ENVIRO NOTES: River cared for by many

Habitat, wildlife of Little Campbell River at risk.

One of our area’s natural treasures is the Little Campbell River. It flows from Langley along the eastern side of the Semiahmoo Peninsula through parts of Surrey, White Rock and the Semiahmoo First Nation Reserve on its way to Semiahmoo and Boundary Bays. It’s joined by no fewer than eight significant tributaries, some rising in the U.S. The river is more than 30 kilometres long and the 75-square-km catchment it drains has a mixed cover of  second-growth broad-leaved and coniferous trees in the Coastal Western Hemlock region, where it isn’t farmed or built over.

The river supports chinook, chum, coho, blue-listed cutthroat, occasional pink salmon as well as the yellow-listed steelhead.  Eelgrass beds in its lower reaches are rearing sites for juvenile fish, and its mudflats are an important component of the internationally recognized Pacific Flyway, an Important Bird Area.

Like all of our natural areas, the Little Campbell River is at risk: urbanization near stream banks can result in soil erosion and contaminated run-off, with adverse effects on water quality; run-off from agriculture also can harm water quality; and removal of streamside vegetation, by removing shade, causes deleteriously raised water temperature.

Being a salmon-bearing stream, the river comes under the jurisdiction of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which regulates fishing seasons and is empowered, under the 1985 Fisheries Act, to protect fish, spawning grounds and fish habitat and to collaborate with the provincial Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks. In addition, two zealous volunteer groups work continuously to maintain or enhance the river and its fish populations.

The Semiahmoo Fish and Game Club was incorporated in 1957 initially to repair damage caused by uncritical gravel removal from the river. Its volunteers still continue this restoration work and, since 1983, have augmented it by operating a fish hatchery which annually rears and releases several thousands of young salmon.

The aim of the Little Campbell River Watershed Society is to “… preserve, enhance and restore fish and wildlife resources and green space within the Little Campbell River watershed…” It seeks to meet these objectives by riparian enhancement, educating the public and keeping records of  habitat parameters. These two volunteer groups work closely together, with the LCWS focusing on Langley while the fish and game club’s main concerns are the hatchery and stream-bank integrity.

Downstream from the club’s stretch of the river, the Christian A Rocha organization runs an environmental instructional facility which, amongst other activities, maintains the river’s banks where it runs through their property. It co-operates with the Pacific Salmon Foundation and DFO, and has completed a program to restore the former meandering course of the river.

In the lower reaches, south of 16 Avenue, DFO wrestles with problems of low summer flows, compromised water quality and high summer temperatures, but the river is protected by federal, provincial and municipal regulations. Urban expansion, with all that entails, is and will remain a never-ending threat to the the Little Campbell.

Fortunately for all the creatures that depend on the river, there is a dedicated band of volunteers who spare no effort to look after and care for ‘their’ river.

Dr. Roy Strang writes monthly on the environment for the Peace Arch News – rmstrang@shaw.ca

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