Friday, September 28, 2007


Today society struggles to strike a balance in watersheds that have been battered for the past 150 years by logging, development, gravel mining, and road building. Despite this, and the fact that water is a precious resource, the destruction continues.

For many years now the Englishman River has been considered one of the top most threatened rivers in BC according to the Outdoor Recreation Council of British Columbia, with a total of 120,000 members. ( Englishman River is considered to be an example all of the rivers on the east coast of Vancouver Island, that flow into the Strait of Georgia Basin. All of these rivers are in a serious state of stress and decline.

The indicator species used by many biologists to determine the health of these rivers is the Steelhead Salmon, a species that returns to spawn many years in a lifetime. Snorkel teams counted 471 adults in February 1985, which was cause for alarm at the time since the returns once numbered in the thousands. By the year 2000 the winter count was 15, a count that went up to 43 in 2006.

A lot of attention has been directed at the Englishman River to try to bring the salmon back. A ‘salmon enhancement’ program has involved diverting water into excavated channels, ditching, egg and milk extraction, incubation pens, and fry release.

Multinational logging companies, TimberWest and Island Timberlands, continue to destroy the banks of local rivers with tree removal and road building. The resulting landslides, land erosion, and surface disruptions lead to massive amounts of dirt and debris in the flow of water. Heavy rains flush silt, loosened by logging equipment and dragging of logs, into rivers. Buildup of silt is known to suffocate salmon eggs buried in gravel. Channeling of water results in higher floods, which further erode riverbanks and level out pools.

Over the years governments have addressed some of the issues that face the watersheds locally but they tend to avoid drawing attention to the root causes of the damage. Instead, they claim that logging corporations provide valuable money for rehabilitation. These logging companies get massive tax breaks in exchange for money that is put into river restoration projects.

In the case of Englishman River attempts have been made to recreate pools and safe refuge for small salmon fry that get washed away when the river gauges out straight wide expanses between ever widening banks. These projects involved massive excavators, dump trucks, blasted rock, steel cables, logs with rootballs purchased from logging companies, chainsaws, and of course manpower paid with provincial and federal tax dollars.

River restoration, while logging the banks of the very same river, is similar to sticking a knife into your stomach and then trying to cover it over with band-aids rather than pulling out the knife and then attending to the wound.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada manages fish. The BC Ministries of Forests and Environment do not regulate logging on private land. The Regional District of Nanaimo is responsible for the dam at the source. Logging companies, various developers, and private landowners all stake their claim to the land on the banks of the river. Who is looking after the interests of the river and watershed?

On BC and World Rivers Day Sunday, September 30 much attention will be directed at the new Top Bridge Crossing where the Regional District of Nanaimo will be kicking off the grand opening of the new Englishman River Regional Park. Having spent $500,000 on a steel suspension bridge you can be sure to find many politicians.

Meanwhile a group of dedicated volunteers will be providing tours along the floodplain of the Little Qualicum River where Chinook Salmon are currently spawning. Sarah Casley, Education Coordinator for Fisheries and Oceans Canada will be performing a salmon dissection beginning at 11:30am. The largest Sitka Spruce on the east coast of Vancouver Island is hidden inside this jewel of a forest. Access is at the end of Kingkade Road just north of Qualicum along the Island Highway. The Little Qualicum River has received very little attention from local, provincial or federal government and continues to be threatened by development and logging.