Feb. 1, 2016

Trout hatched

Here’s a video vanessatrout of the 65 trout Vanessa Valgardson and her Grade 6 class at G.S. Lakie School in Lethbridge hatched late last week. (Clicking on vanessatrout will download the video to your drive. You can open it using your video player or App.)

The class is involved in an Alberta SRD FinS (Fish in Schools) program to raise trout and release them into an area lake. Over a four to five month period, students and teachers maintain and monitor the development of trout – from egg to fry – in their classroom aquarium.

The Oldman River Chapter Trout Unlimited chapter is supporting the program, initially by purchasing the equipment.

Chapter contributed to Nature Centre display

Part of the overall display

Part of the overall display

Jan 4, 2016

The Helen Schuler Nature Centre has its permanent display up and running just inside the main entrance, as of Dec. 28, 2015. The display, to which Oldman River Chapter TUC contributed $5,000, shows the development of the river and river valley, including a cool section on fish featuring headwater native species westslope cutthroat, bull trout and mountain whitefish. Pullouts in the display provide details on each species. As well, videos viewed through diving goggles, show among other river bottom features a stonefly nymph foraging.

Here is a sampling of information on the display:

Rivers are water in motion. Living in a river is harder than you might think. It takes a lot of energy to battle the current and stay in one place. The trade-off is a constant conveyor belt of food passing by.

A living layer of microscopic film coats all of the underwater surfaces in a river. Algae, protozoans, bacteria and fungi are bound together in a complex world called biofilm. This skin of life, on the bottom of a river, helps improve biodiversity and water quality by converting energy found in tiny, suspended sediment into something that stoneflies and mayflies can eat.

Stonefly nymh viewed through display goggles

Stonefly nymph viewed through display goggles

Stoneflies are carnivorous aquatic insects, eating both plants and animals found along the bottom of the river. They have sharp claws that help them to grip the rocks and move against the flowing force of the water. Invertebrates like these are important links in the food chain. Without them, small fish would never become big fish.

Mountain whitefish have an almost sucker-like appearance with a small mouth and larger overhanging upper jaw. They feed almost exclusively on smaller, bottom-dwelling aquatic insect nymphs, like stoneflies and mayflies.

Cutthroat trout must have old, clean water to survive. They are only found in rivers and streams that have wooded shorelines where trees and shrubs: stabilize banks and keep water clean; shade the river and keep water cold, provide cover and protection from predators.

Westslope cutthroat pullout

Westslope cutthroat pullout

(Here’s the most recent (Dec. 24, 2015) information about our Westslope Cutthroat listed on the federal Species at Risk Public Registry. Everyone who sets foot in our headwaters should be aware of this and act accordingly.)
SARA Public Registry on westslope cutthroat

The chapter has booked well-known author, guide, fly fisher, conservationist and musician Jim McLennan in the Helen Schuler Nature Centre Community Room for 7 p.m. Feb. 18. A short Annual Generally Meeting will be included.  There is no charge. You’ll also be able to view first hand this wonderful permanent display.

The chapter has also committed to help with other signage nearer the river to provide further information on the magic that is the Oldman River and valley.

Paul Harper, Senior Fisheries Biologist with Stantec, Mike Uchikura, intermediate biologist for Alberta Conservation Association, Mike Bryski, fisheries biologist for AESRD and Richard Burke, Oldman River Chapter president, and Leta Pezderic of the Oldman Watershed Council provided background for the display,

Based on past stats for the centre, the display could be viewed by at least 30,000 people a year, mainly school-aged children.

Sept. 13, 2015

Two Fish One Fish No Fish is an excellent account  by Lorne Fitch, an adjunct professor at the U of C, rihiddenoldmancrossingparian specialist with Cows and Fish and long-time fisheries biologist in Alberta, of what’s happened to fish in our province over the years. He, among a growing number of Albertans, is concerned that the assumption there will always be an abundance of fish in our streams is grossly misplaced and he worries native species such as bull trout and westslope cutthroat could “wink out of existence” on our watch.

It’s a must read for anyone who cares about fish.


