Mon, 15 Jan 2018

Tunkwa Lake Watershed Project by Brian Chan

There are a lot of great fishing lakes located in the Southern Interior region of BC. Ideal water chemistry, long, hot growing seasons and managed populations of stocked rainbow, brook trout and kokanee provide a diversity of angling experiences. A quick look at a map of the Merritt, Logan Lake and Kamloops area will reveal just how many small lake fisheries are waiting to be fished. One of the most popular groups of stillwaters is those found within the Tunkwa Lake watershed. They include Tunkwa, Leighton, Morgan and Six Mile lakes. Each year over 30,000 angler days are spent plying these waters in search of rainbow trout. Recreational fishing within this watershed has been a popular pastime for over 70 years. Tunkwa Lake Resort has been in operation for over the past 40 years and in 1996 Tunkwa and Leighton lakes were the cornerstones of the newly created Tunkwa Lake Provincial Park.

The development of the recreational fisheries within the Tunkwa watershed was in large part the result of creek diversions and construction of dams on key lakes in an effort to store and supply water for downstream agricultural purposes. Some of the original irrigation works done by pioneering ranching families date back to the late 1800s. Those initial diversions and dams provided enough additional water in Tunkwa Lake to support fish life. The first recorded government stockings of Tunkwa date back to 1939. Those first stockings produced some amazing fish and fishing action. However, over the years, the demand for water increased as more land was cleared and put into forage production. Years with a good snowpack combined with adequate rainfall during summer months meant good survival of trout in both Tunkwa and Leighton lakes. Conversely, low snowpack and summer drought conditions would result in more winterkills and summerkills.

Over the past 75 years, there have been a lot of physical improvements made to the dams, diversions and water delivery systems that have made these lakes what they are today. Perhaps the most significant enhancement project in the Tunkwa watershed began in 1994 when the Provincial Ministry of Environment completed a study of the watershed of water use and availability while considering ways to optimize the use of water to benefit fish, wildlife and agricultural interests. During the same time period, the ownership of Six Mile Lake Ranch near Savona changed hands. A large portion of this cattle and alfalfa production ranch was being redeveloped into a golf course and housing complex. During the government approval process, the province was able to obtain some of the Six Mile Ranch water rights. Converting these water licences from irrigation to conservation use was key to allowing much of the planned watershed enhancement work to move forward.

Ongoing discussions began with other user groups within the Tunkwa watershed as all had a stake in ensuring their licenced water was protected while at the same time realizing that water conservation improvements would benefit all users. Individual ranchers, the Durand Creek Water Users Community, government agencies, First Nations, Ducks Unlimited and member clubs of the BC Wildlife Federation worked cooperatively to realize the goals of the watershed enhancement plan.

The biggest obstacle to making this plan work was seeking out appropriate funding sources. The Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation proved to be the perfect fit for this project. The origins of this not for profit foundation started with anglers, hunters, trappers and guide-outfitters, who were willing to pay more for licensing fees if this extra funding resulted in enhancements to fish and wildlife populations and the protection of important fish and wildlife habitats. Members of the BC Wildlife Federation were a major push behind this initiative. In 1981 the BC government established the Habitat Conservation Fund, whose revenues would be collected through surcharges on fishing, hunting and trapping licenses. The goal of the fund was to partner with individuals or groups to deliver projects that restored, enhanced and increased fish and wildlife habitat in the province. In 2008 HCTF received charitable status and the current name of Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation was established.

Beginning in 2001, the provincial Ministry of Environment began applying for funds from the HCTF. The Ministry partnered with Ducks Unlimited Canada to further leverage funds for the improvement of both lakes and wetlands within the project boundaries. Over the next 5 years, almost $350,000 was spent on water conservation projects within the Tunkwa Lake watershed. This work included rebuilding the existing diversion and control structures, new dam construction and rebuilding of both dams on Tunkwa and Leighton lakes. An additional 11 wetland basin improvement projects were constructed in the upper end of the Tunkwa watershed. These newly created wetlands provided habitat not only for waterfowl but also a wide variety of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

Water licencing now owned by the provincial fisheries program was used for conservation purposes to develop Morgan Lake, which historically was a small pond that laid alongside the old Trans-Canada Highway, just east of the town of Savona. It was a fishless waterbody that had tremendous potential to support fish life with increased water levels. HCTF funds were used to build a dam at the east end of the lake, and water from Durand creek (which originated at Tunkwa and Leighton lakes) was used to fill the basin. At completion, almost 5 meters of water was added to the original basin, creating the new Morgan Lake. The lake now had a maximum depth of over 10 meters and could definitely sustain fish life. An open ditch was constructed to deliver water from Morgan to nearby Six Mile Lake to allow seasonal flushing and filling of water. Water that eventually reached Morgan and Six Mile lakes arrived by a newly constructed 6 km long open ditch that diverted water from Durand Creek. The dam on Six Mile Lake was also rebuilt and a small sheet pile weir dam was installed on Turtle Pond, which lies just east of Six Mile Lake. This is an important waterfowl nesting and migration wetland. Several other smaller wetland ponds were created using this new water from Tunkwa and Leighton lakes. Upper Pond, Boyd’s Marsh and Harley’s Marsh lie just south of Morgan Lake and all receive water via the Durand Creek diversion ditch.

