A landslide that pummelled into the upper Ecstall river on Sept. 1, might be less devastating to the resident fish populations than originally predicted, Julia Hill Sorochan, assistant director at SkeenaWild Conservation Trust said Nov. 28.
SkeenaWild developed the Ecstall River Monitoring Program following the slide this fall, to track and assess the impact the natural disaster has had on fish stocks.
The Ecstall, a tributary that feeds into the Skeena River just before Prince Rupert, is a large contributor of all species of salmon and steelhead.
“In the short term we hope to gain an understanding of the scope and scale of the impacts. In the long term, there may be opportunities that arise that we are not sure of. I think our science team is interested in not pre-determining what needs to happen,” Hill Sorochan said.
She explained how having information about the long-term ramifications of the slide will help them to determine what, if any, restorative action can be taken.
For example, there were not any blockages in the river that they could see during their initial assessment, but if there were they could remove them.
The extent of the program will also depend on how much money SkeenaWild can raise to support the program, as a flight costs between $6,000 and $9,000, Hill Sorochan said.
She was part of a group that went into the Ecstall river area on Oct. 16 to assess some of the initial impacts of the landslide.
Based on their preliminary observations she does not think it is as bad as they originally thought it would be for the fish. However, she is somewhat reluctant to say that since they cannot prove it yet, they need more time and information.
In the spring, SkeenaWild hopes to return to the river to take samples and do assessments.
“You can measure turbidity, you can get a better understanding of the types of sediments that are present and how the system is responding to the spring runoff and major rain events,” Hill Sorochan said.
Right now there does not seem to be a lot of really fine sediment deposited into the water system, it’s courser material which will settle more easily and is less devastating for the salmon, Hill Sorochan explained in a video update on the SkeenaWild website. Courser material will not choke out salmon eggs or gum up their gills as much, she said.
While the Ecstall river salmon are just one population in the Skeena watershed, it is important to have a diversity of salmon stocks, Hill Sorochan explained.
“I like to compare it to a financial portfolio. Any financial advisor would agree that it is not wise to put all of your investments into one stock and that it would be considered good planning and a good financial decision to, in fact, invest in a diversity of stocks, and salmon are no different,” she said.
“The Ecstall is one of many important contributors to Skeena salmon. It’s a big system, it’s a big river, and there’s not a lot happening in terms of human population and industrial development on that system and so it’s important to maintain it and understand it.”
No one was anticipating the landslide into the Ecstall river. SkeenaWild is therefore raising money to put toward the monitoring program.
On Nov. 29, Giving Tuesday, the non-profit is asking for people to donate to support this important work. Giving Tuesday was founded in Canada in 2013, as a day to encourage people to do good.
Anyone can make a tax deductible donation towards the Ecstall River Monitoring Program at www.skeenawild.org/donate/.
Kaitlyn Bailey | Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
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