Around two dozen people spent the last day of spring break planting native shrubs in Cougar Canyon to help foster a better environment for spawning chum salmon.
On Friday, March 29, volunteers planted over 100 vine maples, Oregon grapes, snowberry bushes, salmonberry bushes and sword ferns to help reinforce the slopes beside Cougar Creek just off a cul-de-sac on Chateau Court in North Delta.
Nikolai Karpun, research and stewardship co-ordinator at the Burns Bog Conservation Society, told the Reporter that location in particular is a great spot to release fish fry in spring, but it’s threatened by human activity upstream.
“One major issue for salmon habitat is human development impacting salmon,” Karpun said.
Rain water and snow melt that would naturally be stored in the ground and filtered by plant roots is actually being siphoned straight to the creek through piping from real estate developments, he said. On top of that, the barren canyon slopes cannot retain water to slowly feed the creek. Instead, all that water is funneled straight down into the stream along with everything it picked up along the way.
“When you get water that passes through an area without vegetation, it does not get filtered and all those toxins and chemicals go directly into the stream, and that affects not only the salmon’s health but also photosynthetic activity and phytoplankton health.”
Phytoplankton are microscopic algae that form the basis of the aquatic food web, and are a main source of food for salmon fry.
Karpun said the planting party was also a good opportunity for the community to spend some time in the outdoors and do something positive for the environment and themselves.
“We are starting to understand more of the mental health and well-being benefits of spending time outdoors and that’s something a lot of people nowadays are not getting enough of,” he said.
Jennifer Goodale and her daughter Julianna came to help out after seeing a post on social media about the event. They said they wanted to make a positive change in the community and the environment.
“I’ve been partially upset about plants being torn down to build more houses, and I would like to [put in] more plants and get them growing,” Julianna Goodale said.
The event was a collaboration between the Cougar Creek Streamkeepers, the City of Delta’s climate action and environment department and Seaquam Secondary’s Operation Green environmental club.
Deborah Jones, community garden project co-ordinator with the Cougar Creek Streamkeepers, told the Reporter planting initiatives are important along Delta’s creeks because Coho salmon fry require cooler, deeper waters to gain strength before heading out into the ocean.
She explained that if there are no trees to retain rain water or if the water gets funneled through to the creeks by pipes, it reaches the coast in a day or two, leaving creeks permanently at low levels and outright dry during summer months.
“These last three months have just been so dry and we saw at the planting how dry the soil was,” she said.
“We can see global warming happening right in front of us and I feel trees are one of our best defences against global warming. We need more of them to cool the planet.”
The Streamkeepers have undertaken several projects aimed at helping the salmon spawn successfully, including building rock weirs and laying spawning gravel in lower Cougar Greek. Jones praised city council’s support for such initiatives, adding the group gets money from the Pacific Salmon Foundation as well as grants from the city to plant rain gardens, which increase the infiltration of rain water often lost in urban settings. Still, she’d like see more done.
“It’s always a question of money and priorities,” Jones said. “There are many competing priorities in a city like Delta that has a relatively small population and relatively huge land area.”
The Streamkeepers and other groups hold a number of events throughout the year like last week’s planting party, all aimed at maintaining — and improving — the health of Delta’s creeks. Up next, the BC Wildlife Federation will host a hike and English Ivy removal in Cougar Canyon on the next one is on April 27. Jones described the ivy as an invasive species that spreads indiscriminately along the canyon walls and replaces native vegetation, which negatively impacts the local ecosystem.
“The ivy has not totally displaced the native plants yet, so we’re hopeful that just by removing it from the steep slopes, the native plants will be able to make a comeback in a major way,” Jones said.
“The more native plants you have on the stream bank, the better the habitat for the type of insects that literally fly over the creek, fall in and are favoured by the young salmon.”
Work will also start soon on North Delta’s 29th rain garden, pending funding from the Pacific Salmon Foundation. The project would redirect rainwater from the roof of Lookout Pre-school at the North Delta Recreation Centre and feed a woodland garden, Jones said.
“There are trees there, but at the moment it’s an ivy desert, as we call it,” she said.
Those interested in taking part in creek restoration and maintenance can find more info on the Cougar Creek Streamkeepers’ website (vcn.bc.ca/cougarcr).