Environmental stewardship is an essential part of the Coquitlam UV Project. See how the enhanced salmon rearing habitat is being constructed as well as wildlife surveys, salvage, and the relocation of resident small animals.
John Worthen, Watershed Management Planning Coordinator for Metro Vancouver, leads us along a trail through underbrush near the Coquitlam UV Disinfection Plant and explains what’s going on at this site.
“We are at the Coquitlam Gate and we’re working on a project just outside of Coquitlam Gate called the Slade Creek Enhancement Project. Slade Creek is a combination of some ground water and some ephemeral creeks. It turns into a creek that runs all year. The forest adjacent and around the Slade Creek Project is a young forest that was logged approximately 20 years ago, but with a little bit of help, a little bit of restoration, we feel that it can really be quite productive in terms of amphibians and fish and wildlife.”
A new drinking water disinfection facility is being installed nearby and the construction plans include improvements to the area. Just outside the watershed fence is a fish-bearing stream. Over the decades, its side pond has become clogged with silt. Careful excavation will expand the size and depth of the side ponds, then woody debris and plants will be strategically placed.
“The purpose of the design is to enhance fish habitat,” says Kate Moss, a terrestrial biologist with Golder Associates. “But in terms of amphibians, this is, will likely provide better habitat because there’ll be more of a pond which could be used for breeding and breeding habitat is always an important niche in the environment. There aren’t a whole lot of breeding ponds in this area from what we’ve looked at.”
In order to create the new, larger ponds, some of the nearby habitat must be excavated. Animals living there will be moved first.
“We prefer to try to protect habitats,” says Moss. “But when we are going to change habitat, we want to move them so that we don’t crush them with the machinery and violate the Wildlife Act. Typically there is always a salvage before the work is conducted. Because of the Wildlife Act, we are required to try to minimize the death of animals, the mortality of animals, so projects often have a salvage component to them.”
Worthen outlines the approach, “The idea is that we relocate inventory, relocate these animals outside of the construction sites so that they won’t be harmed during construction.”
Before the excavators are brought in, a ‘sweep’ takes place–two days of hands-and-knees amphibian-hunting.
“Today, there is quite a bit of activity in the small site, the 400 square metre site,” says Worthen “We had approximately seven crew members looking for these amphibians – turning over rotten wood, turning over logs, looking under bark, and through the Sword Fern. Although it looks destructive, these, some of these logs are going to be moved and altered during construction so it’s better to do it now rather than later, so we can try and save these animals.”
They’re finding slugs, tree frogs and salamanders. So far no sign of the rare Pacific Sideband Snail but they do find a red-legged frog, listed on the Species at Risk Act as a concern.
“When you find one, then it’s exciting,” says Sandra Desmueles, a worker with Metro Vancouver Watershed Operations. “It’s rewarding.”
“It certainly sounds silly,” says Moss. “It’s not, though. It is really important. A lot of these species are sort of forgotten because they’re small.”
The other activity underway is the week-long search for the endangered Pacific Water Shrew. Kate Moss describes the small creature.
“The Pacific Water Shrew has hairy feet which help him swim around in the water. It’s found in and around smallish streams and slews and wetlands. Historically there has been a water shrew found within the Coquitlam watershed which is why it’s important to look for them here.”
The rare animal has not been seen in this specific area, but since the moist habitat is somewhat suited, they must search. The area boundary is enclosed, and humane traps are set up at 13 sites.
“The pitfall traps are one gallon buckets,” says Worthen. “We put at least three mealworms in every trap so that (if) they do fall into the trap they have bedding, they have food, shelter and cover.”
A motion-sensor camera is set up to capture the moment in case a pacific water shrew is found.
“Because of the metabolism rate of the Pacific Water Shrew, they have to be checked every six hours,” explains Worthen. “So 0600, 1200, 1800 and 2400, you know, we have to be very shrewd to catch these guys.”
A faint smile crosses his face as he explains the overall approach. “You have to think like a shrew, to catch a shrew.”
Worthen is pleased with the results of the team’s efforts.
“I’ve been very surprised at how many living things we’ve been able to salvage and take outside of the exclusion fence. It makes total sense to me to do this on projects of this size and it makes you feel good. I think the crew is very satisfied. They go home at the end of the day, they always have smiles on their faces that they’ve actually saved some living organisms and they get it.”
In the end, no Pacific Water Shrews were found, but the team is confident the new habitat’s shallow pools and gentle sloping edges will be the perfect place for many amphibians and mammals to call home.