Steeves/Trail Mix: We broke it and now we have to fix it

Natural systems can easily be destroyed, but trying to fix them once we've destroyed them is far more costly than preventing damage.

Mission Creek no longer meanders as it used to; instead

It’s been one of those good news, bad news weeks, with reports of vandals destroying the back country, but also acquisitions of land to restore natural areas and conserve land in parks.

It’s so much more effective, in so many ways, to avoid destroying natural features in the first place than to try and restore them afterwards, but man seems to feel the need to bully his way through the wild as well as everywhere else.

The results are never pleasant: channelized, madly-rushing creeks and rivers instead of naturally-meandering waterways; concrete walls instead of graduated shorelines; bare, eroding hillsides instead of stable ones covered in firmly-anchored plants and grasses; unstable fill where wetlands pulsing with life once were; barren mud pits where meadows full of wildflowers used to thrive.

And here we are, trying to fix what’s been broken; a never-ending task it seems, because there’s always something new being destroyed.

And, it’s not always the vandals who seem bent on trespassing on private property just to destroy a small wetland that’s just come back to life—unfortunately.

Every spring, heavy equipment operators and property owners are responsible for damaging aquatic habitat by digging up shorelines, riparian areas and dredging ponds and wetlands, often not realizing in the process they are evicting or murdering frogs and toads, fish and their eggs, shoreline birds and their nests and altering the conditions they require for their very life.

On a larger scale, governments and other agencies make decisions that forever alter entire ecosystems, such as when it was decided, more than 60 years ago, that it would protect Kelowna from flooding if Mission Creek were pushed into a single channel behind high dikes so it wouldn’t inundate adjacent land and create oxbows and side channels far from the centre of its main route through the city.

If size is the criteria, then Mission Creek is actually a river, but whatever it’s called, it’s likely those who made that decision didn’t realize it was responsible for providing the largest single quantity of breeding habitat for stream-spawning kokanee in the Okanagan basin or that it was home to the big lake’s largest, trophy rainbow trout.

And, every inch of the former Mission Creek that was filled in after the diking, meant the loss of more fish spawning and rearing habitat for the important participants in the web of life not only of the creek and its riparian corridor, but also of Okanagan Lake.

Big trout depend on little kokanee for growth at a particular cycle of their lives, in addition to cold, oxygen-rich water, so by limiting the capacity of Mission Creek to produce them, trout were also limited.

The flume-like rush of water through the straightened creek bed also washed out the gravel beds required for spawning fish to lay their eggs, and caused clouds of silt to smother fish eggs that were awaiting the right conditions to become fish.

And, in the end, it didn’t prevent flooding because the same amount of water was being pushed through a smaller straight pipe, or channel, instead of its energy being reduced by the meandering route of the natural creek bed, and the opportunity to spread out over a larger area.

So, today, we’re going back in time, working on a multi-million project to re-naturalize the lower section of Mission Creek; aiming to add back some of the 18 kilometres of creek lost when it was straightened in its last 12 kilometres before being dumped into Okanagan Lake.

It will never be the same, nor will it ever provide the rich habitat it once did, but the hope is that it will improve the current flooding conditions at the same time as providing more and richer habitat, along with more recreation area for those who enjoy hiking, cycling, riding or running along the Mission Creek Greenway.

For project details and to see how you can help, go to: www.missioncreek.ca

Anglers will also be interested to know that Trout Waters Fly and Tackle has moved from its little hideaway on Leckie and Hunter up to 101-2340 Highway 97 (between Leckie and Dilworth) where they can’t be missed, and they’re holding a grand opening from today, throughout the weekend.

Owners Savas Koutsantonis and Nick Pace are great community supporters who are passionate about both the sport and the need to conserve aquatic habitat, and they carry everything you can imagine for fishing and enjoying the outdoors. With Savas’ link to Olympia Greek Taverna, it’s no surprise to see there will be appies from there served at 5:30 today, if you read this in time to get on down there.

As well, they’ll have door prizes every day and a grand prize stay at Hatheume Lake Resort so drop by and get your name in while picking up what you’ll need for the coming season. Congrats on your new digs, guys.

Next weekend is the beginning of a couple of great opportunities to take your favourite youngsters for an experience fishing, right in town.

Go Fish is a program run as a collaboration between regional parks, the Peachland Sportsman’s Association, Lonely Loon Flyfishers Society, Kelowna and District Fish and Game Club, the environment ministry, Freshwater Fisheries Society of B.C. and the Summerland Trout Hatchery.

It opens Sat., May 4 at the Hall Road pond in Mission Creek Regional Park, and Sun., May 5 in Shannon Lake Regional Park, continuing each weekend until June 16, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at both spots.

Opening day features a barbecue, but every weekend there will be the opportunity for youngsters to borrow rods and tackle and to get some tips from people who’ve been fishing much of their lives.

The ponds are stocked with ‘catchable’ pan-sized trout, so the chances of success are improved to help get get youngsters off to a good start in the sport.

This program is not intended to help adults catch fish. The ponds are stocked in order that youngsters can be introduced to the sport of fishing.

Judie Steeves writes about outdoors issues for the Capital News.

 

jsteeves@kelownacapnews.com