In all, 15 wetland habitats making up a total of 280 ha were created within the Tunkwa watershed. The additional work of rebuilding or constructing new dams, diversion structures and delivery channels significantly increased the ability to deliver water efficiently while at the same time conserving water for fish, wildlife and agricultural uses. HCTF continues to contribute $12,000 annually for the operation and maintenance of structures built within the watershed.

So how are the trout fisheries in these 4 lakes doing some 16 years after the initiation of this project? Tunkwa and Leighton lakes continue to be very popular fisheries, no doubt aided by the fact that there are two large campgrounds and a thriving resort operation within this provincial park. Tunkwa and Leighton lakes are back to being stocked with Pennask rainbow trout after almost a decade and a half of being augmented with Blackwater rainbows. Fishing success continues to be good on both lakes and a public fishing dock located on Tunkwa Lake has proven to be a very popular addition to the park. Both lakes are also open to ice fishing which has allowed even more anglers to enjoy these resources.

Morgan Lake continues to be a great success story. Since its creation, it has been managed as a catch and release fishery that is stocked annually with both Blackwater and Fraser Valley strains of rainbow trout. Both strains reach in excess of 5 lbs. The lake is quite popular in the early spring, as it and Six Mile Lake are generally the first lakes to become ice-free each year. Six Mile Lake has a long history of being a great spring and fall fishery and is very popular with local anglers. It is also stocked with both Blackwaters and Fraser Valley rainbows. Both lakes provide anglers with a backdrop of sagebrush and grassland vistas along with consistent fishing action.

The funding made available through the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation was instrumental in making all this enhancement work possible. Partnering with Ducks Unlimited Canada strengthened not only the financial end of this project but also helped ensure existing wetlands were enhanced and new ones were created to the benefit of many species of wildlife. In the end, recreational users and the agricultural community continue to benefit from more effective management of the water resources within the watershed.

The next time you purchase your fishing or hunting licence, remember that you’re helping to fund conservation projects like this one. To date, HCTF has invested over 165 Million dollars in fish and wildlife projects in BC. To find out more about conservation projects happening in your community, take a look at HCTF’s interactive project map.

Brian Chan has been fortunate enough to live and work for the past 35 years in Kamloops, British Columbia. It is here that Brian, as a provincial fisheries biologist, managed the recreational stillwater trout fisheries in the Thompson/Nicola Region, and developed his fishing skills. Brian’s lifelong passion for fly fishing has resulted in his spending literally thousands of angling days on these world class waters. He has shared his extensive knowledge of aquatic biology, trout ecology, entomology, and lake fly fishing tactics with others, through magazine articles, books, and instructional DVDs. Brian has been featured on many TV fishing shows and is currently a regular guest on Sport Fishing on the Fly and co-host of The New Fly Fisher.

Sun, 5 Nov 2017

Poop Gives the Scoop on Who’s Roosting Where

Many thanks to the Habitat Acquisition Trust for providing this update on the Community Bat Project!

Victoria, BC – November 2, 2017.

During annual bat counts, Habitat Acquisition Trust volunteers and Bat Habitat Stewards collect guano samples from beneath the bat roosts. That’s a polite way of saying, we collect bat poop.

Not to whisk away to fertilize gardens and restoration sites, but in the name of citizen science. The guano collected gets sent off for genetic analysis, to determine the species of bats living at each roost. We can’t tell what bats are living in a colony when they whoosh out of their homes at night and we don’t want to disturb the bats by physically capturing them. So this provides a safe means of understanding who’s roosting where.

This genetic analysis, coupled with listening devices that interpret bat calls called Echometers is allowing HAT to build a more comprehensive understanding of bat populations. On their own, Echometers are most useful for sites where there isn’t easy access to collect guano. Since the listening devices can pick up bats roosting in nearby trees, and since the device sometimes narrows the calls down to several different species.

Some of the bat colonies HAT’s team of dedicated Bat Counters monitor are home to multiple different species. At a particular site there are Yuma and Little Brown Bats living in the same roost. Perhaps we could learn from our little bat friends about coexistence too!

