An Adopt-A-Watershed project for headwaters health (Goal 3)
The Dutch Creek Pilot Project is a demonstration initiative to plan, implement and evaluate progress on selected priority actions of the Headwaters Action Plan 2013-14 (HAP). The project will involve integration of actions, engagement of stakeholders, government, and the public to take steps towards achieving the HAP's targets.
There is a strong team behind all this planning! The Headwaters Action Team (HAT) uses an iterative process of adaptive management – working with multiple sectors and the public to develop an implementation template that can be applied to other sub-watersheds. The long term goal is to create broader public and stakeholder understanding and a tested path of scientific assessment, sector and public engagement and action to achieve watershed health across the Oldman Headwaters region.
WHAT'S BEING DONE
What Has Been Accomplished So Far?
Priority Action 1: Dutch Creek Linear Feature Classification Project was completed in August – December 2014. The detailed linear feature inventory provides a field-based classification and assessment of linear feature protocol that can be reproducible in other sub-watersheds. Outcomes of the project were shared with the SSRP Linear Footprint Management Plan and Recreation Management Plan sub-regional planning processes. The results will assist with determining priorities for access management and reclamation of linear features where needed.
What's Next for the Dutch Creek Pilot Project?
A recreation user education and engagement program is currently being developed in the Dutch Creek sub-watershed - see Engaging Recreationists. It aims to foster better understanding of water/watershed impacts, and engage recreation users and stakeholders. Together, we will explore solutions and stewardship actions for headwaters health. It will include restoration activities to engage users.
The Dutch Creek Pilot Project is integrating Priority Action 2: A Fine-Scale Cumulative Effects Assessment of Fish Populations & Habitat Streams. Work is being done by OWC's collaborative partners (Trout Unlimited; Cows and Fish; Alberta Conservation Association (ACA)) to address impacts on fish, especially native trout (bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout) in both Dutch Creek and Hidden Creek. New research showing expected stream temperature increases with climate change are highlighting the best streams to focus on for future fish survival. OWC's role is to facilitate dialogue between all parties to ensure cooperative effort and efficiency.
This priority action took a big leap at the end of 2015 when the Federal Government announced the Critical Habitat Order for Westslope Cutthroat Trout (WSCT) in Alberta in December, 2015. Also, because WSCT, Alberta population, were added to Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act, listed as threatened, this required the Federal Government’s Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Minister responsible for the Parks Canada Agency to devise a Recovery Strategy for WSCT. The strategy, complete with identification of critical habitat, was finalized in March 28, 2014 with the help of some organizations who are also members of the Headwaters Action Team (HAT) – Cows and Fish, Spray Lake Sawmills, Trout Unlimited Canada, Alberta Conservation Association and Government of Alberta (GoA). Once a recovery strategy is posted as final on the species at risk public registry, and the critical habitats are identified in strategy, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans must ensure that the critical habitat is legally protected – often carried out through a Critical Habitat Order.
Further research on WSCT and Bull Trout include HAT member Jason Blackburn’s work with the Alberta Conservation Association (ACA). Sediment surveys have been conducted to determine average sediment quantity and proportion of fine deposited sediments per electrofishing reach (300-500m sites) along Dutch Creek, Hidden Creek, White Creek and headwater tributaries. The ACA will be able to use this information to model the abundances of WSCT in the main-stems and further estimate the abundances by stream of juvenile sized fish and adult sized fish, producing a curve of where abundance fluctuation occurs. Combined, this information can help determine where fish are at highest risk and where they are holding strong. These details will be used by the GoA and will help to formulate the Fish Sustainability Index (FSI) on WSCT and Fisheries Management Objectives (FMO) and Habitat Management Objective (HMO) for certain WSCT populations. The FMOs and HMOs will highlight management actions, such as fishing regulations and habitat management, to achieve the objectives laid out by the Federal Government’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Aquatic Invasive Species
Priority Action 3: Assist the Government of Alberta with developing an education & awareness program (stop aquatic hitchhikers!) for stakeholders and the public on how to present aquatic invasive species (AIS) from entering Alberta. This includes commitment to extend AIS monitoring efforts by partners and volunteers in key water bodies. In 2014, the Headwaters Action Team monitored 2 lakes and held a media event and used social media to raise awareness (watch the video on Global News).
The GoA has approved mandatory watercraft inspections, found at every major road coming into Alberta and making it the largest inspection program in Canada. When watercraft inspection stations are open, as indicated by highway signage, all watercraft must be inspected or individuals may face a fine of up to $100,000 or 12 months in prison for violation of the Fisheries Act. The new inspections include human inspectors as well as sniffer dogs, trained to detect zebra and quagga mussels.
OWC continues to raise awareness about aquatic invasive species by sharing information on our social media channels and website, at Hub events and meetings. The whole community has done a great job keeping this issue in the media and top of mind with decision makers.
Priority Action 4: Explore options for recreational user fees to fund enforcement education and steward projects. OWC's partners – Miistakis Institute of the Rockies and the Environmental Law Centre (ELC) are researching and exploring solutions for access management concerns at a provincial scale. ELC has researched how other jurisdictions manage access on public land with permits and user fees and presented these results at OWC's AGM in June 2014. In 2015, workshops were held to discuss access management and education of users and present research and recommendations. Potential solutions and recommendations are provided to decision makers regularly.
There is also a Priority Action 5 that weaves through it all: education and awareness programs are foundational and required to build public understanding and support for projects aimed at improving watershed health.
The Dutch Creek Pilot Project is a key initiative of the Headwaters Action Plan. The project fills a need for greater public understanding of cumulative impacts on the headwaters and the management actions that are needed to effectively address them. We have made a good start – let’s see what collaborative partnerships can do next!
Together, we can make a difference to maintain and protect source waters and headwaters health.