The B.C. Wildlife Federation AGM took place on Apr. 22 virtually for the second-year due to COVID. It was announced that night that the Lake Windermere District Rod and Gun Club was awarded the BC Wildlife Federation Roderick Haig-Brown Conservation Award which is bestowed annually.
This prestigious award recognizes the accomplishments of a BCWF club with a recently completed conservation project that benefits fish, wildlife, or a natural habitat and is deemed most worthy. The prestigious trophy is a totem pole mounted on a wooden base and was carved by renowned West Coast Indigenous artist Ellen Neale. “This is a great honour for the club,” says Ben Mitchell-Banks conservationist and manager of the Abel Creek Restoration Project. “Roderick Haig Brown was a Provincial Court Justice and was also named Chancellor of the University of Victoria in the 1970s and is a world-renowned author on fishing and conservation.
The Lake Windermere District Rod and Gun Club is being recognized for the habitat restoration work that has been underway on Abel Creek since 2014. The club receives grant monies from the Kootenay Conservation Program and Federal Department of Fisheries Recreational Fisheries Conservation Partnership Program. “The habitat restoration work we did would not have been possible without the funding from these two organizations,” says Banks.
Anadromous fish could not access the majority and most valuable habitat sections of Abel Creek due to an irrigation dam that was identified in 2012. This dam that was constructed in 1930 excluded anadromous fish from their spawning grounds for the last 90 years or more and has been devastating for their annual runs.
In 2018 the potential harm of a barrier to upstream migration was resolved when a Newbury Riffle was installed below a culvert under Johnston Road. The long-term vision for Abel Creek is to restore fish passage so fish have access to the entire watershed up to the water reservoir dam and to restore fish populations to their historical levels. Salmon have been central and crucial to the livelihood, culture, and economy of local First Nations such as the Secwépemc (Shuswap) and Ktunaxa (Akisqnuk).
“The club is a partner in the Shuswap Band lead project of looking at 150 streams between Canal Flats to Donald as to their natural integrity and any needs for restoration which includes removing barriers, enhancing habitat and what is the overall stream integrity,” says former District Rod and Gun Club President Rick Hoar. “Westslope Cutthroat, White Sturgeon and other salmon species are our main focus.”
Against all obstacles Banks has forged on diligently as the project manager of the Abel Creek Restoration Project. Banks shares there is just one remaining barrier to fish passage that the District of Invermere intends to resolve when the appropriate permitting is completed with any luck by the return of kokanee salmon in September.
The Lake Windermere District Rod and Gun Club believe in the importance of the restoration of the fish habitat and fish populations in Abel Creek and its value to the community. “It provides a place for community members to come and witness the wonderful spectacle of kokanee salmon returning to their spawning grounds to repeat their life cycle as they have done for thousands of years,” says Banks. “This enhances community members’ sense of place. The proximity of Abel Creek also provides a close spot that schoolteachers can come with their students to teach them about kokanee salmon and other spawning fish during the school year.”
Lake Windermere District Rod and Gun Club sets the bar for providing responsible use of resources and by giving back in the way of habitat enhancement work to restore habitats damaged by developments and natural events. It is through these efforts that the Roderick Haig-Brown Conservation Award is well deserved.
“Winning this award raises the profile of the Lake Windermere District Rod and Gun Club to members of the public and affirms to them that the main purpose of the club is not hunting and fishing as activities but rather is conservation of fish and wildlife resources,” says Banks. “This has been at the club’s core since being founded more than a 100 years ago.
The club does a lot more habitat conservation work other than Abel Creek. Receiving the award encourages our members and others to undertake conservation projects and gives us a sense of purpose.”
Chadd Cawson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Columbia Valley Pioneer