Greenologists from Lake City Secondary, Columneetza Campus, joined members of the Enviro Club from the Williams Lake Campus for three days of on the go, hands-on learning at Gavin Lake in September.
This trip, called the “Salmon Trip” typically has students working with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to harvest two to three Chinook salmon, which is the beginning of the Stream to Sea program that many classrooms around School District 27 take part in. Once salmon that are ready to spawn are caught, the eggs and milk are taken from them.
At the UNBC Research Centre out by Likely the eggs and milk are united and the process begins. Later the eggs are transported to Scout Island before being taken out to classrooms around the district where lessons are taught on the salmon’s life cycle and importance in the Fraser River Watershed. Students then care for the salmon as they watch the salmon grow from eggs to alevin to fry to par. In the spring another lesson takes place and students take part in releasing the young salmon back into the wild.
This year’s trip was in jeopardy due to the slide along the Fraser River making it difficult for salmon to bypass and return to their traditional spawning grounds. However, teachers at both campuses, Scout Island personnel, and DFO supporters for the program were determined to overcome this obstacle and keep the essence of the “Salmon Trip” alive.
So although the harvest was not possible for students this year the learning about, and discussion of, what makes a healthy watershed, its importance, uses, and the balance needed to keep our watershed healthy became the focus of the trip. With students from both the senior and junior campuses involved in the trip some of the sessions were geared specifically for the senior students, others for the junior students, and still others for both groups to work together. The senior students proved to be excellent role models and mentors for the juniors, and the juniors thrived on the opportunities presented by the seniors.
Both groups participated in a hike along a fireguard, a canoe trip down Gavin Lake (seniors), canoe lesson and paddle (juniors), a lesson on salmon dissection where seniors often passed opportunities on to the junior students, the introduction of smallmouth bass to the Beaver Valley lake chain and the detrimental effect of this species on interior ecosystems, and visiting and learning about sustainable/eco-friendly ranching, all of which tied into this year’s theme of watersheds.
In addition to the above, senior students were enlightened on the abundant and diverse fungi on the Gavin Lake trails, a session on invertebrates run by one very knowledgeable Grade 12 student, and a presentation on the state of this year’s salmon run in the Fraser River watershed.
A hike to look at the parts of the Gavin watershed for the junior students soon also turned into a game of who could find the most unique fungi along the trial with students stopping to examine shapes, colours, textures and sizes of the various fungi found. Junior students were also enthralled and full of questions during a presentation on bats gaining a whole new appreciation for these flying mammals!
Although all three days were packed full of exciting learning experiences, with little downtime, listening to students’ discussions about the day’s events and their overall feelings on the trip, it is safe to say that this is a trip that students are not soon to forget.
A Student’s Reflection
(Lake City Grade 12)
Special to the Tribune
Every year the LCSS Greenologists and Enviro Club members have the opportunity to participate in a very important salmon trip that takes place just outside of Williams Lake.
The primary focus is catching and harvesting the sperm and eggs from one female and male Chinook salmon. This harvesting of the sperm and eggs is crucial as it provides important data for the Quesnel River Research Centre, provides hands-on learning experiences for students on the trip, and provides classrooms with fertilized eggs so that they may participate in the Stream to Sea Program (where students get to see the salmon eggs hatch and develop in their classroom).
This year, however, was a year unlike any other.
Many have heard of the disastrous rockslide that was found in late June of this year. However, not many know just how damaging it was to the already diminishing Chinook salmon population.
Due to the salmon population being drastically low this year, participants learned about the impacts of the rockslide instead of harvesting eggs and sperm for the classroom program (Alternative arrangements have been made by DFO to keep the classroom program going).
With the rockslide not being discovered until late June, it was already too late to save all the returning salmon. The rockslide created a five-meter waterfall that the salmon were unable to pass, and if steps were not taken, the whole run would be lost. The DFO, First Nations fishing crews and archaeological monitors, field and support staff from the BC Wildfire Service, biologists, rock scalars, and many others, got to work immediately to try to save the salmon. Although an option to use a salmon cannon was discussed, ultimately, the act of lifting the salmon over the waterfall and upstream by helicopter was decided as the best source of action.
While the helicopters were at work, approximately 1, 500 salmon were transported daily, but this was still not enough. Crews worked desperately at safely transporting and demolishing rock to provide safer and easier paths that would allow the salmon to pass the waterfall naturally. By Sept. 4, the rockslide was small enough and the water levels were low enough that salmon were able to naturally pass the waterfall.
This year, it was expected to have about four million sockeye, five million pink salmon, 40,000 Interior Fraser Coho and about 30, 000 chinook returning, however, the rock-slide greatly affected these numbers. The pinks were fortunate with a count of eight million pinks recorded at Mission, putting them higher than what was expected and hopefully increasing the odds of more pinks making it through the slide. Unfortunately, the rest of the salmon were not so fortunate. Through the course of September and October, currently 275,000 sockeye were counted to having passed the slide (whether by helicopter or naturally).
The coho and chinook populations are currently still unknown due to a later migration and poor weather conditions when counting has occurred. With the aid of a helicopter, approximately 17,400 salmon were transported upstream to spawn, and by Sept. 26, 240,000 salmon had passed over the Big Bar slide naturally. While everyone is incredibly grateful for the salmon that have returned to spawn, it can no longer be denied just how serious our declining salmon population has become and how one natural disaster could end the run forever.
While we may not have salmon around us year-long, salmon are still a crucial part of our environment and provide our area with several benefits. For example, salmon are a food source for not only humans, bears, and eagles, but for at least 137 different species that depend on the marine-rich nutrients that the wild salmon provide. The salmon help enrich the diversity in our watersheds and their presence is a key indicator on the health of our rivers. Salmon support tens of thousands of jobs and economies within Canada and are seen as the life-sustaining centrepiece of local First Nations culture, along with being a large portion of their diet. By protecting the salmon, you, in turn, are protecting the forests, food, water, communities, and economies of Canada.
On the Salmon Trip, students were able to hear first-hand just how important the salmon population is to our area, and what action individuals can take to help give a voice to the salmon. Overall, it was an unforgettable experience that will affect not only the students that went on this year’s trip but the salmon returning in years to come.