From the 2016 field season, the BC Community Bat Program sent away 151 guano samples from across BC for analysis. 135 of the samples successfully yielded DNA for analysis. 80 of the 135 samples were Little Brown Myotis bats. The rest of the samples belonged to Yuma Myotis (21 samples), Big-brown Bat (16 samples), California Myotis (2 samples), Long-legged Myotis (5 samples), Long-eared Myotis (7 samples), and Silver-haired Bats (1 sample). Amongst the bat DNA, deer mouse and red squirrel were also found.

Of the 11 sites where HAT volunteers and bat stewards were able to collect guano the results were:

  • 5 Little Brown Bat colonies
  • 1 Yuma Bat colony
  • 2 Big Brown Bats
  • 1 California Myotis
  • 1 Western Long-eared Myotis
  • 1 Long-legged Myotis

Each of these species have different characteristics as part of their roles and adaptations to their surroundings. Even though telling bats apart without genetic analysis can be a real challenge, even for experts.

Facts about these BC Bat species:

Little Brown Bats

Myotis lucifugus

Little Brown Bats primarily feed on tiny insects, without hard shells like midges, caddisflies, and moths. They do their foraging over calm waters like lakes and ponds.

Yuma Myotis

Myotis yumanensis

In May 2017, the deadly White-nose Syndrome was detected in this species, the second recorded case of the fungal disease in Washington State. Currently, eight species of bats have been discovered affected by the disease. Yuma Myotis maternity colonies, where females gather together to raise pups, have been documented to have over 1,000 individuals in some places in BC.

Big Brown Bats

Eptesicus fuscus

Big Brown Bats forage mainly above fields, trees, water, and open spaces. They focus their feeding efforts on moths, beetles, termites, caddisflies, lacewings, carpenter ants, and midges.

California Myotis

Myotis californicus

California Myotis are one of the smallest bat species in BC. Their maternity colonies for pup-rearing mothers are small and usually only have about 20 individuals.

Long-eared Myotis Bats

Myotis evotis

Long-eared Myotis Bats have been recorded hibernating in caves and mines in the Western United States, and there is a record of one found in a garage in Oregon during December. So keep an eye out for these little guys during the winter, so we might better understand their cold-weather habits. They feed both by catching bugs in flight or by picking bugs off the ground and trees.

Long-legged Myotis Bats

Myotis volans

Long-legged Myotis Bats are active all night long, even when it’s cold outside. They are more tolerant of lower temperatures than other bats.

Silver Haired Bats

Lasionycteris noctivagans

Silver Haired Bats are solitary tree roosters that make their homes in forests and grasslands in logs, beneath bark, and in abandoned woodpecker holes.

If you see bats roosting over winter we would like to hear you reports at bat@hat.bc.ca , so we can better understand the winter-time habits of bats on South Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.

Habitat Acquisition Trust’s Community Bat Program is funded by LUSH, MEC, the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation (HCTF), and people like you. If you would like to support the Community Bat Program’s continued work with these incredible animals, please donate online today at http://hat.bc.ca/bats or call 250-995-2428.

Tue, 17 Oct 2017

Explosive Start to Restoring Steelhead Passage on the Coquihalla River

A huge chunk of rock and debris preventing summer steelhead from reaching their spawning grounds has been at least partially cleared, thanks to a partnership between government, engineers, and non-profits. A fallen railway support abutment from the historic Kettle Valley Railway had been blocking fish passage up Othello Falls on the Coquihalla River since 2014. Using low-velocity explosives, engineers have split the blockage into smaller pieces, which should be able to be washed downstream by fall and winter high-water events. HCTF provided funding for this project along with the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC, who have a fantastic write-up of the project on their blog.

Mon, 18 Sep 2017

HCTF Visits the Cowichan Shoreline Stewardship Project

b2ap3_large_2014_cowichan_site_2

The Cowichan Shoreline Stewardship Project (CSSP) has been restoring riparian habitat along Cowichan Lake and River since 2014. HCTF staff were invited to a tour of various restoration sites on the 1st of September, and we were pleased to attend to see the results of this important HCTF funded stewardship project.

The CSSP is a combined effort between the BC Conservation Foundation (BCCF) and the Cowichan Lake and River Stewardship Society (CLRSS), with the later as the main “community lead”. The CLRSS is made up of local residents with a strong desire to preserve and protect terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems that surround and sustain the lake.

In the initial three year phase of the project 2014-17, a total of 26 lake/river shoreline properties have been restored under CSSP, totaling 7,239 square metres of riparian habitat improvements. To date, average plant survival has exceeded 85% for the majority of sites. In this same period, CLRSS volunteers have conducted a total of 282 riparian owner visits around the lake/river, and administered 227 standard surveys designed to gauge shoreline owner knowledge and preferences for preservation of natural riparian habitats. The project has been funded for another three-year phase (2017-10), we look forward to seeing the results of this project moving forward.

