Annual City Council funding has been approved for the restoration of the Campbell River estuary.
$5,000 will be donated by the city to the Mid-Island Estuarine Guardians and Wei Wai Kum First Nation to cover annual operating costs for the next four years.
Both groups and the city are working to restore the estuary to a more natural area. The project aims to rebuild and restore the estuary to its original fish and wildlife habitat after depredation by geese that were moved into the area for hunting and other purposes.
Executive director Tim Clermont said fish and game clubs and the provincial government brought geese to the area in the 1980s.
They stayed because of the abundance of food. He added that the geese don’t leave between mid-June and July due to the moulting season, eating a lot of plants important for the habitat of salmon and other species.
“They love eelgrass at low tide and they love to eat sedge in the high tide area,” Clermont said. “They ate about 4 kilograms, in pounds, that’s 10 pounds. They eat 10% of their body weight per day, that’s the minimum.
Clermont said there were about 1,400 geese in the area in 2016, eating all the eelgrass and sedge, causing many problems for salmon habitat and flood prevention. He said that with climate change, erosion caused by plant loss creates a higher risk of flooding and water damage.
“I have seen with my own eyes that Canada geese are completely destroying many important habitats in our estuaries,” Clermont said.
The organization began planting sedge plugs (about six-inch plugs like golf holes) and protecting them with enclosures about three years ago. They said the sedge grew back quickly with this method.
They now work with the Wei Wai Kum First Nation Guardian Program, protecting the estuary and allowing the sedge to grow back. They are now about 3 years away from a six year project.
“It’s critical habitat for juvenile salmon and the estuary food web,” Clermont added. “The sedge dies off every year, providing nutrients and securing carbon in the soil.”
The project is also building important relationships with local governments and First Nations. Mid-Island Estuaries works with the Wei Wai Kum First Nation.
“We’re going to teach Guardians how to locate nests and how to properly add their eggs and collect data,” Clermont said.
Clermont says both groups learn from each other, and teaching the next generation is something Clermont feels privileged to do.
” That says everything. That’s my reason to keep working to be able to do this,” he said. “I think it’s just great that they have their own guardian program and they want to protect the estuary and they want to pitch in.”
“What I really like to see is the pride they have in doing this work and seeing that they are actually bringing the estuary back, and through no fault of their own.”
Clermont says the funding will be used over the next few years to work on an egg addition program and buy more sedges to transplant into the area to rebuild the land.
He says part of the funding will also be given to Wei Wai Kum for their work.
Mid-Island Estuaries works with many other Island First Nations on similar projects.
The Town of Campbell River says the estuaries enhance tourism opportunities and capabilities. The city’s environmental specialist, Terry Martin, says it’s essential to maintain partnerships and build a well-connected community.
“They are absolutely essential, every year I see an improvement not only with the depth of partnerships but also with the number of people who participate,” said Martin. “It’s important when people are recreating in these areas because they see these projects moving forward.”