Tofino's Keepers of the Streams
by Lisa Fletcher, Tofino
In 2004, over thirty people came together to learn the necessary skills for keeping the streams of Clayoquot Sound healthy and productive. This was the founding of a non-profit society called the Tofino Streamkeepers. The society's main objective has been to train, support, and educate local people so they can help protect and preserve freshwater habitat and encourage good watershed practices through productive, hands on involvement; An approach that gives the responsibility of watershed habitat stewardship to the people, which can go a long way in conscious community.
Healthy stream and wetland ecosystems are important for all kinds of animals and plants, they are also extremely vital to a healthy community. We are lucky enough to live in an area with lots of clean, fresh, drinkable water, thanks to the natural water cycle. The natural water cycle moves water continuously from air to land and back again. Through precipitation from rain (over 3 meters a year) and fog (an entire month some years), water enters streams, lakes and rivers and then to the ocean. Water is then evaporated back to the air from the water and land. Plants also add water to the air through a process called evapotranspiration. Water is cycled through the atmosphere in this way, every nine to twelve days! Water is often stored in the ground, lakes, and ponds, and is then released slowly during dry spells over the summer.
In an undisturbed watershed, there are many kinds of complex webs and cycles occurring. In addition to an efficient water cycle, natural vegetation is extremely important for stream and wetlands. It helps to stabilize stream-beds, provides shade, food, and cover for many animals. Fallen and decaying logs offer diverse habitat, rich nutrient soil, and help slow the streams erosive energy. Trees that line the watershed provide shading to help keep the water cool, but also allow some sunlight through so algae can photosynthesize as an essential first step in the food chain. Caddisflies, stoneflies, and mayflies live off bacteria and algae and are tasty snacks for birds, fish, amphibians, and other aquatic insects. Many 'shredder' bugs survive and flourish on leaf litter and other decaying organic material. Larger predators like otters, mink, and birds, depend intensely on this tightly connected system for their survival.
A good indication of a healthy stream and watershed system is the presence of a certain family of fish called salmonids. Salmonids species found in b.c. waters are salmon (pink, Chinook, coho, sockeye, chum), trout (steelhead, rainbow, cutthroat, brown), char (dolly varden, lake trout, brook trout), grayling and whitefish. Salmon and some trout species spend part of their life in the ocean, but return to their natal stream or lake to spawn. Depending on the species, this entire life cycle can take anywhere from 2 to 5 years.
Salmonids require a multitude of specific conditions and food sources throughout their life stages. Salmonids need cool, well-oxygenated water, clean gravel, abundant cover, shade, and adequate stream flow. Salmon eggs are deposited in a nest of gravel or a 'redd' and need clean water to supply oxygen and remove wastes. If sediments clog the gravel, the eggs will die. Salmon eggs really have a rough go; only one out of ten eggs will survive to the next stage! As alevins (larval fish with a yolk sac) grow to fry, they require a good supply of aquatic insects, cool water temperatures, and cover from predators.
Salmon also face many challenges created by humans. When streamside vegetation is removed, so is fish habitat and food supply. Smolts (young fish heading to sea) have to get past man made barriers such as dams, pollution in the water or surrounding area, and lack of cover for protection from predators. Streams can become clogged with debris or become flooded from improper drainage systems, which prevent fish from getting out to sea, or back again. Being a salmon is hard work, and the chances of a salmon spawning successfully are limited on the best of days. The Streamkeepers Program was developed to help in stream enhancement projects, for salmon and people. Everyone from residents to developers, foresters and farmers, should be aware of how important good watershed practices are for the long-term protection of our environment.
After all... Hishuk ish ts' awalk -- everything is One.
For information about healthy watershed practices, Tofino Streamkeepers or course offerings, please contact Lisa Fletcher at (250) 725-2560 or email streamkeepers AT gmail.com
Lisa Fletcher is a biologist working in Tofino for the Raincoast Education Society and Tofino Streamkeepers.