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.
Identifying aquatic habitat
Aquatic habitat in B.C. 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.
B.C. has developed extensive resources that track the presence, nature and fish populations associated with aquatic habitat across the province.
Monitoring watershed and habitat condition
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.
Maintaining existing habitat
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.
Spatial designations provide additional protection for established:
Reclaiming impacted habitat
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.