There is no feeling quite like wrapping up a long-term and impactful project. Just ask the Ditidaht First Nation (DFN), whose members and partner organizations recently gathered in community to mark the completion of multiple natural resource initiatives for the nation.
On a sunny day in mid-July, approximately 50 people gathered over a meal, video presentations and speeches at the DFN Community Hall. At the root of the celebration was the acknowledgment of the hard work and relationships that made the Cheewaht biʔaat (sockeye salmon) stream restoration, DFN Stewardship and Monitoring Program and office, and emergency flood bypass road possible.
The celebration focused largely on the restoration of the Cheewaht tributaries for biʔaat. Funded by Parks Canada through the Conservation and Restoration Program, the $1.1 million project spanned two years of field work (2020-2021), involved numerous partners and was an example of reconciliation in action.
“I’m very proud to be involved with all the projects that we’ve done over the years, and I’m especially proud of all those who’ve worked hard to pull all this together,” said Mike Wright of biological consultants M.C. Wright and Associates.
M.C. Wright designed the plan that would see gravel and sediment removed from streams in the Cheewaht watershed that have been impacted by industrial logging damage. The goal for the
restoration was to improve habitat for fish holding, spawning and rearing, and to ultimately rebuild a terminal fishery the Ditidaht have relied on for generations.
The execution of the plan relied on solid teamwork between DFN, Uu-a-thluk, Roc-Star Enterprises, BC Timber Sales, Western Forest Products, Parks Canada, Nitinaht Hatchery, Teal Jones, West Coast Aquatic and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).
“In three years, we’ll see the results of the restoration,” said Paul Sieber, Ditidaht’s Director of Natural Resources.
A combined 12,000 hours of labour that included the removal of roughly 3,000 cubic metres of sediment has resulted in 7,400 cubic metres of restored critical salmon habitat. Habitat that provides hope for Ditidaht’s food security.
“If we had waited much longer, I don’t think the sockeye would have survived,” Wright said, in a quiet moment following the celebration lunch.
The two-year restoration project is deemed a success but was not without challenges.
“The first year, we dug out all the excess gravel and tried to return the stream to more of a natural state – how it would have looked before it was damaged,” said Ryan Abbott, biologist with M.C. Wright and ground lead on the project.
“Year two focused on anchoring wood in places where it was stable and could do its function which is to protect stream banks and create features like pools,” added Abbott.
Work also included reinforcing the historic divide between Cheewaht streams to repair the diversion that developed after a landslide event, allowing water from the upper Cheewaht to flow into the Sprise Lake watershed.
Since the project’s completion in 2021, biʔaat have returned to the Cheewaht system. In fall 2022,spawning was observed throughout the restored streams. Joshua Tate, a DFN fisheries technician and Roc-Star employee, is happy with the results so far.
“It was nice seeing all the fish come back the next year – the fish came up into the tributaries and used the entire system,” said Tate.
Tate and his fellow DFN Stewardship and Monitoring Program technicians (Paul J. Sieber and Quinton Tate) and DFN čaabat (hereditary chief) and Fisheries Manager sałiix̣ab (Paul Tate) will continue to monitor the health of Ditidaht’s Hahuułii (chiefly territory) to identify areas that need protection going forward.
Their work has been made easier with Ditidaht’s investment in a new stewardship office, truck, 28-foot custom-built landing craft (named ʔuč’aak) and float, which were part of the community celebration.
The province of B.C.’s Community Economic Recovery Infrastructure Program supported the replacement of the float and breakwater, while the remaining capital investments were backed by the Salish Sea Initiative.
Also celebrated was DFN’s new emergency flood bypass road. The road was completed with contributions from San Group and offers an alternative route and “safety travel zone” into the Ditidaht village of Malachan when the Carmanah Mainline is flooded.