Fall Creek Project Update-Alberta’s Provincial fish, the Bull Trout (Salvelinus confluentus) historically ranged from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains down to the parkland and prairie regions. However, populations are now in decline and have been extirpated from an estimated 34% of their historic range. Threats impacting Bull Trout populations include habitat degradation and fragmentation, illegal harvest, and interactions with non-native species (competition, hybridization). Trout Unlimited Canada (TUC) has been working on various projects aimed at recovering Bull Trout, beginning as early as the 1990s. In 2018, TUC partnered with Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) on a major habitat rehabilitation project along Fall Creek.
Fall Creek is a tributary of the Ram River and provides important spawning and rearing habitat for the Bull Trout population. However, Bull Trout habitat in this area has been severely degraded by unmanaged off-highway vehicle (OHV) use. OHV use along Fall Creek has increased bank and soil erosion resulting in increased sedimentation. Excess amounts of mud, sand, or silt can negatively impact food availability, spawning habitat, and egg development.
This past July, TUC and our partners at Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) visited Fall Creek to assess the condition of stream restoration work that was completed in 2018 and identify areas that may require maintenance. During the site visit, the crew found most of the restoration sites to be in good shape and on the road to recovery! However, two OHV stream crossings on tributaries to Fall Creek that had previously been reclaimed had since been damaged and were in need of additional restoration work.
While TUC and AEP came up with a plan to fix these issues, Sundre Forest Products deactivated their forestry road leading into the Fall Creek watershed, which will help reduce illegal OHV use in this sensitive headwater valley.
In September and October, AEP and TUC staff returned to the site to complete the stream restoration work and reclaim areas where new trails had been cut. To help deter future OHV use, and slow runoff to the creek, an excavator was used to “roughen up” the disturbed areas, and coarse woody debris was distributed over the reclamation area and along trails leading to the stream crossing. A variety of bioengineering techniques, such as willow staking, willow wattle fences, log walls, and seeding was used to improve bank stability and reclaim stream crossings. Wattle fencing acts as a “living fence”, improving bank stability by preventing soil and sediment from washing into the stream, while also creating the conditions favorable for plant growth. After building the wattle fence, willow stakes were planted along the bank and the area was seeded with native grasses. Lastly, signage was installed at the trailhead to educate OHV users and visitors to the area about the ongoing reclamation efforts in the watershed, and the importance of preserving this habitat for current and future Bull Trout populations.
This project was undertaken with the financial support of Environment and Climate Change Canada.