Habitat Restoration

Riparian Project Improves Habitat, Stabilizes Bank

Riparian ecosystems – areas immediately adjacent to streams, rivers or lakes – play an important ecological role.  Not only does the vegetation growing in these areas help prevent erosion, it also provides habitat for aquatic, arboreal and terrestrial wildlife species.  Terrestrial species use riparian areas as linear migration corridors, while aquatic species benefit from debris that falls into the water from these areas.

Poor agricultural practices, such as overgrazing and the cleaning of vegetation adjacent to streams or rivers, can have serious consequences for the health of riparian ecosystems.  Overgrazing suppresses vegetation and accelerates erosion through compaction and soil disturbance.  Since riparian ecosystems are such a vital part of the landscape, restoring areas that have been negatively impacted is an important step in maintaining healthy, functioning  ecosystems.

In the spring of 2001, the Fraser Headwaters Alliance undertook a riparian restoration project along the upper Fraser River, on the land of Richard and Elizabeth Chambers adjacent to the Dunster Bridge.  The Chambers’ property, an active sheep ranch, includes approximately two kilometers of river frontage.  Poor riparian management prior to their purchasing the property led to the near total loss of vegetation along the riverbank, resulting in increased erosion and bank failure over the years.  Richard and Elizabeth were interested in doing something to remedy the problem, and the Fraser Headwaters Alliance stepped in to help with the project.

In early March, with funding from the Upper Fraser Nechako Fisheries Council and Fisheries Renewal BC, the Fraser Headwaters Alliance hired a three-person crew and began the restoration effort.  The plan was to plant the riparian zone with a mixture of deciduous and coniferous tree species in hopes of re-establishing the pre-existing forest.  Once planted, the area adjacent to the riverbank was fenced off to prevent further damage from the sheep herd (to whom the freshly planted willows and cottonwood presented a convenient and tasty source of nourishment).

Most of the planting was done using a live-staking technique commonly used in the forest industry to stabilize erosion-prone areas.  This involves collecting live cuttings from young deciduous trees while the plants are still dormant-late winter or early spring-then planting the sharpened cuttings, or stakes, directly in the ground.  Willow and cottonwood were planted using this technique, while birch and red-osier dogwood were purchased from a nursery as rooted plug stock.  A number of spruce seedlings were also taken from another area of the Chambers’ property and added to the mix.  In all, over 20,000 seedlings and live-stakes were planted between April and May.

Fence posts for the project were generously donated by the Habitat Enhancement Branch of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Since completion of the project, visits to the site have revealed that the plantings are growing vigorously, and we are hopeful that the next few years will see a marked change in the health of the Chambers’ riverbank. 

The Fraser Headwaters Alliance would like to thank Richard and Elizabeth Chambers for their cooperation and commitment to conservation.  As well, we would like to thank the project funders:  the Upper Fraser Nechako Fisheries Council (Fisheries Renewal BC) and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for their generous support.