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Columbia Watershed Priority Area

Map of Columbia watershed priority area. See text that follows.
Columbia Watershed Priority Area (BC)

The Columbia River basin includes tributary basins of the Okanagan / Similkameen, the Upper Columbia with its three reservoirs (Arrow Lakes, Revelstoke, Kinbasket) and the Upper Kootenay system. Combined, the Canadian portion of the Fraser River basin and the Columbia Basin host 70% of the Pacific Region’s freshwater aquatic species at risk, including White Sturgeon, Chinook Salmon and Westslope Cutthroat Trout. Species at risk in the Columbia watershed face a large number of threats caused by human activities, resulting in the loss of habitat quality and quantity, decreased water quality and quantity, barriers to migration and the introduction of invasive species.

Conservation efforts currently underway

With the Canadian and global range of several species at risk being limited to the Columbian basin and surrounding British Columbian watersheds, protecting these unique habitats is essential to conserve and recover these species. Living Lakes Canada recognizes the importance of habitat protection and is undertaking a project that is producing Foreshore Inventory and Mapping and shoreline development guidance in the Columbia basin. The project is reviewing and assessing the approaches, strengths and weaknesses of previous Foreshore Inventory Mapping projects to develop an updated and standardized approach that can be used to assess the habitat characteristics of various lake types and track habitat changes over time. The Shuswap Indian Band is carrying out a project that is assessing aquatic species at risk and developing recovery strategies for the restoration of five priority creeks in the Upper Columbia River watershed. This project is identifying important habitats and their key features that support White Sturgeon and Westslope Cutthroat Trout, studying their movement corridors and use and identifying priority areas for restoration. With special focus on research, stewardship promotion and habitat restoration activities, these projects are providing a base of knowledge, education and collaboration that is necessary for the long-term protection and recovery of aquatic species at risk.

In a number of cases, habitat degradation and fragmentation in the Columbia River basin is a result of human development, industrial activities and natural system modifications. The Canadian Wildlife Federation is collaborating with their partners in a fish passage remediation project that is prioritizing and mitigating the effects of barriers to fish passage, such as railway stream crossings and dams. The mitigation of these barriers is providing species at risk with increased access to upstream spawning and rearing habitats that will benefit population recovery in the long-term.

The Okanagan Nation Alliance is also working to address the threats posed by natural system modifications in a four-year Columbia Basin Aquatic Species and Ecosystem Function Revitalization project. Through the removal of a manmade structure and the reconnection of up to 3,300 m2 of floodplain, the project is providing local species at risk with access to new habitat. The project is also mitigating the impacts of invasive Northern Pike through pike removal, monitoring and community outreach programs.

Invasive species are a significant threat to ecosystems all over the world and Canada’s ecosystems are no exception. The province of British Columbia’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy is undertaking a project to mitigate the impacts of invasive species on priority aquatic species at risk in the Columbia and Fraser watersheds. Key components of the project include research and the engagement of local anglers and First Nations to gain knowledge and expertise to help prevent the introduction and suppress populations of invasive Small Mouth Bass. A second component of this project is implementing an Invasive Mussel Defense Program to be able to detect and prevent the establishment of invasive Zebra and Quagga Mussels.

The Invasive Species Council of British Columbia is taking an alternative approach to protect species at risk from threats of invasive species. This project is developing and supporting informed partnerships with fishers, boaters, recreationalists, tourists and others to close high-risk pathways for aquatic invasive species introduction. The combination of introduction prevention, suppression and containment programs are establishing a system that will mitigate the threats that aquatic invasive species pose to species at risk in the Columbia basin in the immediate and long-term future.

Many of the projects in the Columbia watershed priority area are taking an ecosystem-based approach to conserve and recover local species at risk. With support from Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Canada Nature Fund for Aquatic Species at Risk (CNFASAR), project leads and their many partners are taking a hands-on and knowledge-based approach to conservation that are resulting in the immediate execution of recovery activities and the establishment of stewardship programs that will provide lasting benefits to the local ecosystems. By improving the quality of existing habitat, increasing access to new habitat and mitigating the effects of problematic invasive species, aquatic ecosystems in the Columba Watershed priority area will better support the survival and recovery of aquatic species at risk.

Learn more about projects in this area

Foreshore Inventory Mapping and Shoreline Development Guidance for Columbia Basin aquatic species at risk

Foreshore Inventory Mapping and Shoreline Development Guidance for Columbia Basin aquatic species at risk

Recipient: Living Lakes Canada

Project goal: Foreshore Inventory and Mapping (FIM) is a methodology that maps foreshore habitats, assesses the habitat value and establishes Shoreline Development Guidelines to protect and conserve species and their habitats.

With a focus on a minimum of six lakes within the Columbia Basin, this four-year project evaluates established FIM standards and methodologies by conducting a literature review to summarize different approaches, assess strengths and weaknesses and outline opportunities for improvement. The review will provide a comprehensive understanding of how FIM has been applied to date in order to best identify ways in which it can be improved to better serve species at risk and their habitats through planning and land-use decision-making. This review and the subsequent development of an updated and standardized approach to FIM will ensure the long-term credibility of the methods while also considering the various types of lakes to be assessed and providing a benchmark by which to compare habitat changes over time. 

This project uses outreach, collaboration, training, research, monitoring, FIM mapping, evaluation, planning and regulations to conserve habitat and mitigate shoreline development.

