Willow planting is important restoration project for OWC
A backcountry restoration event will happen at Pasque Creek, a tributary to the Oldman River near the Beehive Natural Area, on October 11 and 13.
This event is a partnership between OWC, Cows and Fish, and many other organizations,” said Sofie Forsström, the Education Program Manager for the Oldman Watershed Council. “It started because our stakeholders expressed concern about the threats to our headwaters, and they were tired of all talk and no action; they wanted to DO something.”
Forsström says that with together with Cows and Fish, OWC has been organizing a volunteer backcountry restoration event since 2015. There have also been other volunteer willow planting events that OWC has supported.
“This is a great opportunity to get out in the backcountry and see a part of the watershed that not everyone might have regular access to,” said Forsström, the Education Program Manager for the Oldman Watershed Council.
Forsström says that purpose of the Backcountry Restoration Event is two-fold. The first purpose of the event is to improve the health of the headwater, which is the source of the river, by restoring stream banks. First, we want to improve the health of our headwaters (the source of our river) by restoring stream banks.
“The willows we plant will stabilize the stream bank, trap sediment, filter runoff, and reduce erosion,” Forsström said. “They will also shelter the creek and improve habitat for threatened species like bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout.”
The second purpose of the event, Forsström said, is providing opportunities for students and local stakeholders to work together, get their boots on the ground, learn about restoration techniques first-hand, and do their part to support a healthy watershed.
“As they grow, the willow roots spread through the soil, binding it together and acting like rebar to stabilize the stream banks,” Forsström said. “The willows reduce erosion, trap sediment, and filter runoff, preventing excess sediment from washing into the creek and making its way downstream (where we'd have to filter it out of our drinking water). Too much sediment also causes problems for aquatic species like threatened bull and westslope cutthroat trout, by clogging gills, suffocating eggs and baby fish, and cementing together the substrate so that fish can't make nests (called redds) to lay their eggs. As the willow branches and leaves grow, they shelter and shade the water, which is important because trout need cool, clear water in order to survive.”
Forsström explained volunteers will have harvested the willows in advance of the planting event. Willows of the correct thickness and length are harvested from an area as close to the planting site as possible in order to ensure they are adapted to the area and will survive.
“Planting willows is a simple action that has a tangible and long-term impact,” Forsström said. “It helps improve the habitat along stream banks and protects the source of our drinking water. It provides critical habitat for threatened species like westslope cutthroat trout by reducing the amount of sediment in the water. This area is part of the birthplace of the Oldman River and the source of our drinking water.”
Forsström noted this event is made possible by the financial support of the Watershed Resiliency and Restoration Program (WRRP) from Alberta Environment and Parks, the Habitat Stewardship Program through Environment Canada, and a grant from Alberta Conservation Association. It also receives in-kind support from Spray Lake Sawmills and the Crowsnest Pass Quad Squad.
“The OWC is a small, not-for-profit organization this work would not be possible without our dedicated volunteers and generous funders and donors, so we'd like to say thank you!” Forsström said.