June 13, 2015

Here’s the text of a letter sent by the chapter to the environmental impact assessment of the Grassy Mountain coal mine proposal in the Crowsnest Pass that, if approved, would have a serious negative effect on fish and fish habitat in at least two Crowsnest River tributaries and likely the Crow itself.

TUC Oldman Chapter Letter of Concern

Westslope cutthroat under recovery scope

October 2013
For the optimists among us, a recent rather intense immersion into the world of the Alberta Westslope Cutthroat trout was a sign that something may actually happen to keep these indicators of the quality of the water we use from extinction.westslopeday2

Oct. 1, a group of about 15 representing varied interests in the Oldman River Headwaters. among them a rancher and a quadding representative, stood on a gravel bar beside the muddy Carbondale River to learn about cutthroat habitat needs and a plan to recover their populations from numbers that have left them in only five per cent of their historic range and officially threatened. The field day was organized by Cows and Fish (Alberta Riparian Management Society), a non-government, not-for-profit group.

Oct. 2 and 3, 22 people involved in a Partnership Advisory Network established targets for improvements to the headwaters, an initiative that’s part of the Oldman Watershed Council Integrated Watershed Management Plan. Much of the discussion centred on the plight of Westslope Cutthroat.
The species is native to Alberta, and had survived in our area as far east as Lethbridge for 10,000 years.

In less than the lifetime of an average human, their numbers have been reduced by at least 80 per cent “as a result of over-exploitation, habitat degradation and hybridization/competition with introduced non-native trout,” according to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada in November 2006. In the seven years since the flag went up, numbers have dwindled even more, to about 5,100 adults from an estimated 7,000.

Now, at least two separate efforts reflect the obvious conclusion: The Alberta Westslope Cutththroat Recovery Plan 2012-2017 (published in March this year), and the Oldman Watershed Council’s Headwaters action plan point to the need for something to be done. We’re led to believe  the Alberta government’s South Saskatchewan Regional Plan, still in the consultation phase, will also address headwaters problems.

All of this, of course, is not about just the fish, but the focus on the water we can’t live without and the various negative impacts on our water source can’t be discussed without including fish.
The “cumulative impacts”  are identified as threats in the recovery plan:
• invasive species  (rainbow, brook trout and algae),
• adverse effects on habitat – changes in flow, sedimentation from dams, weirs, forestry, grazing, Off Highway Vehicle and other recreational use, in-stream industrial construction and municipal runoff,
• consumptive use and exploitation,
• stocking,
• pollution,
• and climate change.

The plan further points to the land disturbance – mainly roads – in the cutthroat range, “among the highest observed in western North America, ” contributing fine sediments that cover cutthroat and bull trout spawning redds and improved access for anglers. That combination “may be the most important proximate causes for reduced cutthroat population densities.” Participants in the Cows and Fish field trip couldn’t help but wonder at the muddy Carbondale, an unusual autumn sight brought on by late rain and increased sediment load.

The recovery plan’s goal is to  “protect and maintain the existing 0.99 pure populations (currently believed to be
approximately 51) at self-sustaining levels, and re-establish additional pure populations to self-
sustaining levels, within the species’ historical range in Alberta” where that’s feasible.
Fishing regulations this year introduced catch and release only throughout the headwaters to reflect the goal.

Other solutions will likely involve “targeted removal of non-native species” in some streams to avoid hybridization and competition and give the cutthroat a fighting chance to survive and even re-establish populations in some of their historical range. But “restoration of westslope cutthroat  throughout their historical range is not feasible.”

OWC Headwaters action plan workshop participants learned what many anglers already know – it isn’t just Westslope cutthroat imperilled, but bull trout and Rocky Mountain Whitefish as well.

Next steps should include assessing which streams would most likely produce results from conservation efforts and then actually doing the work that will see improvements for the species.

Trout Unlimited’s first goal “to conserve and protect Canada’s freshwater fish and their ecosystems and restore their coldwater resources to a healthy and productive state” is a perfect fit for the Oldman River Chapter to be involved in the recovery effort where it can.

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