Patenaude Creek is a tributary of the Horsefly River located approximately 20 kilometres (km) upstream from the community of Horsefly.
It is a small creek that has long been considered to have valuable fish habitat for rainbow trout, Coho and Chinook salmon, but the lower reaches that run through ranch land had been in seriously degraded condition since the late 1990s.
Lower Patenaude Creek was a prime candidate for restoration, as it linked the pristine upper portion of the creek with the Horsefly River riparian habitat restored by the Land Conservancy of BC in the preceding 15 years or so.
Previous owners, long since departed, had altered the original course of the creek, using berms to straighten out the natural curves of the creek to keep it out of the hayfields.
Over time, these changes led to the creek becoming plugged with gravel and pouring into the fields during high water.
Juvenile salmon were often stranded in the fields when water levels dropped, and the connection of the creek to the river was severely compromised throughout all seasons.
The restoration costs were estimated to be more than any of the local organizations such as the Horsefly River Roundtable (HRR) could find funding for because of the extensive bio-engineering required.
When the Oceans and Fisheries Canada (Department of Fisheries and Oceans/DFO) requested a habitat offset from Mount Polley Mining Corporation in exchange for habitat loss on Mine Drainage Creek in 2013, the Roundtable suggested that Patenaude Creek would be a good option to restore.
Following a period of inter-agency and stakeholder review, Patenaude Creek was selected to be restored as offsetting habitat under the Fisheries Act.
Mount Polley Mining decided to partner with the HRR to restore Lower Patenaude Creek, and contracted their stream restoration specialist Steve Hocquard to design and manage the project.
Steve developed the habitat offset plan, which was subsequently approved by DFO before work could begin. It was an ideal project for Mount Polley Mine to take on as an offset: the Horsefly River and its tributaries produce 75 per cent of the trout in Quesnel Lake; Patenaude Creek had great potential for both trout and salmon; it is a reasonably high visibility location; it will be a lasting testimony to how good can come from unlikely situations, and it is certainly good public relations.
The experience of the Horsefly River Roundtable with stream restoration played a large role in the success of the project.
Along with Steve Hocquard as project manager, the restoration crew included local Horsefly contractors Bob Bartsch, Randy Bartley, Frank Wijma and Craig Augustine. Work was completed in 2015 and monitoring is ongoing.
DFO habitat biologist Judy Hillaby has long been familiar with the creek and was very supportive of the project.
The effort paid off this November 2016 when in the course of his post restoration assessment work with DFO liaison Guy Scharf, Steve counted one male and five female Coho spawners in the creek from the mouth to about 0.5 km above the bridge crossing on Black Creek road.
People who are wiser than I say if you see six Coho, you know there are more, because unlike Sockeye, Coho stick to the shadows and are much more difficult to spot.
Coho in the Horsefly watershed are Interior Fraser Coho, which are designated as a threatened species on the federal government Species at Risk Public Registry.
As I was writing this article, I was intrigued as to whether Coho, like Sockeye, returned to the same area they were hatched.
So I phoned Steve to ask and yes indeed, 95 to 99 per cent of Coho do return to the same stream in which they are born.
This led me to phone my friend Geoff Patenaude to ask if he could recall any salmon spawning in Patenaude Creek, and this led to a whole new concept on the restoration project.
The Patenaude family sold the ranch to Saw Rite Lumber in 1968, and the ranch changed hands several times over the years before eventually becoming part of a conservation area. Today it is owned by the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
Geoff told me he had such fond memories of the creek that he actually dreamed about it often; he and his siblings spent many happy summer days playing in and around it over the years.
In the summer as the water level became lower the kids would build dams to make pools to swim in as long as they could.
They didn’t do much fishing in the creek as the fish were all only about eight inches or so, and there were bigger fish in Patenaude Lake or Horsefly River.
Patenaude Creek then was as nature had built it, and on a warm sunny day with the sound of the water trickling, bees going from flower to flower, and flies buzzing, it was like being in a paradise.
Geoff could not recall salmon spawning in the creek, but considering the November date that these salmon were documented, it is entirely possible winter had already set in and the creek was covered with snow or ice; certainly there was no one out fishing.
Geoff’s grandfather Joseph Phillip Patenaude pre-empted the Martin Creek Ranch in 1899, and in the time between 1899 and 1968 no one did anything to disturb the tranquility of the flowing water.
Now with the restoration work and the lower improvements by the Land Conservancy, a small piece of history has been rebuilt and returned to the land.
This seems to me to be a real win, win situation; thank-you Mount Polley Mining.