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  • A rare opportunity to save a forested watershed


     

    TLC needs another $45,000 to finalize purchase of 27 acres of the the Millstream Creek Watershed.

     

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    A forest view in the Millstream Creek Watershed. (Photo by Dianna Stenberg)

     

    THE LAND CONSERVANCY OF BC’s latest fundraising campaign is focused on protecting a key 27-acre Coastal Douglas-fir ecosystem in the Millstream Creek Watershed. Located in the District of Highlands, the lush and diverse property is comprised of a mature forest and three different wetland types (sedge marsh, hardhack marsh, and skunk cabbage swamp). 

    Dominated by Douglas-fir, other trees include western red cedar, grand fir, arbutus, Garry oak, and red alder. The understory flourishes with salal, dull Oregon-grape, ocean-spray, bracken fern, sword fern, trailing blackberry, western trumpet honeysuckle, and Oregon beaked moss.

    The Coastal Douglas-fir ecosystem is the smallest and most at-risk zone in BC because it has been so altered by human activities. Less than one percent of the CDF remains as natural forests. Species-at-risk, including the Northern red-legged frog (SARA listed species of Special Concern) are found within its boundaries.

    While the Millstream Creek Watershed property on its own is valuable as a nature sanctuary, its importance really resides in the connectivity it provides for wildlife and protection of the local watershed. With two creeks (Earsman Creek in the east and an unnamed creek in the west) and numerous ephemeral streams that flow into Mary Lake, the parcel functions as a water source for the sensitive lake system found to the south. Protecting this parcel will help maintain a healthy intact watershed for these lakes, and allow for crucial wildlife corridors to the adjacent 42-acre Mary Lake Nature Sanctuary and established Capital Regional District (CRD) parks in the area.

    In 2016, the Greater Victoria Greenbelt Society purchased 42 acres around Mary Lake from the estate of Peter and Violet Brotherston for about $2 million, with Tsartlip First Nation joining as partners in 2018. Cathy Armstrong, executive  director of TLC, says, “Our piece [27 acres] was needed to complete the Sanctuary,” as it will conserve and protect the lands around the lake.

    All of the Nature Sanctuary land was originally used by the Pauquachin, Tsartlip, Tsawout, Tseycum, Esquimalt and Whyomilth (Songhees) peoples for hunting, gathering food and medicinal plants and spiritual practices.

    Due to donations from the community since the campaign was announced this fall, the initial goal of raising $75,000 by December 31 has been whittled down to $45,000. Donations are being matched 4-fold by an anonymous donor. So a $500 donation becomes, in effect, $2500. The federal government has also contributed funds towards the overall purchase.

    Armstrong is especially excited that salmon spawning streams can be rejuvenated and restocked with coho. “Mary Lake can be a breeding and nurturing place for the fry,” says Armstrong. Yet another partnership is involved in this endeavour: “Peninsula Streams Society is key to re-establishing coho in the watershed, beginning with the newly constructed Millstream Creek Fishway,” says Armstrong. 

    The Fishway project includes building five fish ladders, the first of which was constructed in the summer of 2020, allowing migrating fish access to over 6.5 km of habitat upstream of the Atkins Road culvert. Brian Koval, biological coordinator for Peninsula Stream Society describes the project thoroughly in a video (see below), pointing out that the Atkins Road culvert was impassable till this summer. In all, as the video illustrates, 13 step pools with weirs were constructed up to the huge culvert, which was lined with concrete to further help the fish heading upstream. Four more ladders are coming, as well as plantings of native plants on eroding banks and some trash removal (volunteers welcome). Ian Bruce, executive director for the society describes it as the organization’s biggest project ever. Once all fish ladders and other restoration work is completed, coho (initially from local hatcheries) will have access from Esquimalt Harbour right upstream to Mary Lake with the deep pools, gravel, and vegetation they need to thrive.

    With TLC’s financial problems well behind them the organization has purchased a property every year since 2017. “We do so carefully and slowly,” says Armstrong, “making sure we have all the resources we need to fund an endowment.” She sees the purchase of this watershed property as a rare opportunity to protect an undisturbed parcel of critically imperiled Coastal Douglas-fir ecosystem on southern Vancouver Island, 

    The sanctuary will be just that with only limited access by the public. A number of hiking groups have toured the property with Armstrong who says that the fall weather only seems to have enhanced the beauty of the property, with the strong-running creeks, a waterfall and lush green vegetation, all habitat for many birds, frogs, and deer.

    “TLC envisions a future for the site that protects the vast biological diversity found within its boundaries while including educational opportunities for participants in the land trust’s existing Passport to Nature Program and Deertrails Naturalist Program,” says Armstrong. 

    Support for the Millstream Creek Watershed acquisition can be arranged by calling TLC at 1-877-485-2422 or by giving online today at www.conservancy.bc.ca/millstream. Any amount is welcome. Also contact TLC if you’d like to arrange a tour of the property for your group.

    Besides the TLC’s website, further information on the Mary Lake Sanctuary can be found at https://www.marylakeconnections.ca.

    Leslie Campbell is the editor of FOCUS.

    Learn more about the Millstream fish ladders:

     

     


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