Mission

“To ensure the natural and historical values of Bighill Creek Watershed are preserved for this and future generations.”

Thanks to our sponsors

Thank you to the generous organisations and individuals who supported our efforts, with project funding, unallocated donations and in kind contributions. Without these, what has been accomplished would have been impossible.

Alberta EcoTrust

Alberta Land Stewardship

Bow River Basin Council

Cochrane Environmental Action Committee

Cochrane Foundation

Dr Dick Pharis

Town of Cochrane

Trout Unlimited

Rocky View County

Spray Lake Sawmills

Cochrane Hardware

MDL Landscaping

Ann & Don Ferrier

Anonymous doors

AGM 2019-summary

BCPS AGM 2019
Thanks to everyone who came to our AGM. Your support is appreciated. Once again we were a little too ambitious in trying compress too much information into too little time. We attempted to deal with the standard General Meeting items efficiently and then get to the more interesting topics.
Thanks especially to our generous sponsors: AlbertaEcotrust, Bow River Basin Council, Land Stewardship and CEAC who allow us to conduct our scientific studies. We thank you also our private donors, who allow us to exist as a society in helping for insurance fees and other cost. Thank you to MDL, Town of Cochrane, Cochrane Foundation , Ed, Blaine and many more for our trail maintenance project.
Thanks to Lyse for efficiently describing our finances and audit.
Kathryn Hull and Kristina Boehler of Cows and Fish provided an enlightening description of riparian health in general and the results of their 2018 work on our drainage (mostly good news) . Dr. Ymène Fouli updated us with her most recent water and sediment analysis.
Ken Stevenson informed us regarding his work on instream temperature loggers, the aquatic insect study he managed and the fish inventory he completed with Trout Unlimited.
Vivian and I briefly described trail use and maintenance program on the reserve lands.
Our 2019/20 objectives include commencement of a hydrology study of the drainage and a demonstration project for a beaver pond leveler.
Although the applications for the gravel pits immediately upstream of the spring at Big Hill Springs Provincial Park have been aside by judicial order, we expect that the proponents will reapply in the near future requiring our response.
Thanks again for your support. Please feel free to contact any of our Board Members if you have any comment or concern regarding our activities.

Temperature loggers

BIGHILL CREEK PRESERVATION SOCIETY

TEMPERATURE LOGGERS FOR THE CREEK 2019-2020

In 2017, Elliot Lindsay – Trout Unlimited Calgary – suggested to our Bighill Creek Preservation Society (BCPS) that monitoring the creek water temperature year-round at several locations in the valley would gather vital data on the creek  waters within the drainage. This is particularly critical during the summer and fall months when water temperatures in the creek could rise to levels detrimental to most fish in the creek and certainly trout. Such temperature studies would complement well our existing studies on water quality/sediment studies, riparian assessments, aquatic insect studies and electrofishing studies.
The temperature loggers (14) were purchased in 2019 for BCPS by the Cochrane Environmental Action Committee (CEAC) and subsequent work by BCPS has now readied the temperature loggers for stable placement in deep pools in the spring of 2020 following the spring freshet.
The loggers have a stream life of 4-5 years and can be monitored while in location in the creek.

The longer-term plan is to initial the re-introduction of the original native Westslope Cutthroat trout through work with Alberta Environment – Fish and Wildlife, Trout Unlimited – Calgary and likely the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Along with these projects would be the new work envisaged by BCPS to have a thorough hydrology study of the watershed which would also involve an in-depth study of the beavers and their habitat currently in the Bighill Springs Creek Watershed.

Thanks to our generous donors!

Dear members of Bighill Creek Preservation Society,

 

Thank you to those who attended our Annual General Meeting last Saturday. We meant to sincerely thank those of you who have been so generous these past few years. Your contributions helped with our cash flow. Without you, we could not cover the cost of insurance, postage, advertisement, website fees nor the odd prints we need. The funds we received from other grants are restricted to the water analysis project. The other ongoing projects we have (trail maintenance and insect studies) are also restricted funds.

Thank you again for your past valuable contribution.

Bighill Creek Preservation Society

 

Cost not covered by grants:

  • Any operating cost

*We had one grant from Rocky View County to cover some of these operating costs; but it was a one time in our ”life” as a society.

