The Beat of the River

The stretch of the Fraser River that rambles the distance between Hope and Mission has extraordinary environmental value. Because of this, it has become known as the “Heart of the Fraser.”

Fraser River
Photo Credit: Jessica Rodriguez

In the depths of the water, there is a wondrous aquatic-ecosystem found in the gravel reach. This includes thirty or more different species of fish that spawn, rear and migrate through this part of the Fraser River. This area boasts one of the largest spawning populations of salmon in British Columbia and is a key spawning ground for sturgeon, not to mention, it is home to a myriad of increasingly-rare plants and animals. Historically this stretch of water comprises of one of the greatest salmonid and sturgeon network of channels, islands and wetlands of its type in the world.

Unfortunately, it has been estimated that over 90% of this landscape has been lost through clearing, diking, ditching, bank hardening, and draining.  These altered lands form the agricultural communities of Abbotsford, Mission, Chilliwack and Agassiz.  Approximately five large island complexes are remaining between the dikes that are still subject to natural fluvial processes.  Most of these rare and endangered islands and channel habitats that remain were turned in pulpwood (poplar-cottonwood) forests over the last several decades.

Herrling Island
Herrling Island before and after clearcutting for agriculture.

Two of these islands, located between Agassiz and Hope, are known to be key white sturgeon spawning habitats and comprise of some of the most important main channel chum salmon spawning and cutthroat trout, sockeye, and chinook juvenile salmon rearing areas. These islands, Carey and Herrling island, after being harvested for pulpwood have been sold to multiple landowners that have indicated that they are going to turn these properties into agricultural lands. Two bridges are also being proposed to be built across the islands. These developments involve stripping the vegetation, draining wetlands, filling in fish habitat and eventually ditching and diking.  This part of the Fraser River is subject to rapid natural erosion and armouring the banks of the stream to protect the land, will result in a complete disruption of the natural functioning of the fluvial processes under which sustains this ecosystem.  Because these are keystone properties for the Heart of the Fraser ecosystem and its white sturgeon populations, if they are continued to be developed, this ecosystem will ultimately collapse.

But there is an alternate fate for these islands. With the islands being cleared they provide a clean slate, with which to replant with a mixture of truly native plants.  A graduate student from BCIT is currently putting together an environmental restoration plan if the properties can be purchased and secured.

Fraser River
Photo Credit: Jessica Rodriguez

In the recognition that these ecosystem losses must be stopped and the lands secured, several private individuals, institutions and non-governmental environmental organizations have coalesced with the BC Wildlife Federation so we may work together to provide a living legacy for future generations at the Heart of the Fraser.

The first step of this coalition is to convince the government that bridges should not be built on these islands and to spread awareness about how important this area, The Heart of the Fraser, is to local hunters, anglers, and conservationists.

Help us Defend the Heart of the Fraser.

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2 thoughts on “The Beat of the River”

  1. Great job as usual in letting everyone know what’s going on. I can’t believe that there are humans in this day and age that think they can dig gravel – cut trees and for that poo in the river and think the fish will survive . Well done.

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