Three sockeye salmon streams on Vancouver Island have been restored through a joint effort between Ditidaht First Nation and Park Canada.
The streams, located in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, had run dry due to an accumulation of debris attributed to upslope logging practices.
Industrial activity had caused stream banks to erode and habitat to fill in with sediment, leading Ditidaht First Nation to note a decline in sockeye salmon populations in the Cheewaht River beginning approximately 30 years ago.
“The Cheewaht Lake Watershed was a vital Sockeye salmon food source for the Ditidaht people, as there was an abundance in this system,” said Brian Tate, Elected Chief, Ditidaht First Nation.
“Logging practices very nearly wiped out the Sockeye in the Cheewaht tributaries and river systems with fewer and fewer spawning beds for Sockeye to spawn in.”
Over the summer of 2020, workers from Ditidaht First Nation laboured alongside Parks Canada staff and contractors to remove 3,000 cubic metres of debris from three salmon streams that are part of the Cheewaht watershed.
One kilometre of streams has been restored through debris removal and stream bank reconstruction, allowing salmon to access an additional 100 metres of habitat for a period of over two decades.
Funding for the restoration was provided by a $1.1 million grant through Parks Canada’s Conservation and Restoration Program.
This fall, workers say they have seen as many as 1,300 adult sockeye spawning in the restored streams in one day.
With the salmon typically living out a four-year life cycle, Parks Canada and Ditidaht First Nation will be looking to 2024 to see if the eggs that have been laid this fall lead to improved numbers in the watershed.
Tate says restoring the salmon population is not just important for ecological reasons and for food sources, but also for cultural and familial bonds.
“Young men would camp out on the Cheewaht River during the Sockeye run and harvest for families at Wyah, Clo-oose, and Cheewaht villages,” he said.
“These salmon harvest practices built family bonding and unity through helping and sharing with each other.”