Fund Allocation: $1,095,000

Time Frame: 4 years

Species that benefit from this project:

Upper Columbia River aquatic species at risk assessment and recovery strategy

Upper Columbia River aquatic species at risk assessment and recovery strategy

Recipient: Shuswap Indian Band

Project goal: This four-year project plans to restore five creeks in the Upper Columbia River watershed that have been degraded by barriers and altered flow regimes. The aim of this project is to identify important habitats and features and to develop and establish a long-term, collaborative approach to restoration and protection that benefit all provincially and federally listed aquatic species at risk within the project area. Some key benefits include: identification of important habitat features for White Sturgeon and Westslope Cutthroat Trout, their movement corridors and use; and identification of key requirements for recovery including undertaking of instream restoration work that supports recovery and reintroduction of populations.

The outreach activities conducted as part of this project include educating watershed residents about the history and importance of restoration efforts in the Upper Columbia River to foster improved stewardship practices. This training and education of area residents aims to support the long-term restoration of healthy aquatic fish habitats.

Fund Allocation: $1,700,000

Time Frame: 4 years

Species that benefit from this project:

Columbia Basin aquatic species and ecosystem function revitalization

Columbia Basin aquatic species and ecosystem function revitalization

Recipient: Okanagan Nation Alliance

Project goal: Within the Columbia Basin river ecosystems, aquatic species at risk have continued to decline, partially due to river channelization and floodplain disconnection in the Okanagan sub-basin and due to invasive species in the trans-boundary Columbia River.

To address these threats, this four-year project is undertaking three activities including the (1) removal of a structure within the Okanagan River resulting in the creation of new habitat; (2) reconnection of floodplain (K’əmcənitkw) for access by aquatic species at risk; and (3) suppression of an invasive Northern Pike in the Columbia River system.

All three activities carried out under this project will help establish lasting capacity and collaboration to support future recovery efforts and increased public awareness about species at risk and their habitat requirements. In addition, the project aims to promote and recognize long-term Indigenous stewardship of habitat restoration and integrate traditional ecological knowledge into restoration and stewardship planning.

Fund Allocation: $1,166,368

Time Frame: 4 years

Species that benefit from this project:

Media announcement:

Government of Canada and Province of British Columbia partner to take bold action to conserve Steelhead Trout

Fish passage remediation in the Columbia and Fraser Basins for aquatic species at risk

Fish passage remediation in the Columbia and Fraser Basins for aquatic species at risk

Recipient: Canadian Wildlife Federation

Project goal: This four-year project consists of restoring access to fish habitat in freshwater ecosystems throughout the Fraser and Columbia Watersheds. The Canadian Wildlife Federation is convening partners to prioritize barriers for remediation. Numerous databases have been developed that will be integrated to expand the scope of existing planning tools. These tools, combined with additional data layers, including barriers such as railway stream crossing, stream crossings on private roads, dikes, irrigation dams and low-head flood control structures, will be used to expand the scope and scale of existing barrier prioritization tools for future application. They will also be used to remediate barriers to increase access to upstream spawning and rearing habitat for targeted aquatic species at risk.

This collaborative initiative will continue to leverage expertise and resources to support fish passage remediation benefitting species at risk beyond the life of this project. It will create a legacy for continued habitat gains for targeted aquatic species at risk populations in the Fraser and Columbia watersheds.

Fund Allocation: $1,165,900

Time Frame: 4 years

Species that benefit from this project:

Recovery of priority aquatic species at risk through the suppression of invasive species

Recovery of priority aquatic species at risk through the suppression of invasive species

Recipient: Province of British Columbia – Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy

Project goal: The objective of this four-year project is to enable research, engagement, recovery actions and monitoring to mitigate the impacts of invasive species on aquatic species at risk in the Fraser River and Columbia River Watersheds priority area.

The first component of this project is the suppression and containment of the invasive Smallmouth Bass (SMB) in Cultus Lake, near Chilliwack, British Columbia. Engagement with First Nations and local anglers will provide local knowledge and expertise (i.e. education) towards preventing illegal introductions and will establish volunteers for SMB suppression through angling. Additional community and stakeholder engagement will educate residents, anglers and visitors about the threats posed by SMB and the need to keep them out of the lake.

Research is being undertaken to determine the magnitude and extent of the SMB population and its impact on the species at risk inhabiting the area which will lead to the development and implementation of control and eradication measures to reduce and/or eliminate SMB from Cultus Lake.

The second component of this project consists of early detection lake monitoring as part of the B.C. Invasive Mussel Defense Program (IMDP) to prevent the introduction of invasive of Zebra and Quagga Mussels. Lake monitoring is occurring throughout the priority area. The detection and control of invasive species improves the chance of recovery for threatened aquatic species at risk. It is anticipated that, through local and regional support, long-term suppression and containment programs will be established to further mitigate the risk of invasive species to species at risk in future years.

Fund Allocation: $600,000

Time Frame: 4 years

Species that benefit from this project:

Protecting species at risk from threats of invasive species

Protecting species at risk from threats of invasive species

Recipient: Invasive Species Council of British Columbia

Project goal: The overall goal of this four-year project is to protect aquatic species at risk and their key habitats in the Fraser and Columbia River systems of British Columbia through actions that prevent the introduction and the spread of invasive species.

This project, through partnerships, focuses on closing high-risk pathways that enable the spread of aquatic invasive species such as movements by fishers, boaters, float planes, recreationists, tourists and others. New standards of practice will be developed and implemented using behavioural-change science. This project aims to develop and support informed and responsible partners that can undertake actions and mentor others to reduce the impacts of invasive species.

This project will provide much needed information for Indigenous communities, community partners and resource managers by addressing an existing knowledge gap regarding the understanding of the threats of predation and competition by invasive species in the Fraser and Columbia River systems.

Fund Allocation: $525,000

Time Frame: 4 years

Species that benefit from this project:

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