Lina Azeez, Watershed Watch’s habitats program director

Gill Bar, in the Heart of the Fraser.

The gravel reach of the lower Fraser remains an area on the verge of great things! Last year we shared with you the good news that land in the floodplain was purchased and placed into conservation by the BC Parks Foundation. We also celebrated the closure of Gill Bar to public access, allowing the area to rebound from intense recreational use that was damaging salmon habitat. With so much important habitat in the region to conserve and restore, it’s important that, as a community, we keep our eyes on the gravel bars, islands and side channels for destructive activities, especially when it comes to salmon and sturgeon habitats.

Nearly one year from when we helped raise the alarm about the destruction of Strawberry Island, we are happy to say its future is looking bright! The destruction of this important salmon habitat was a brazen and shocking act that would not have been discovered if it wasn’t for two conservationists out on the river who alerted us. The island was slated to be ditched, drained and diked to create a cranberry field and the property owner had begun this work without any of the needed permits. We collaborated with allies to bring the illegal habitat destruction to the attention of the public, and to relevant government ministries. We had to keep it under wraps for a while, but we can now share that the government has taken several actions against the landowner.

This road over Strawberry Slough will be removed following a recent investigation.

Recently, a decision by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) was sent to the owner and through a ‘Direction to Take Immediate Corrective Measures’, they have one year to remove the road and culverts blocking Strawberry Slough, remediate any riparian vegetation that was removed, remove any fill that was placed on the island and restore the seasonal fish habitat. We understand a provincial Order under the Water Sustainability Act has also been issued for remediation work. We will continue to keep an eye on Strawberry Island and push for full restoration and protection.

Strawberry Slough during freshet. The flooded island provides important rearing habitat for juvenile salmon.

This is a great win for the thousands of juvenile salmon who actively use the island during the annual spring freshet!

While Strawberry Island is slowly on the mend, all is not well in the Heart of the Fraser. 

We’ve seen the continuous removal of riparian vegetation and the addition of riprap along the river’s edge, hardening the foreshore and degrading the area for salmon and other species. And in another example of continued development of the floodplain, a permanent, million-dollar bridge was recently built with permits meant for a small, temporary bridge over a side channel crossing just south of Hope, B.C.  

We continue to play whack-a-mole with threats to the floodplain habitat in the Heart of the Fraser. It’s simply not feasible for us to always be on the river patrolling the island complexes ensuring no illegal development is taking place. Ultimately, we need to protect these valuable floodplain habitats but that will take some time. In the meantime, we’d like your help in stopping habitat destruction in the gravel reach.

The Heart of the Fraser, near Cromarty Island.

If you see any of the activities listed below or other actions that cause you concern happening in the Heart of the Fraser, please take a moment to record the issue, take note of the date and time and make a submission through the Natural Resource Violation form: 

      • Fill being dumped in the floodplain, in or along waterways
      • Riprap placed on the foreshore
      • Removal of riparian vegetation or freshly denuded slopes or river banks
      • Excavation of, in or near side channels or sloughs possibly making embankments steeper
      • Vehicles driving through spawning habitats (e.g., gravel bars, side channels, etc.)