The Salmo watershed is as diverse in its history as its ecology. For centuries, people have been earning their living and making their home within its borders. With development and a changing climate, environmental management requires documenting and understanding past, current, and future issues that influence the ecology and the people within the landscape, and how they may change over time.
Since SWSS began, we have been working with communities in and around the watershed, as well as other organizations to determine the important issues that influence the watershed, what is there, and how we can make it better for the health of the environment and the people who depend on it.
Nowadays, climate change is a key subject worldwide. With respect to watershed management, it is important to consider for possible impacts of climate change on the watershed. Predicting the consequences for the fish, wildlife, and the surrounding environment is complex, but it is certain that the changing environment will impact the water, habitat, wildlife, ecosystem function, and those who rely on these functions.
As a part of ecosystem based watershed management, SWSS is adapting efforts to help mitigate the impacts of climate change on the Salmo watershed. Monitoring efforts are integral part of documenting the changes in the watershed, and help understand how we can help the watershed and its people to adapt to a changing climate.
Native Fish Populations
Historically, the Salmo watershed had a variety of fish species including Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), and steelhead (Oncorhynchus myskiss irideus). These species were also important in the diets of First Nations people who came to these lands to gather food. Dam construction downstream on the Columbia and Pend d’Oreille River has removed these species from the watershed. This loss has also led to decreased nutrient input into riparian areas, with cascading impacts on productivity of the watershed. Currently, the watershed contains game species such as rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus myskiss), bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus), brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), and mountain whitefish (Prosopium williamsoni). It is also home to several other non-game species including northern pikeminnow (Ptychocheilus oregonensis) and longnose suckers (Catostomus catostomus).
Bull and rainbow trout are the largest of the native game species still found in the Salmo Watershed. Bull trout, now a blue-listed species in BC, are sensitive to habitat degradation and overharvesting. Their slow maturation and need for high quality habitat make them a particularly vulnerable population. Along with rainbow trout, these species have critically low population numbers within the watershed. It is likely that there has been loss of habitat historically during various developments and uses in the watershed, but fortunately, the river and its tributaries still have an abundant spawning habitat available for these species. Past studies have suggested that limited late summer and winter overwintering habitat is a possible barrier for higher populations and further monitoring is required on the possible impacts of increasing numbers of non-game fish. However, the loss and degradation of riparian areas and other important fish habitat due to forestry, mining, development, agriculture, and recreation have been identified as some of the factors driving the decline.
Additionally, the presence of non-native fish populations can be competing with the native fish species in the watershed, causing more stress to the population. Currently, there are non-native fish barriers placed within the watershed to help mitigate this competition on the native fish species.
SWSS, along with partnering organizations, landowners, and the general public, are working together under ecosystem-based watershed management to help improve the watershed for fish populations. These efforts include monitoring and working towards identifying causes of decline and ways to improve habitat abundance and quality for fish populations. SWSS also is monitoring the distribution and population sizes of non-native species, as well as understanding their relationship and influence on the success of native species.
To read more about ecosystem-based management efforts around improving fish stocks, please visit our Project-Watershed Plan page.
To read further about the efforts to monitor the bull trout population, please visit our Project-Bull Trout page.
Forestry, mining, and general development all have had impacts on the wildlife and hydrological aspects of the watershed. Over 600 mining operations have, at some point, been in operation in the watershed. In 1999, SWSS began identifying and mapping old mining sites for remediation. Yankee Girl Mine Tailings was the first tailings pond to be remediated by SWSS in 2009. Other changes in the watershed from forestry, railroad, and road building have changed the quality of water and how it flows. This, in addition to the direct loss of habitat both in the forest and in and around rivers and streams, has altered the hydrology and ecology of the watershed.
Mining is one of many activities that have changed the natural ecosystem in the Salmo River. Forestry, road building, and general development in the watershed has removed important habitat like wetlands and riparian areas. Developed areas next to streams often results in channelization, which straightens stream channels, increases flow, and causes widening of the channel, and loss of habitat complexity for adjacent riparian areas and within the stream.
SWSS has been working in documenting and mitigating where and how these human activities have impacted the land and water. We will continue to work with the community and other organizations to identify areas for remediation and rehabilitation in the landscape in order to maintain a healthy watershed.
For more information on the projects for remediation of orphaned or abandoned mining tailings ponds and the efforts at Yankee Girl tailings pond, please visit our Project-Mine tailings page.
Riparian and Wetland Areas
Riparian and wetland areas provide critical habitat for a variety of wildlife as well as play large roles in the ecosystem function. Their nature of being the transition area between terrestrial and aquatic environments makes them a unique part of the watershed with specific relationships with the animals that inhabit it. These areas are also associated with high biodiversity and also increase connectivity of habitats for animals that need to move from one area to another for different needs.
Since colonization, these areas have been significantly degraded and altered due primarily to human activities. Mining, road construction, channelization, loss of old growth forests and changes to forest structure have lead changes in riparian and wetland areas throughout the majority of the watershed and its function. Increasing recreation on the watershed is also suspected to impact these sensitive areas.
SWSS is working in collaboration with several partner organizations to map and designate “Ecologically Sensitive Areas” around riparian and wetland areas in order to protect them from further degradation. Support from land owners has been key to undergo restoration efforts as the majority of riparian areas are on private land. There have also been several projects that have helped create and restore riparian areas and wetland throughout the watershed. Public outreach and education on the importance of these areas within the watershed for wildlife, flood control, and improvement of water quality also is required to promote sustainably and watershed health.
Water Quality Monitoring
As the landscape in the Salmo watershed has had many changes throughout its history, it is important to understand how these have impacted the water quality within the watershed. A change in water quality does not only affect wildlife, but it also impacts those who draw their water from the watershed. Historical data is important to understand how current and future changes in the watershed can impact water quality. Unfortunately, past data is limited and fragmented up until the 2000s.
SWSS is working on creating a continuous monitoring program for water quality within the Salmo Watershed. This baseline data can then later be used in determining progress in restoration efforts, in future monitoring of impacts of new developments, and to detect possible problems for early mitigation.