On October 13-14, the first-year cohort went on a weekend field trip to Squamish to tour restoration projects run by the Squamish River Watershed Society (SRWS).
The Squamish Watershed has been heavily impacted by industry, agriculture, and urbanization, and the Society works in partnership with Fisheries and Oceans as well as the Squamish Nation to help repair this damage.
Our first stop was the east side of the estuary, where we looked at restoration work that had been done to deactivate a former industrial log sort site, creating a network of tidal channels. Since the area is also a popular local recreation area, the SRWS built walking trails to help channel traffic.
In the afternoon, we crossed to the west side of the estuary, where the river had been diked, separating it from its natural connectivity with the estuary and disconnecting it from the tidal marshes.
Currently the dike has been breached by culverts, but they don’t seem to be working well to let salmonids through, so there are plans in the works to add channels with bridges.
Before starting any restoration project, it is very important to gather baseline data. That way we can figure out how severe the problem is, and track whether the changes we make actually work to improve it. Our class got to help out with the collection of baseline data, as well as learn some field skills by practicing invertebrate sampling in the tidal channels as well as doing some water quality monitoring.
We also helped plant native shrubs around the base of a bat condo that the Squamish River Watershed Society had recently installed. The bat condo was built and installed with help from local volunteers and can house 3000-5000 individual bats. It is also useful for providing public outreach and education, while providing valuable habitat for a key vulnerable component of the ecosystem at the same time.
Our tour continued upstream into river systems the next day. We drove up to the Ashley River, to learn about the complexities of off-channel habitat restoration – which seems to be summed up as ‘rivers are unpredictable’. The constantly changing dynamics of channel cutting and debris movements from storms and flooding means that intakes for channels can get blocked or run dry.
This makes long-term monitoring highly important – if problems can be identified as they arise, we can respond to them using adaptive management, and keep our restoration treatments working. Unfortunately, another theme that we keep encountering is the lack of funding for maintenance and monitoring – most projects are lucky to get money for monitoring 3-5 years after implementation.
Finally, we spent the afternoon at the Mamquam river, practicing water quality sampling in constructed channels that have been connected to the river by placing an intake valve through the dike.
All in all, we had beautiful weather to experience a really cool area, and see restoration work at various stages of development, showcasing the complexities of getting restoration projects off the ground and succeeding in the long-term.