Aquatic Habitat Management
Urban development, land clearance for agriculture and natural resource extraction can have significant aquatic habitat impacts. Efforts are underway to maintain functioning riparian habitat and adopt sector best management practices to mitigate harm while work continues to restore access to productive habitats by removing barriers to fish passage.
Aquatic habitat in BC include wetlands, lakes and water courses ranging from ephemeral and intermittent streams to major river systems including the Fraser, Skeena and Columbia. The trees and vegetation adjacent to these water bodies contribute to the vitality of aquatic habitat by providing shade (moderating water temperatures), woody debris and habitat for prey species aquatic organisms depend upon.
BC has developed extensive resources that track the presence, nature and fish populations associated with aquatic habitat across the province.
- Spatial datasets, including lake and stream inventories, obstacles to fish passage and others are available for review and/or download through the BC Data Catalogue.
- Habitat Wizard is a tool that enables users to view fish, wildlife and ecosystem information using a map-based platform.
- The Fisheries Inventory Data Queries Tool (FIDQ) provides access to fish data at several scales (single water body to whole watersheds), lake bathymetry, fish stocking reports and other content.
Monitoring aspects of aquatic habitat, include elements like lake and river nutrient loading, water temperature changes, seasonal variability in water flow rates, quality of spawning habitat, play a critical role in understanding and developing populations projections to guide conservation efforts and identify recreational fishing opportunities.
In an effort to better understand how past practices impacted riparian and aquatic habitat, the province has undertaken long term studies examining the short and long term impacts of forestry activity on watershed function, habitat and fish populations. Lessons learned have guided subsequent resource activities which continue to be informed by focused and integrated monitoring protocols as exemplified by the Forest and Range Evaluation Program (FREP)
FREP employs two protocols to evaluate impacts to fish habitat at different scales:
Fish and Riparian habitat assessments are also addressed in FREP Multiple Resource Value Assessments.
Negative effects of development on fish habitat include overland run-off resulting in erosion of riparian areas and introduction of sediments, loss of stream-side vegetation which supports insect populations while providing stream cooling shade, and structures which create barriers to fish practices, notably culverts at road crossings. Within agricultural and urban areas, surface run-off may also introduce a range of chemicals from nitrogen rich fertilizer which can cause algal blooms to pesticides and motor oil.
Provincial efforts to address this host of challenges has taken many forms including the creation of legislation and regulations, monitoring and enforcement activities, recycling and information programs and development of best management practices how to guide proponents to undertake their work in an appropriate and responsible manner.
- The Water Sustainability Act provides direction respecting potential impacts to aquatic habitat due to water extraction, diversion and a number of industrial and land use practices including the identification of Sensitive Streams. The act introduces the requirement for addressing a stream's environmental flow, the volume and timing of water required for the proper functioning of the stream's aquatic ecosystem.
- Protecting riparian areas while facilitating urban development is the role of the Riparian Areas Protection Act and associated Riparian Areas Regulation. Site level assessments of proposed developments by qualified professionals ensure that proper setbacks maintain riparian habitat and buffer the effects of surface run-off.
- Regulatory direction under the Forest and Range Practices Act (Government Actions Regulation) and Oil and Gas Activities Act (Environmental Protection and Management Regulation) provide direction to address the maintenance of stream conditions in the course of road building and other work.
Spatial designations provide additional protection for established:
- Best Management Practices provide guidance for a range of development activities and help to clarify options beyond what is provided in legal direction
Currently there is a considerable amount of aquatic habitat that has either been lost entirely by development, negatively impacted by historic practices or alienated due to the introduction of barriers including stream crossings for roads
The provincial Fish Passage program is based on a strategic analysis of impacted aquatic habitat that concluded restoring access to productive fish habitat by remediating road crossings was the most cost effective way to improve fish habitat concerns.