What we've learned about stream keeping

Walking alongside a salmon stream on Quadra, the typical observer would see little to indicate that a water course had been altered by human hands. Yet many streams on the island have been augmented to create features essential for a salmon's life cycle – meandering stream beds, riffles, areas of deeper water, and shade, to name just a few. Observing streams, building features with natural materials, and monitoring the effect is a big part of salmon enhancement on Quadra.

Hy Cr culvert

This idyllic stretch of Hyacinthe Creek is just above the Hyacinthe Bay Road culvert

THE EARLY DAYS  But why mess with nature, people ask? Well, in reality there are very few natural stream courses that are intact on the island. When Quadra was extensively logged in the 1920s, there weren't enough roads to access the timber. The next best thing to a road was a stream bed. Think of a typical creek on Quadra Island. Now imagine the logging equipment of the day – huge, heavy engines called steam donkeys – being hauled up the stream by a trace of draft animals. Fast forward a few decades to the 50s and 60s. The old growth forest has gone, and people are moving to more distant parts of the island. Many a house on Quadra was simply dragged up a stream bed – not by horse but by Caterpillar tractor.

The salmon didn't have much of a chance. After a break from the heavy traffic, the streams slowly healed themselves over the next decades. But they'd never again be what they used to be when only the salmon used them for highways. Little wonder Quadra's streams and salmon both needed some help.

QISES TO THE RESCUE  By the 1980s and 90s lots of assistance was at hand. QISES was well funded and had a strong working and volunteer base. Knowledge about salmon habitat, however, wasn't all that definitive. Some of QISES' workload was the practice of 'stream cleaning' – not to be confused with stream keeping. Many island streams seemed to be collection zones for woody debris. The prevailing wisdom of the day was that this material could be one of the causes behind the salmons' declining numbers. So the QISES team started removing much of this 'extraneous' material from the stream beds.

Not surprisingly, the activity didn't exactly register positive results. But fortunately, because salmon enhancement is observation-based, a halt was quickly put to the practice. It turns out a certain amount of woody debris is not only tolerable but vital to making a stream attractive to spawning salmon. It alters the current and gives the young fish a shelter from predators. Spawning fish can relax in the quieter current and gather their energy to continue their journey upstream. Part of QISES' current stream keeping methodology is to fix certain logs in place so they can entrap branches and bits of wood floating down a stream course.      

A frame

When is a log not just a log? When it's an 'A frame' tethered in place to help a stream!

THINKING LIKE A WATERSHED  That brings us to today. Streams are, by definition, an integral part of a watershed. This makes them vulnerable to changes in the watershed as a whole, changes that can originate far from a stream's geographic location.

QISES 47

Fish, glorious fish! A picture from the mid 80's. 

The overriding change in our time is undeniably climate change, a phenomenon that would seem to be impacting our island streams. A recent shift in weather patterns brings higher winter precipitation and hotter, drier summers. Stream flows in the fall spawning months are measurably lower, and water temperatures measurably higher, than what is optimal for spawning salmon. To help regulate the situation, an intervention known as 'drought-proofing' has been deployed in some watersheds. More on that in the next section.

Read more about:

• What we do

• The necessity of drought-proofing

• How we measure success: the fall fish counts

. The EcoCentre