By Katie Moore
If you are anything like me you may sometimes feel overwhelmed and somewhat pessimistic about the current trajectory of the world and our environment. Personally, when I read the recent reports by The UN stating that we have 11 years left to prevent irreversible climate change1, and the findings on the accelerating rate of global biodiversity loss2 I feel an increasing sense of “climate anxiety.”
My background is focused on ecosystem restoration which is by definition “the art and science of repairing damaged ecosystems to the greatest possible degree of historical authenticity.”3 People working in the restoration field are required to be optimistic in order to see the potential of a degraded site. Be it a channelized stream, deforested land, harvested wetland, or mined site, restoration practitioners work towards restoring, or similarly reclaiming, it to a desired future condition.
Crews research contaminants at the mouth of the Fraser River, Alana Paterson, Obabika
In one of my favourite books, featured in our book blog, Braiding Sweetgrass, author Robin Wall Kimmerer states, “We need acts of restoration, not only for polluted waters and degraded lands, but also for our relationship to the world. We need to restore honor to the way we live, so that when we walk through the world we don’t have to avert our eyes with shame, so that we can hold our heads up high and receive the respectful acknowledgment of the rest of the earth’s beings.” As Kimmerer beautifully describes it, restoration is not only the act of reestablishing functionality to an ecosystem but also creating a deeper respect and connection to that ecosystem, which is something the Fraser River is deeply in need of.
The Fraser River is the longest river in British Columbia, and arguably one of the most ecologically productive rivers in the world. Its rushing waters are home to the endangered white sturgeon, and the economically and culturally important Chinook and sockeye salmon. The river is also frequented by bald eagles, sandhill cranes, and osprey.4 Since time immemorial, First Nations have lived in the Fraser River Basin utilizing its resources for diet, cultural traditions, and transportation routes. The abundance of Pacific salmon in the Fraser has always been deeply embedded in First Nations’ identities but in recent years, salmon stocks have declined drastically, thought to be caused by commercial fishing, habitat loss, pollution and illegal harvests.5
Fisherman emptying salmon from nets on the Fraser River, 1903, City of Vancouver Archives, AM1376-: CVA 102-25
Today, the Fraser Watershed is also the most densely populated area in British Columbia and where 80% of BC’s economy is generated from farming, mining, logging, and fishing.6 These industries in the watershed have been degrading the Fraser River for decades by raising the water temperature, increasing sedimentation, and creating toxic runoff from a combination of agriculture, industry, and wastewater. The Fraser River is unfortunately no longer the pristine ecosystem with abundant resources it once was as these impacts have caused cascading negative effects on the river’s flora and fauna.
Map of the Fraser River, Globe and Mail
Although the task is daunting, there are many non-profit groups, charitable organizations, and government agencies that are all working towards conservation and restoration on the Fraser. If you, like me, feel a little bit down about the state of our natural world, I have outlined three ongoing restoration projects happening in the Fraser River watershed to highlight some promising work aimed to return the ecosystem to its natural historic state.
1. Tom Berry Gravel Pit: Off-channel habitat restoration for salmon
This project is one of the recipients of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Coastal Restoration Fund, a federal fund that addresses threats to marine habitats and species located on Canada’s coasts. This project is located adjacent to the Fraser River near Hope where a gravel pit was created in the 1980s to provide construction material for the Coquihalla highway. The gravel pit is seasonally flooded with water during spring freshet of the Fraser River, during which juvenile chinook, sockeye, and coho salmon can become stranded in. The primary focus of this project is to restore the gravel pit to a natural floodplain area and connectivity to the Fraser River over the next two years, ending in 2021. Off-channel or side-channel habitat is important for fish species, especially juvenile salmon, as an area of refuge from predators and strong currents. The restored floodplain channel will not only provide crucial habitat for fish species but also to restore form and function to a natural floodplain area. This project is being carried out by the Fraser Valley Watersheds Coalition in partnership with Sto:lo First Nation, Fraser Valley Regional District, and Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. FVWC has been recruiting volunteers for this project for various planting days, you can learn more about this project here.
2. Connected Waters: Reconnecting habitats and restoring wild salmon
Tides Canada and our friends at Watershed Watch Salmon Society received funding from the newly announced Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund (BCSRIF) for a project focused on identifying priority sites requiring infrastructure upgrades and habitat restoration in the Lower Fraser Watershed. This project, called “Connected Waters,” aims to reconnect blocked waterways as a result of flood infrastructure for salmon overwintering and rearing habitat by upgrading to fish-friendly flood infrastructure. A large focus of this project is not only on habitat restoration but also on connecting people to water by providing citizens with more natural spaces for recreating and learning. You can learn more about this project here.
3. Restoring connectivity on the delta of the Fraser River estuary
Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Ducks Unlimited Canada have been working on a project to restore connectivity on the islands in the Fraser River Estuary in hopes to improve early marine survival of Pacific salmon. The project’s goals are to control invasive plants that have a negative impact on fish habitat, upgrading impermeable dikes on Gunn and Rose Kirkland islands, and reconnecting marshlands throughout the Fraser’s southern arm. Increasing the survival of juvenile salmonid species using estuaries is both culturally important and beneficial for the southern resident killer whale population who primarily feed on Chinook salmon. You can learn more about this project here.
Restoration site at the mouth of the Fraser River, Alex Harris, Raincoast Conservation
Regardless of the still concerning issues impacting the Fraser River, it is hopeful to know that there are many ongoing projects and groups including First Nations, government and nonprofits working to restore areas of the culturally and environmentally significant Fraser River. Around the world, there are countless restoration projects working towards a future of healthier streams, forests, lakes, wetlands, and oceans. I hope these highlighted projects provide you with a dose of optimism in these trying times, and that you feel encouraged to find projects in your community and get involved!
Three Ways You Can Get Involved
Treat Our Salish Sea
Non-profit organizations Obabika and Georgia Strait Alliance are teaming up to advocate for advanced treatment at Iona Island Wastewater Plant, located at the mouth of the Fraser River, which only treats Vancouver’s wastewater at a primary level, removing a mere 50% of suspended solids before flowing straight into the Salish Sea. On their website, Obabika states, “Advanced treatment is an end of pipe solution that would stop microplastics, pharmaceuticals, and harmful chemicals such as nitrogen as phosphorus from entering the Fraser River and Salish Sea.” You can learn more, and take action to Treat Our Salish Sea here.
Defend the Heart of the Fraser
A coalition of groups and individuals have joined forces to create a campaign to stand up for the Heart of the Fraser an area between Mission and Hope and a crucial spawning area for both salmon and endangered white sturgeon. The goal of the coalition is to conserve the floodplain and river islands, restore the riparian zones and encourage the government to ensure a sustainable plan for the health of the river. Learn more about joining this coalition and signing a pledge to ensure the river is maintained for generations to come here.
Fraser Riverkeeper Annual Cleanup
Fraser Riverkeeper is a member of the Fraser Valley Illegal Dumping Alliance (FVIDA) and hosts an annual cleanup in Chilliwack every spring for the last 12 years which has cumulatively removed 130 tonnes of garbage from the Fraser and its shoreline. Sign up to receive updates about the next cleanup in Spring 2020 here. You can also report any pollution on the Fraser to our app, Swim Guide.
- Mills, S. (1995). In service of the wild: Restoring and reinhabiting damaged land. Beacon Press: Boston, Mass.
Banner image by Fernando Lessa