Watershed Restoration Prioritization Tool and Solutions for Gold River Steelhead
In partnership with Ecofish Research and Strategic Natural Resource Consultants, the Nootka Sound Watershed Society prepared an application to the BC Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund (BCSRIF) in 2022 and again in 2023. Read more to learn about the details of these projects and what we are doing to protect, restore and enhance Pacific salmon populations in the Nootka Sound region.
About the NSWS
The Nootka Sound Watershed Society (NSWS) is a not-for-profit community-based stewardship organization focused on ensuring a perpetual and abundant salmonid population in our local waters. We support habitat assessment, restoration and enhancement projects in the Nootka Sound area (PFMA 25). We support like-minded regional partners and look to initiatives that safeguard wild stock genetics.
Our inclusive governance provides a place for all salmonid resource users and stakeholders in our operating area on our Board of Directors (BOD) and in our initiatives and projects. Our membership is approximately 200 individuals.
The NSWS operating area is focused in Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation (MMFN) Ha’houlthee (territory and area of responsibility) in Nootka Sound. The Nuchatlaht and Ehattesaht Nations also participate from time to time in some activities. The Municipalities of Gold River and the spectrum of industrial interests are represented in a consensus process. These interests also include commercial forestry, fish farms, recreational fishing, hatchery and local citizens. We are small rural communities (population <2,000) working collaboratively and with external partners and allies to revitalize watersheds, increase production and protect and enhance wild salmonid stocks. One of these collaborations is the Solutions for Steelhead (S4S) Gold River Task Force initiative that NSWS leads, bringing together First Nation and government agency representatives, biologists and sport fisher organizations to save steelhead in the Gold River watershed.
The current project, the “Watershed Restoration Prioritization Tool/Solutions for Gold River Steelhead Project”, is a continuation of a BCSRIF and DFO funded project that has been successfully delivered by NSWS.
There were three main components of the first phase of work, which include:
1. Implementation of riparian restoration silviculture treatments in the Gold River watershed to support salmon habitat recovery;
2. Development of additional restoration opportunities throughout the Gold River watershed, including in a “report card” format to support ongoing discussions and planning for salmon recovery; and,
3. The development of the Nootka Sound Salmon and Watershed Assessment Tool, which supports watershed assessment, communication, and restoration prioritization activities throughout Nootka Sound.
We aim to expand on these project components in Phase 2. Kent O’Neill is the current President of the NSWS and is the primary contact and applicant. Kadin Snook is a Mowachaht/Muchalaht member and Vice President of the NSWS. Roger Dunlop, R.P. Bio., is the MMFN Lands & Natural Resources Manager, founder and NSWS Director, and the secondary contact for this application. The Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation fully support the application and have provided a letter of support.
Phase 1 Results
Activity 1: Hydrometric and Temperature Network for Nootka Sound
Creation of a network of 40 water temperature monitoring stations to provide monitoring of ongoing land use and climate-change related pressure in priority watershed which include important steelhead and salmon streams in Nootka Sound that may benefit from thermal mitigation measures.
Data will be used to prepare quantitative metrics describing current and future thermal stress for both monitored and unmonitored streams that will support management decisions.
Discharge measurements and ongoing rating curve development for Muchalat Lake hydrometric station.
Annual reports in each year of the project to summarize data and provide recommendations for continued monitoring. The final annual report will provide a full review of monitoring efforts with expanded analysis of stream conditions and final recommendations for continued monitoring and thermal mitigation options to consider.
Activity 2: Silviculture Restoration Activities and Monitoring
Two main results are expected from the riparian restoration silviculture treatments and monitoring:
Monitoring past silviculture treatments and control plots to; assess the success of past treatments on riparian forest attributes (e.g., DBH, height, CWD, etc.) and inform prescriptions for future maintenance (e.g., additional brushing treatments, fill planting);
Implementing silvicultural treatments will help accelerate ecosystem succession within the riparian areas impacted from past resource development. These treatments are intended to accelerate the recovery of mature forest cover, improve bank cohesion, assist with water temperature moderation, and increase the supply of future large woody debris, which shall benefit steelhead, Chinook, sockeye and coho salmon.
Activity 3: Nootka Sound Salmon and Watershed Assessment Tool
The NSWS community and collaborators have been working to monitor salmon populations and freshwater and estuary habitat status in Nootka Sound for many years and through BC SRIF 2020_301 have developed an initial decision-support and communication tool - the Nootka Sound Salmon and Watershed Assessment Tool – that displays data related to watershed pressures and salmon and habitat status for all watersheds in Nootka Sound. A series of restoration opportunities to support steelhead and salmon recovery have also been developed for the Gold River that can be viewed in the tool. A series of improvements and functionality updates are proposed for this project including:
Display of the temperature time series data for all 40 stations proposed in Activity #1. Time series from temperature tidbits would be updated twice per year after seasonal downloads of the data
Links to real-time temperature, stage, and discharge data for the real-time hydrometric stations in Nootka Sound, including the three WSC gauges and the DFO station at Muchalat Lake outlet
Updates to cumulative effects metrics and temperature metrics in Assessment Tool in discussions with NSWS board and community
Update Assessment Tool functionality, including new tabs to view different data types, and data download function.
Update "About" tab to document methods and data in Assessment Tool
Provide links to key NSWS reports and data in Assessment Tool for easy access to relevant salmon assessment and recovery information
Add silvicultural data and polygons to Assessment Tool showing restoration activities in Activity #2
Add estuary assessment data, including arial imagery data for eelgrass and saltmarsh in Nootka Sound (*Note these data to be collected elsewhere, not part of the BC SRIF proposal).
This project supports all three pillars (Infrastructure, Innovation, and Science Partnerships) of the BCSRIF in various ways, but perhaps may best support the Infrastructure pillar.
The continued training, employment, and capacity building of Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nations and NSWS staff provides the capacity infrastructure necessary to implement these relatively complex monitoring methods and salmon recovery actions in the Nootka Sound region in perpetuity.
Ecofish and SNRC staff will work with First Nations and NSWS to train staff on temperature station installs, downloads, and data management activities. Ecofish will also expand the Nootka Sound Salmon and Watershed Assessment Tool, which can be used in perpetuity by the NSWS community as a data storage, communication, and decision-support tool. This will enable Nootka Sound community members to continue the work after the BCSRIF funding is complete.
One of the main goals of the overall project is also to support salmon and steelhead recovery through the implementation of stream and riparian restoration projects. The riparian silviculture restoration projects described in Activity #2 provide physical habitat infrastructure (such as new vegetation structure and riparian stability) that will support salmon recovery over a long time period.
NSWS and partners also plan on installing new physical infrastructure such as the temperature monitoring network and will expand the capability of the DFO hydrometric station installed at the outlet of Muchalat Lake by supporting the development of a rating curve for estimating discharge.
NSWS and collaborators will also test new methods and technologies associated with salmon habitat assessment and restoration activities. An example is the temperature network and associated modeling that will expand the methods infrastructure for addressing climate change and development impacts to salmon habitat.
The NSWS meets monthly to discuss project updates and new opportunities, on the last Wednesday of the month. On Wednesday, November 1, 2023, Ecofish and SNRC presented on the project.
Click the below image to download the presentation.
Stay tuned as we delve deeper into the activities within this project and explain the next phase.