Koksilah, Chemainus rivers to have habitats restored; one of over 60 planned B.C. conservation projects

Koksilah, Chemainus rivers to have habitats restored; one of over 60 planned B.C. conservation projects
A view of the Koksilah River on Vancouver Island

The B.C. government says that more than 60 projects dedicated to restoring diverse ecosystems and conserving fish, wildlife and habitat are planned or underway throughout the province.

These projects — which will be completed through partnerships with Indigenous communities, environmental groups, universities and local stewardship organizations — are aimed at helping B.C.’s unique species and ecosystems stay health, vibrant and resilient.

“Healthy watersheds and ecosystems are critically important for species conservation and climate adaptation, reducing the impacts and risks caused by floods, droughts and wildfires,” said George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. “By working with partners across the province, we are restoring priority habitat to support threatened species. These meaningful projects also highlight the importance of environmental stewardship and what can be achieved when we work together.”

The Koksilah and Chemainus river ecosystems will be a few of the subjects in this series of planned restoration projects.

These two watersheds on Vancouver Island support large populations of steelhead and salmon species and provide ecosystems that have significant historical and cultural values for Cowichan Tribes.

The government says that climate change, along with water and land-use practices, are impacting salmon in the area and their habitats.

As a result of the ecosystem changing along the Koksilah and Chemainus rivers, the B.C. government will be investing in conservation projects in an attempt to restore the environment.

The Cowichan Watershed Board will be assessing salmon populations over the course of this year, study the water levels that support salmon habitat and restore habitat along the rivers.

“The Koksilah and Chemainus river ecosystems are being threatened by climate change, which we know will have impacts on salmon and everything that depends on them for decades to come. By bringing together Indigenous knowledge of the past with scientific study of the rivers today, we can understand how to plan for these changes,” said Chief William Seymour of the Cowichan Tribes. “This is critical work for our Nations’ food and culture, but healthy salmon watersheds feed species all up and down the coast and are a benefit to the whole province.”

Elsewhere on Vancouver Island, other conservation projects will be implemented on the urban watersheds around Greater Victoria.

The government notes that these urban watersheds provide important habitats for a variety of species and a place for people to enjoy nature.

High urban storm runoff, however, is causing severe erosion and loss of spawning gravel for fish. The government says that simplified ditch-like channels, debris barriers and invasive blackberries are also a concern.

Led by World Fisheries Trust, this project focuses on correcting habitat problems for coho salmon, sea-run cutthroat trout and native amphibian species. Trained interns will implement habitat restoration plans for the upper Colquitz River, Gorge Creek and the Lower Colquitz River along Craigflower Creek.

The Province has partnered with the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation (HCTF) to deliver the projects under the Conservation Economic Stimulus Initiative.

“Investing in species conservation, ecosystem restoration and habitat improvement is an expression of core values that define us as British Columbians. Conservation stands the best chance for success when governments, organizations and individuals work together,” said Winifred Kessler, chair, HCTF board of directors. “These investments will provide much-needed economic relief to communities and families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic while strengthening B.C.’s conservation network.”

About $10 million has been dedicated by the Province to support these projects for species conservation and ecosystem restoration across B.C., and officials are expecting projects to create more than 350 jobs.

Graham CoxGraham Cox

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