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The Snowball Effect

Ha-ma-yas Training Waters

K’òmoks Guardians are building on their 2015 successes

By the time the festive season rolled around at the end of 2015, K’òmoks Watchman Cory Frank had a great deal to celebrate on the work front. Thanks to some key strategic partnerships forged by Cory and his team, significant progress had been made on a number of stewardship projects in K’òmoks territory, including reconnecting the once-stagnant Courtenay Airport Lagoon with the Courtenay River to help transform the Lagoon to its historically healthy, oxygenated state.

That seems to have had a snowball effect on the work of the K’òmoks Guardians in helping to protect and revitalize the ecological health of K’òmoks waters and natural and cultural resources. That work continued to expand in 2016, and many of the projects are already showing great results.

Taking care of the creeks

Having identified a range of problems with various creeks and channels in the territory, the K’òmoks Guardians partnered with provincial Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure  senior biologist Sean Wong to undertake restoration and restructuring projects on the streams. “Sean’s support was fantastic,” says Cory. “He brought us resources and advice that were both incredibly valuable to us.”

Rosewall Creek

With the help of Sean and a crew of heavy equipment operators, the team first tackled Rosewall Creek in Fanny Bay, known to flash flood on a seasonal basis. Years of flooding had eroded the banks to within metres of a nearby road, increasing the risk that the creek could change direction away from the downstream Fanny Bay Salmonid Enhancement Society hatchery. Conversely, low summer flows were putting juvenile fish at risk of overheating and mortality. Some form of stabilization to the water flows was urgently needed.

Cory’s team first carefully removed about 1800 coho fry from the creek along with juvenile trout and frogs, placing them in the care of the Rosewall Creek hatchery. “That was the first time we worked with the Enhancement Society. That’s a good new partnership for us,” says Cory. To stabilize the water flow, salvaged tree trunks were then buried in the creek banks and cabled into place to prevent them moving. Gravel from the creek bed was moved to the banks and with introduced soil formed into a new streamside riparian zone, which has been landscaped with indigenous plant species. The cabled logs and new bank formation and planting will not only redirect water flow into the middle of the creek, reducing the impact of flooding on the banks, but will provide shelter and food sources for spawning salmon.

Roy Creek

Roy Creek faced a different problem: an ancient and failing culvert which had to be replaced. The new culvert is brand-new technology, says Cory: “It’s a bottomless culvert, one of the first of its kind to be used in British Columbia. It will last 50—70 years compared to the old types of culvert like the one we replaced, which was only about 30 years old.”

The best thing about the new culvert is that, unlike the old completely enclosed models, its shape allows the creek bed to revert to its natural form. “It’s like a dome over the creek. That means the stream can flow naturally again, which is much more welcoming to spawning fish.” The success of the new culvert is already showing: by November, says Cory with satisfaction, he was receiving reports that salmon were spawning inside the new culvert.

Bayside Road Beach Restoration

Until this year, for decades storms had been eating away the beach below K’òmoks land on the K’òmoks Estuary. An ancestral burial site and midden, bones and artefacts had been surfacing and washing away, much to the distress of the community.

Sean Wong came to the rescue again, says Cory. “Sean arranged for 60 dump trucks of gravel and ten loads of riprap to be delivered at the Ministry of Transportation’s expense. He also provided a large number of indigenous plants and bought the Guardians a new chainsaw and rock drill, which we needed to complete the project. It was a huge contribution to us, and we’re immensely grateful to him and the provincial government for their help here.”

Using the training they had received at Rosewall Creek, Cory and his team employed a similar strategy to prevent further erosion: cabling salvaged logs to rocks and burying them in the shoreline to anchor its stability. Gravel was placed over the first layer of logs, and another set of logs cabled into place as additional protection against the energy of ocean waves breaking onshore in a storm. Planting the foreshore with the donated species provided additional stability. “This is a very effective system,” observes Cory with satisfaction. “We were really gratified to see that the beach stayed perfectly intact through all the fall storms we experienced.”

What gave him even greater pleasure was hearing from a K’òmoks councillor living across the road from the beach that for the first time in 15 years, she felt at peace in her house, knowing that her ancestors were no longer being disturbed. “That really made me feel super-good,” says Cory.

But wait, there’s more

In between carrying on training at VIU, restoring creeks and foreshore, and clearing smaller channels clogged with overgrowth that has been preventing fish spawning, this year the K’òmoks Guardians also worked on  a Canada Goose cull in the Englishman River estuary, in partnership with the Nature Trust and the Nature Conservancy. Removing the geese, which were introduced and are non-migratory, has significantly reduced potential health risks associated with high amounts of geese faeces in the estuary and local parks.

Partnerships a plus

Cory places a high value on partnerships in terms of the successful conclusion of projects in K’òmoks territory. “Put plainly, it’s the reason we are so successful. We work hard to maintain contact with the many organizations we are lucky enough to work with, we introduce ideas for new projects to them constantly, and we join forces to obtain funding for projects we all have the same interest in achieving. Our goals are usually the same, so that works well.”

Their newest partner is the Comox Valley Regional District, which has asked the K’òmoks Guardians to be part of their water sampling team.  “That’s partly a result of our outreach, and partly an opportunity that has arisen out of doing our training and these organizations learning we can do this work now. It’s excellent,” says Cory.

2017 and counting

It may have been a big year, but Cory is not resting on his laurels. If anything, just the opposite—he is already brimming with enthusiasm about what is ahead in 2017, and actively planning the schedule for next year. “By March training with Vancouver Island University’s stewardship certification program will be complete,” he says, “and we are hoping to bring on three new K’òmoks Guardians to help with all the projects we have under way and pla ned. It’s really exciting!”