Wil­low plant­ing is im­por­tant restora­tion project for OWC

Prairie Post (West Edition) - - Southern Alberta - BY HEATHER CAMERON

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.

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