Interior Fraser River Steelhead continue their slide toward extirpation
Be sure to celebrate British Columbia’s magnificent waterways on World Rivers Day on Sunday, but take a moment to reflect on the imminent extirpation of the Interior Fraser Steelhead. These iconic fish may soon pass out of existence without urgent action from the federal government.
The number of steelhead returning to the Thompson and Chilcotin watersheds is the lowest ever recorded, according to a Spring 2022 spawning population estimate. Both populations are classified as an Extreme Conservation Concern.
An emergency threat assessment by the Committee on Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) concluded four years ago that the Interior Fraser steelhead are at risk of extinction and recommended they be listed under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). Our federal government has so far refused to act on that recommendation.
A FEW DOZEN FISH ARE ALL THAT IS LEFT
The 2022 Steelhead spawning population for the Chilcotin watershed is estimated to be just 19 individuals, down from 3,149 in 1985.
From a count of 3,510 in 1985, the Thompson River steelhead population is now estimated to be 104 individuals. Several sub-populations are near extirpation, including the Deadman River (20), Bonaparte River (20), and Nicola River (64).
“Interior Fraser Steelhead are one of the most majestic fish on the planet, renowned for their beauty, size and strength”, said Mark Angelo, long time river advocate and Chair and founder of B.C. and World Rivers Day. “With these fish on the edge of extinction, World Rivers Day is an appropriate time to reflect on the urgent need to do more to protect them and enable their recovery.”
The B.C. Wildlife Federation (BCWF) supports immediate implementation of the emergency SARA listing for Thompson and Chilcotin steelhead to save these steelhead runs before they disappear forever.
WHAT WE ARE DOING TO HELP
The BCWF is identifying restoration opportunities in riparian areas and rearing habitat for salmonids across B.C. with local First Nations and community partners.
The Federation is working with landowners and First Nations to advance construction of man-made beaver dam analogues in the Nicola Valley in support of steelhead habitat.
“Historically, beaver on the landscape introduced a unique disturbance to stream systems,” said Neil Fletcher, BCWF Director of Conservation Stewardship. “Beaver dams and the ponds supplement downstream flows in periods of drought, slow water to moderate floods, clean water by trapping sediment, improve fire resistance by increasing surface waters and saturating soils, and provide deep water refugia for fish.”
BCWF’s Wetlands Workforce staff is also collaborating with Fraser Valley Watershed Coalition to reintroduce aquatic back channels for salmon rearing for the benefit of coho and other salmonids.
We are also working on a side channel project along the Bonaparte River in collaboration with the Bonaparte Indian Band to add another kilometer of coho side channel habitat on private land.
“Since many valley-bottom stream and river systems pass through private property, collaborating with landowners and identifying willing landowners, who wish to steward their land is critical to the success of fish, wildlife, and habitat conservation,” said Fletcher.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Every one of us can help by using water conservatively and encouraging local businesses to do the same.
“In addition to restoring habitat, we have to ensure that we aren’t over-allocating water in these systems for residential, agricultural, and industrial uses,” said Zeman. “We can all play a role in maintaining healthy flow rates.”
Take part in habitat restoration projects by joining a fish and game club.
Last year, more than 1,200 people engaged in BCWF-backed habitat restoration and education. More than 11,000 square metres of riparian habitat were surveyed and restored. More than 145 wetlands were assessed, and 78 wetlands monitored, maintained or restored. Our volunteers work 300,000 hours each year on projects that benefit wildlife and the environment.
WORLD RIVERS DAY RESOURCES
The United Nations designated World Rivers Day was in response to a proposal initiated by B.C. rivers advocate, Mark Angelo. https://worldriversday.com/
You can share photos or thoughts about World Rivers Day using the hashtag: #WorldRiversDay or tag WRD using @oneriverworld on your Twitter post, or @riverworld on Facebook.
The BCWF’s Heart of the Fraser project was initiated to preserve crucial habitat for white sturgeon, and chinook, chum, pink, and other salmonids. https://bcwf.bc.ca/initiatives/initiatives-heart-of-the-fraser/
Representatives of the BCWF will attend World Rivers Day celebrations across the Lower Mainland. Find us at:
- Riverfest in New Westminster on Sept 24
- Ridge Meadows Rivers Day in Maple Ridge on Sept 25
- Squamish Rivers Day Celebration in Squamish on Sept 25
- World Rivers Day in Burnaby on Sept 25.
Visit the Outdoor Recreation Council of BC’s events page to find a World Rivers Day event near you!