The tour included a mix of sites planted in each year of the project to date (see photos below). It was interesting to see the site planted in 2014 looking quite established and naturalized, compared with the recent plantings which still required frequent watering and protection from grazing by deer, elk and beaver.

Below: Photos of the lakefront site planted in 2014. Plants are well-established, requiring little ongoing maintenance.

2015 Riverfront Site: Two adjacent private residences (the sign marks the restored area)

2016 Riverfront site (owned by Town of Lake Cowichan): Site was previously solid Blackberry. Ongoing maintenance has included regular pulling of regenerating blackberry.

2017 Lakefront site (private residence). This site includes a creek passing through property also undergoing restoration.

Thank-you to Christine Brophy, Field Manager for the tour if this important stewardship project. Keep up the good work!

Thu, 24 Aug 2017

87+ Acres Conserved for Bighorn Sheep

Skaha_Lake_eastside

Penticton—The Nature Trust of British Columbia is pleased to announce the purchase of the Skaha Lake Eastside property near Penticton with the support of many partners and donors.

“So glad there’s been success with the Skaha Lake property,” said Judie Steeves, West Kelowna freelance writer. “As a kid, I used to go hike up on those bluffs and sit and contemplate the future as I looked out over Skaha Lake. I love that area. Saw my first rattler in the wild there, too.”

This property which spans 35.4 hectares (87.5 acres) features critical habitat for Bighorn Sheep and other wildlife on the eastside of Skaha Lake. It is adjacent to our existing Skaha Lake Property complex which is included in the McTaggart-Cowan/Ns?k’?niw’t Wildlife Management Area.

This land has a variety of habitat ideal for Bighorn Sheep. The open grassland dotted with ponderosa pines and Douglas-fir provides grazing area and the rocky steep bluffs provide protection from predators.

“This property is one of the last remaining undeveloped benchlands on the eastside of Skaha Lake,” said Nicholas Burdock, The Nature Trust of BC’s Okanagan Conservation Land Coordinator. “It takes you only a few steps to recognize how beautiful this location is and why it is so important that it remain in a natural state. There are many rare plants and animals that rely on this landscape; it really is a special place in the South Okanagan.”

The Skaha Lake parcel is located in two of the most endangered biogeoclimatic zones: Bunchgrass and Ponderosa Pine. In addition to Bighorn Sheep, this property supports other species at risk such as the White-throated Swift and Western Rattlesnake and potentially the endangered American Badger.

This property is an infill piece, surrounded by our conservation lands to the north and east with the Eastside Road to the west and the south adjacent to a housing development.

“You only have to take one look at a map to understand the risk of this property being developed and its habitat values lost forever,” said Ross Peck, Chair of the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation. “By helping The Nature Trust purchase these lands for conservation, we’re confident they’ll continue to support Okanagan wildlife in perpetuity.”

Management objectives will focus on increasing the quality of Bighorn Sheep habitat, improving connectivity and sheep movement within the adjacent Wildlife Management Area and decreasing human caused disturbance. Purchasing the property will reduce the risk of disease transmission by excluding domestic sheep and goats.

This project was made possible with the generous support of the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, BC Conservation Foundation, Sitka Foundation, Gosling Foundation, Wild Sheep Society of BC, Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk (Government of Canada through Environment and Climate Change Canada) and individual donors.

The Nature Trust of British Columbia is dedicated to protecting BC’s natural diversity of plants and wildlife through the acquisition and management of ecologically significant land. Since 1971 The Nature Trust along with our partners has invested more than $95 million to secure over 71,000 hectares (175,000 acres) across British Columbia.

Wed, 16 Aug 2017

Photos of Englishman River Estuary Restoration

We love to receive photos of our grant recipients’ conservation projects, and the Vancouver Island Conservation Lands Management Program (VICLMP), in conjunction with The Nature Trust of BC, has been doing a fantastic job of capturing and sharing their progress in restoring the Englishman River Estuary in Parksville, BC. Thanks to Tom Reid, VICLMP Manager, for these images.

Day 1: Removing the remnant roadway that bisected the estuary.

Day 2: Road removal continues

Day 3: 1500 cubic metres of fill removed…

Resulting in water flowing through this area of the Englishman Estuary for the first time in over 50 years!

The next day, the first new occupants are already moving in.

By the end of day 4, the team has removed 2500m3 of fill.

Day 5: An early start, but more than half way there.

Shorebirds come to check out the newly restored area:

Week 2: Placement of large woody debris for fish habitat and connecting the channels.

By the end of week 2, 3500 cubic metres of fill had been removed, channels connected, and fish habitat structures installed. Great job!

You can read more about the Englishman River Estuary Restoration Project here, or follow VICLMP on twitter for more updates on this project.