and has facilitated a number of introductions and set up meetings with key individuals within the Province of BC to help move our program forward.
In particular they have provided staffing help through a First Nations Youth Environmental Workshop that required the experience of working with an ENGO while working on the Murray Creek Rehabilitation Project. They have provided staff time and also facilitated First Nations youth employment.
The FBC also facilitated the original meeting with UNBC that brought First Nation’s youth to our project. FBC also has a position at the table of the Northern Regional Drinking Water Team which has strong ties to our project.
We have forged a strong relationship with DFO both regionally and provincially. Although DFO was not at the table the first couple of years it was a decision of the Murray Creek Group based on a lack of understanding and faith on our part. We now have a working relationship that is the envy of many similar groups across the province and we work in concert to facilitate the role and goals of the Murray Creek Group. DFO has helped fund some important needs including a complete culvert assessment on both crown and private land. DFO has also provided us with annual funding for fencing materials and facilitating deals with private landowners that would have never have been made in previous times.
We have the support of DFO on this larger watershed strategy.
Salmon Watershed Planning Profile recommendations made in 1997 by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, for the Nechako Watershed. The authors of the watershed planning profile for the Nechako identified agriculture development as having high impact on the Nechako from the Kenny Dam downstream. They also identified extensive riparian impacts and water withdrawal from agricultural development throughout the Nechako mainstem and its tributaries as a high level of concern.
The formalization and coordinated implementation of the NEWSS would lead to the implementation of some of the specific objectives identified in the FRAP salmon watershed planning profile for the Nechako including:
In addition, NEWSS could contribute (and has already led) to the development and implementation of some of the specific strategies identified in the FRAP salmon watershed planning profile for the Nechako River, including:
We have had the MOE at our BOD meetings since the Murray Creek Rehabilitation Project was formed. They have been helpful in focusing our efforts with the in stream work and have worked with us to ensure our focus has value for effort. We have also worked closely with the stewardship group from within the MOE and we have collaborated with them in designing our next steps of understanding our watershed and aquifer in conjunction with our stream rehabilitation goals for the Nechako Valley. They have contributed to creating the vision of healthy watershed, productive streams and in bringing water stewardship to the forefront over the next couple of decades.
During the last 60 years, the Nechako white sturgeon population has dropped from what scientists believe was a minimum of 5000 fish to less than 350 mature adults. The lack of younger fish means that sturgeon are either not reproducing successfully or that the young are not surviving to adulthood. As sturgeon do not begin spawning until they are 15 to 30 years old, the lack of young sturgeon in the Nechako River means that an entire generation is already missing.
In the mid to late 1990s, the Province of British Columbia coordinated an intensive study of the white sturgeon in the Nechako River. The study came to an unwelcome conclusion - the Nechako White sturgeon is in a critical state of decline. Unless something is done, and done soon, these great creatures will likely go extinct. The Nechako White Sturgeon is now on the Species at Risk list as an endangered species.
With so many stakeholders involved along the entire length of the Nechako River, it was imperative all interested parties gather together to begin working as a team in the recovery planning efforts. This was the beginning of the Nechako White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative (NWSRI). The recovery initiative created two working groups, the Technical Working Group (TWG) comprised of biologists and government agencies and the Community Working Group (CWG) comprised of community members and other stakeholders. In short, the TWG created the Recovery Plan and is responsible for any research and habitat projects, while the CWG is responsible for community engagement and information sharing. The NWSRI is ultimately responsible for identifying the reasons why white sturgeon are no longer successfully spawning and surviving in the Nechako watershed, and for the design and implementation of habitat protection, restoration and management options.
Their habitat is crucial to their survival. In the colder winter months, the fish spend their time in deep river pools. In springtime, when water temperatures rise, mature adults travel many miles to gather together at spawning grounds. In the summer months, adults spend most of their time in large pools in the main channels, and in feeding areas such as slower backwater and below any rapids. Young sturgeons frequently move between the main channel and adjacent sloughs or back eddies. However, travel patterns of Nechako white sturgeon also suggest they follow the migration routes of one of their main sources of food, salmon.
For several years the NWSRI has implemented many research projects including a Pilot Hatchery, Brood stock capture and monitoring, White Sturgeon larvae release and monitoring, Nechako White Sturgeon Habitat Management Plan and the recent Spawning Habitat research project where 2 gravel beds (50 m by 150 m) were placed in the river at two strategic locations.
During the implementation of some of the early research projects, a local group of individuals saw what was happening with the NWSRI and the positive response that were coming from the public and they created an organization that would work on stream restoration projects close to Vanderhoof. The creek that they decided to start with first was Murray creek which feeds into the spawning grounds of the Nechako White Sturgeon. The Murray Creek Restoration group took it upon themselves to approach landowners along Murray Creek and seek volunteers who wanted to create a better habitat along the creek and ultimately a better habitat for the Nechako White Sturgeon.
After 4 years of working on that watershed the group has now formed a society called the Nechako Environment and Water Stewardship Society (NEWSS). The NWSRI has been informed that this group will be working on 32 different watersheds that flow into the Nechako River from Cheslatta Falls to Finmore. While this endeavor is a major undertaking it our groups opinion that and improvement to water quality throughout the Nechako Valley will be a benefit to the Nechako White Sturgeon.
It is important to note that in recent meetings with both the Fort Fraser and the Lower Mud River Group, membership within both organizations talked about the juvenile sturgeon that they had seen using streams in the agricultural belt as rearing grounds. It would seem obvious that the rehabilitation of these streams will again provide valuable habitat for the Nechako White sturgeon.
The Nechako Fisheries Conservation Program (NFCP) was formed to ensure the effective implementation of the 1987 Settlement Agreement between Rio Tinto Alcan, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the BC Ministry of Environment. The objective of the NFCP is the conservation of salmon stocks in the Nechako River.
NEWSS feels strongly that this proposal will work in concert with the NFCP objective, through our objective of repairing the riparian zone of these systems that flow into the Nechako River that will ultimately increase in-stream habitat and lower the temperature. The Murray Creek Rehabilitation Project has shown that Chinook fry extensively use these small streams as rearing habitat and we believe we can not only increase survival by lowering the temperature but also ensure that outward migration can be increased by replacing poorly installed culverts that do not function properly during low flows.