Bringing Back Bull Trout

Bringing Back Bull Trout

Bringing Back Bull Trout
Using a small excavator makes reclamation work easy!

TUC’s Bringing Back Bull Trout Project is underway along Alberta’s Eastern Slopes.

Recently, we shared an article describing threats to native trout in the Rocky Mountain region. The paper describes historic, current, and future threats to Alberta’s Westslope Cutthroat Trout, Athabasca Rainbow Trout, and Bull Trout, all of which are listed on the federal Species at Risk Act. Addressing these threats and recovering these species is no small task, but one TUC is enthusiastically working on.

In fall 2019, TUC launched the Bringing Back Bull Trout Project along Alberta’s eastern slopes with the goal of habitat rehabilitation in support of recovery efforts for Alberta’s provincial fish – the Bull Trout! The project is being supported by the Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk, administered by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The first large effort as part of this multi-year project (ending March 2022) has been unfolding along Mackenzie Creek in the foothills southwest of Hinton. Mackenzie Creek is a tributary of the McLeod River in the Athabasca River Basin. This coldwater system is considered extremely important to the McLeod River Bull Trout population. In fact, it’s been closed to angling for nearly 20 years to protect this population. Despite these protections, Mackenzie Creek may be at risk of being “loved to death”. A popular off-highway vehicle trail parallels much of the creek, including dozens of stream crossings of Mackenzie Creek and its tributaries. Not only do these trails and stream crossings pose a risk to the habitat and water quality, but it also creates the opportunity for poachers to access this protected watershed.

Bringing Back Bull Trout
Live willow stakes and sod mats are planted throughout the area to speed up recovery of riparian vegetation

Alberta Environment and Parks began considering options for closing down these unsustainable trails 2018 and 2019 completed an assessment of most of the crossings within the basin. Rather than simply close the trail, AEP reached out to a number of stakeholders to consider re-routing the trail away from the creek while still providing an opportunity for off-highway vehicle use within the area.

In 2019, work began along Mackenzie Creek in partnership with Alberta Environment and Parks to protect habitat for Bull Trout, and Athabasca Rainbow Trout, both listed on the Species at Risk Act (SARA) as special concern and endangered, respectively. The watershed is also home to Mountain Whitefish and Spoonhead Sculpin. Apart from protecting sensitive fish habitat, this work is also intended to ensure the eventual use of the designated sustainable trail network rather than the existing network of unplanned linear features currently used as trails. Over the course of two full days of fieldwork in August 2019, rehabilitation measures including roughening and loosening compacted soils and planting live willow stakes were completed at four sites in the lower portion of the watershed. Reclaiming former trails and stream crossings will eliminate muddy run-off from these features – protecting approximately 4km of Mackenzie Creek and tributaries.

Work along Mackenzie Creek is ramping up in 2020 with plans for TUC to leading habitat rehabilitation and trail decommissioning at 16 sites in the upper portion of the watershed along Mackenzie Creek and Meadow Creek to protect important spawning and rearing habitat for Bull Trout and help ensure that future motorized vehicle use in the watershed will be limited only to the sustainable designated trail, the design and build being led by AEP.

Additional Bringing Back Bull Trout projects are also kicking off this year with riparian rehabilitation along White Creek, trail reclamation, riparian rehab and drainage improvements along a tributary of the Castle River, and habitat rehabilitation, trail reclamation, and habitat reconnection work at sites throughout the Waiparous Creek watershed!

We are anticipating several volunteer workdays this season to help with these projects. To stay in the loop, become a member and join a local chapter today and make sure to follow us on social media to hear the latest on volunteer opportunities and project news here and across Canada on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

Our friends with Lets Go Outdoors recently posted a video about the Mackenzie Creek Project, make sure to check it out here: