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Fish enhancement programs underway

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WFSG enters its fifth year of a five-year plan

Fish aren’t the only the creatures at work in Whistler’s streams, rivers and lakes. The Whistler Fisheries Steward Group’s (WFSG) Volunteer Action Days got underway on June 4 with the first project of the season: fence construction at Lakeside Park.

Over 15 volunteers turned out for the event, rebuilding the cedar Chilcotin-style fence bordering Lakeside Creek after several rails were removed, presumably for firewood. The creek is a major salmonid recruitment stream for the Alta Lake system, and Rainbow Trout spawn within the newly fenced-off gravel sections of the stream.

According to the WFSG, it’s important to limit access to the sensitive gravel spawning beds, especially at this time of year. Trout can be seen laying eggs in the gravel, and covering them using their tails as a shovel.

The fence builders also held a "spawner" count competition and cleaned up garbage in the wetland area adjacent to the creek. Volunteers Ryan Adams and Andrew Preston won the count, and Brita Ross was lauded for her efforts in cleaning up garbage.

With the WFSG already into the fifth year of their five-year plan, the group is concentrating its efforts on building a strong core of volunteers for the future.

"We’re pretty close to completing every task in the plan, and are just putting the finishing touches on projects in Whistler Creek, Jordan Creek and Crabapple Creek," says municipal fisheries technician Lisa Helmer. "There will be a new plan, hopefully this year, but we haven’t even started yet. We’re focusing our energy on the areas where we don’t need a plan, like expanding our base of volunteers and community outreach programs."

Although there were no comprehensive fish studies completed prior to the WFSG’s five-year commitment, based on anecdotal evidence and the impressions of community members, the stewardship group feels that initiatives have been successful in all of their objectives.

"I feel that we were 100 per cent successful. Our educational programs have been effective in teaching children and adults about aquatic ecosystems. For the most part people are keeping their dogs out of sensitive areas, especially those areas where we’ve placed those ‘Fish at Work’ signs’," says Helmer.

"In terms of our in-stream work, we are seeing the return of more and more spawners every year, which is our best indication that our projects are working."

Other programs that have had measurable success include the catch-and-release program on Alta Lake, and the consideration that property developers have shown in and around lakes and rivers. "They’re putting up silt fences, and seem to follow guidelines quite well," Helmer says. "People as whole seem more conscious and considerate than in the past."

The WFSG is also conducting a spawner survey, with volunteers counting numbers in Whistler’s major spawning streams to build a database that the WFSG can use as a future reference. Once the survey is complete, volunteers will work with locally-trained Stream Keepers on a water quality survey, then an invertebrate study. "We’ve managed to get volunteers out on a weekly basis, which is great for our overall program, something that definitely wouldn’t have been possible five years ago," says Helmer.

The most important volunteer time is a window of low fish activity between August 15 and 31, when the WFSG will conduct intensive in-stream work using construction equipment. Volunteers help by adding fish-friendly features to the riverbed, planting vegetation, and spreading gravel to create spawning beds.

The WFSG has also teamed up with the local Habitat Improvement Team (HIT) this year, another volunteer organization run by Whistler-Blackcomb. The next volunteer action day will take place July 17, and anyone interested in taking part should meet at 5:30 p.m. at Blackcomb Base by the Wizard Chair.

If you want to volunteer for the WFSG, or be a part of in-stream work in August, call Veronica Somerville or Lisa Helmer at 935-8323.

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