The second fiscal year of Columbia Basin Trust (CBT) environment enhancements has recently begun at Shuswap Creek.

With $350,000 for a four-year project, the Shuswap Indian Band (SIB), the Government of B.C. and the Jon Bisset and Associates team is working toward identifying potential concerns with fish conservation and habitat restoration as a pilot project to help inform work on the Upper Columbia conservation initiative.

The restoration project at Shuswap Creek has a March 2023 targeted completion date.

“We’re using a multiple indicator approach to study fish populations, water quality, identify the total number of kilometres (km) of the stream that’s vegetative, channel morphology and to learn more about the stream habitat that’s available for fish movement as well as removing potential barriers for fish movement,” said Jon Bisset, Jon Bisset and Associates project lead.

Prior to receiving the funding for Shuswap Creek restoration, Bisset indicated that his team was able to complete an instream flow study in close collaboration with the Government of B.C. which helped lay the foundation for identifying tasks for the ongoing project between 2009 and 2011.

“The first phase (of the project) was to identify potential concerns with fish conservation and identify what’s changed since the assessment, instream work, fisheries and habitat restoration. We used that to identify areas for restoration,” said Bisset. “We had hoped to include a fish fence to see what fish species might be moving into Shuswap creek from the Columbia River to spawn. We weren’t able to do that, but we were able to find about three kilometres of restoration sites for more detailed surveys this summer. We hope to construct it in 2021.”

Bisset’s goal is to provide staffing resources, stewardship and knowledge transfer to the SIB as well as assistance in the decision making process for restoration. The CBT funding helped his team to identify priority sites for the next two years.

“The idea was to use Shuswap Creek as a poster child, if you would, to use as a template for the rest of the creeks from the headwaters down to donald in the Columbia Valley going downstream in terms of restoration,” said Mark Thomas, SIB councillor. “The 1.7 M is to look at the rest of the area for cutthroat and sturgeon to see what can be done to restore that habitat. That information is ultimately valuable for salmon restoration as well.”

However, Thomas believes that the COVID-19 pandemic has slightly hindered the progress of the restoration project but remains optimistic about the restoration efforts to improve the ecosystem in hopes of restoring the salmon population to the Columbia Valley.

“Shuswap felt it imperative to utilize community efforts to build capacity and to build awareness and support in our community,” said Thomas. “Ultimately, the issues that are at hand at Shuswap Creek are the same all the way in our area.”

In addition, Bisset and Camille Des Rosiers-Ste. Marie who serves the project team as an independent contractor, project manager and biologist are studying fish populations for Westslope Cutthroat Trout, White surgeon, Bull Trout, Burbot, Mountain White Fish and Kokanee.

“There’s a feedback loop,” said Bisset. “As an example, for Galena Creek, the landowners wanted to remove some instream barriers and we were able to provide some input to assist them with irrigation and things that we’re actually looking at doing in the Upper Columbia project.”

The ongoing conservation and environmental enhancement work being completed with this project is geared toward informing stakeholders about which areas may offer the highest value from a restoration perspective by helping to access 300 tributaries and watersheds in the East Kootenay region to select 25 to focus on for the Upper Columbia project.

“We recently put in a couple of fish fences on Shuswap Creek and Abel Creek to identify what species are migrating into the Upper Columbia River and tributaries,” Bisset concluded.