Putting a heavy excavator into a sensitive riparian ecosystem, a threatened salmon spawning ground nonetheless, is a last resort.
And yet, it was once again the best and only option for the Friends of Mount Douglas Park Society, who did it last month. A team spent a week widening and reinforcing the banks of the Mount Douglas Creek on a crucial area about 150 metres long that’s been washing out as it flows under Ash Road and out to sea.
It just goes to show how far gone the situation is, says professional biologist Dave Clough, who led the project.
“We have storm water collection from most of Gordon Head, and as far as the university, blasting out of just a few pipes and into the creek,” Clough says. “It’s put more stress on the creek bed in the last 100 years than it did for probably the last 1,000 years.”
Pollution and a general lack of stewardship and disregard led to the creek suffering until the Friends of Mount Douglas took it upon them to fix it up.
To accomplish the work the creek must be drained. For the entire week in mid-August, the project team, which included a handful of staff from the District of Saanich, built a dam and bypassed the creek by pumping the water through hoses to a point further downstream. They used the time to resurface the creek bed, and install boulders, stumps and logs along the banks. Tonnes of gravel, selected as a mixture that is consistent with what salmon like to spawn in, is laid along the bed and power washed when the work is done. The logs and whole tree stumps, as massive as they are, are bound to each other with steel cables, a natural buffer to endure the erosion.
“The water surges down this creek at a surprisingly strong rate and it doesn’t take much of a rain to initiate a surge,” said Darrell Wick, president of the Friends of Mount Doug. “Practically every storm drain and gutter in Gordon Head is draining towards this creek with no natural slowing mechanisms, or man made.”
There was a mentality for a lot of the previous century to make ground water (and streams) disappear, whichever way. Now we’re seeing the effect, Mount Doug Creek can’t handle the concentrated surges of an otherwise typical Island rainfall, said Clough.
One thing you can still find around Mount Douglas Creek is the odd towering old growth that wasn’t up to par when Canada’s 1800s settlers plundered its forests.
Ironically, the surging creek is now threatening to erode the ground below some of the park’s “younger” old growth trees.
“Here the creek is undercutting trees that otherwise would have held the creek in place,” Clough said. “Not only are we bringing salmon back, we’re trying to protect some of the biggest trees on the South Island. You have to drive to Cathedral Grove to find a grove of Douglas fir that will match those of Mount Doug.”
Thanks to the Friends of Mount Doug, Saanich, and Clough, the team was able to complete the project though it cost well over the crucial $10,000 grant from the Pacific Salmon Foundation.
Clough donated half his billable rate to the project to make the project happen while Saanich supplied many hours of skilled labour.
In addition to several tonnes of boulders, dozens of stumps were brought in from a stump repository, and they’re not cheap, Clough added.
“It’s not the old growth that would have been here but we can’t afford that, and [at least] this is the wood that should be here.”
Wick said the care that Saanich takes around the project is impressive, and in less than a month, it’s next to impossible to tell that the machine was even there. The project is the latest in year four of the society’s five-year plan to restore the creek as a salmon spawning ground.