Tag Archives: Defend the Heart of the Fraser

The Cottonwoods of the Heart of the Fraser

Black cottonwood trees, the biggest poplars on earth and one of the fastest growing, inhabit the banks, islands and surrounding areas of the Heart of the Fraser. Imagine a tree the height of a 12-storey building with a trunk close to 12 meters round and a crown the size of a large house. Now imagine a whole forest of those trees, and that’s how the Heart of the Fraser used to look.

Cottonwoods are fabulous wildlife trees. When their huge limbs break off, they get cavities in them, allowing room for owls to nest in them. Eagles and heron colonies make their nests as high as they can amongst the branches of the tall trees. Thus, in the Heart of the Fraser, cottonwoods are an essential species ecologically.

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As the trees age and wither they fall into the coves, inlets and channels that surround these islands, providing hiding places for fish and cover for a variety of other species associated with the landscape. These massive trees also provide stability to the islands and slow their erosion to a steady rate, so the islands do not disappear all at once.

Everything eventually comes back to the water, but it is not just the water that is crucial to this landscape. The trees, riparian areas and the islands create the makeup of this habitat. The river is a central point in the ecosystem and provides a continuous connection of fish, wildlife and habitat from the Heart of the Fraser as far upstream as Prince George. The Fraser River and the ecosystems around it are what binds the landscape together. Having native and natural vegetation in place is crucial to that function.

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Please help us defend the cottonwoods that grow in the Heart of the Fraser by signing the petition to oppose the approval of a permanent bridge and development on the Heart of the Fraser islands.

Sign the Petition today!

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The Dinosaurs of the River

White sturgeon, Acipenser transmontanus, is an ancient species of ray-finned fishes found only in western North America. They have lived in the deep pools, eddies and estuary of the lower Fraser River Valley since time immemorial.

The white sturgeon is the biggest and longest-lived freshwater fish in Canada. Individual sturgeons can weigh over 450 kilos and be more than three metres long and 100 years in age!

The White Sturgeon
Photo Credit: Dusty Waite

Population decline over decades has led to the lower Fraser white sturgeon being designated Threatened by the independent Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).

The recreational catch-and-release fishery, along with tagging studies, has provided precise population estimates for sturgeon in the Fraser River. While adult populations now appear to be stable or increasing slightly, habitat degradation continues, and juvenile populations are still on the decline.

The side channels of Herrling Island are one of the most important spawning areas on the lower river for white sturgeon. While little can be done to offset the enormous loss of floodplains due to diking, remaining habitats such as the Heart of the Fraser are especially crucial to rebuilding juvenile populations.

“10,000 years of post-glacial island production of fish, and it will be gone just like that.” – Dr. Marvin Rosenau

That’s why we are asking you to sign the petition to oppose further diking and bridge building in the Heart of the Fraser. Please help us protect essential white sturgeon spawning and rearing habitat.

Sign the Petition

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Saving the Eulachon of the Fraser

Small, oil-rich smelts called eulachon return to spawn each spring in the Fraser, Skeena, Nass and Klinaklini river systems in British Columbia. The scientific name for Pacific Ocean eulachon is Thaleichethys pacificus, which means rich ocean fish. Eulachon is also known as oolichan, ooligan or candlefish because their oil content is so high they can be lit like a candle when dried.

Eulachon has always been a cultural keystone species for Pacific Northwest Indigenous people. Eulachon grease was a valuable trading commodity, and there were at least 23 main “grease trail” trade routes connecting the coast to the interior of B.C.

Dave Gordon Eulochan
Photo credit: Dave Gordon

The once-abundant pacific eulachon species is now in decline. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) has assessed three populations in Canada: Fraser River as Endangered, Central Pacific Coast as Endangered and Nass/Skeena Rivers as species of Special Concern.

Fraser River eulachon comes home to spawn in the lower reaches of the river’s arm as far upstream as the Heart of the Fraser. Habitat loss, pollution, directed fisheries, logging, and marine mammal predation can all create adverse conditions for the fish. One of the threats to the eulachon’s recovery is streamflow alteration from banking and road building.

Please help us defend eulachon spawning and rearing habitat by signing the petition to oppose the approval of a permanent bridge and development on the Heart of the Fraser islands.

Sign the Petition

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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.

Sign the Petition

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