  • Insurance
  • Postage
  • Advertisement
  • Any workshops
  • Business cards

We were able to cover these costs last year, but will be unable to make ends meet this year!!? We do need some help!

Impact of Gravel Pits

In follow up to our earlier communication regarding potential impacts of proposed gravel extraction near Big Hill Springs Provincial Park: attached is a recent update from Gravel Watch regarding the judicial review of the County approvals process.  In short the County has been told their process is significantly inadequate. We expect the proponents will reapply under whatever new guidelines are established.

Subject: Residents Win Judicial Review of Hwy 567 Gravel Pit Approvals – County Appeals

The Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench ruled in favour of the residents in the judicial review of the gravel pit applications along Hwy 567.   The applications had been approved by Rocky View Council in 2017.

The judge’s ruling included the following key points:

  • That “no reasonable council would proceed in the circumstances of the obviously deficient applications.”
  • That Rocky View Council erred in failing to consider the cumulative impacts of gravel extraction in the area when it made its decisions;
  • That the magnitude and obviousness of the defects in the applicants’ Master Site Development Plans were a “very serious and patently unreasonable departure” from what the County Plan requires in MSDPs; and
  • That the Council could not comply with its obligations to consider relevant factors by deferring decisions to the development authority.

If you want to read the entire decision, you can access it here.  Alternatively, the law firm representing the residents has an excellent summary of the case on their blog.

The judge’s decision makes it very clear that cumulative impacts of multiple gravel pits located close to each other must be considered and that future MSDPs need to include sufficient information “for meaningful decision making and public input”.  The victory means that before any new gravel pits go ahead on Hwy 567, the gravel companies have to reapply and new public hearings have to be held.  This would not be as significant an outcome except for the fact that the judge’s decision means that any reapplication needs to address the identified shortcomings.  If they do not, any subsequent approvals would be unlikely to withstand a future judicial review.

Before you get too excited about the residents’ win, it is important to know that the County is appealing the decision.  This seems to be Rocky View’s strategy for dealing with legal disputes.  The County doesn’t take defeat easily; however unreasonable the court concluded the County’s decisions were, the County is willing to use taxpayers’ dollars to continue to defend its decisions.

If you haven’t yet signed the petition asking the Province to inspect Rocky View’s operations, the County’s decision to appeal this case should be enough to get your signature on the petition.   Visit www.rockyviewsos.com for more information.

All the best,

Rocky View Gravel Watch

 

 

Minutes from last AGM

BCPS –AGM Nov 17, 2018
AGM started at 13h40
1. Confirmation of a quorum: we had 31 persons in attendance. The quorum was met.

2. Welcome:
3. Approval of the Agenda
4. Presentation/approval of the minutes  November 2017
5. Reserves update: maintenance, erosion/weevils, pictures.
6. Grants – Thanks to Sponsors! Showing their page on our website.
Rocky View Operational Fund=$2,500.
* Town of Cochrane=$1,000. For insect study + donation of $164. * Cochrane Environment Action Committee=$2,000.
* Alberta Ecotrust community grant= $7,000. + $500. (administrative cost of Cows & Fish)
*Alberta Ecotrust major grant= $12,165. + $1000. (administrative cost of Cows & Fish)
*Bow River Basin Council= $10,000.
* Land Stewardship=$10,000.
* Restricted funding to pay for watershed study

7. Watershed Study Update- Dr. Fouli

8. Beavers- Dr. Stevenson

9. Mapping Project: Geomatic Study data management
SAIT’s students created a project of mapping our watershed through 21 maps.
Bighill Creek watershed is 43,049 acres /174 km210.

10. Stewardship Committee Volunteer Request/Insect Study
Trail maintenance
11. Financial statement –

12. Future Projects:

Water analysis year 2 Insect study

Continuation of trail maintenance Cows and Fish Riparian Health Study

13. Nominations/Election of Board Members (E)
President: Gerry Bietz, vice-president: Vivian Pharis, secretary-treasurer: Lyse Carignan, directors: Ken Stevenson, David Reid, Ed Fedosoff, Mike Foster. Elected by acclamation.
Adjourn: 15h30-

Annual General Meeting

Dear members,

You are invited to our Annual General Meeting on November 16th, 2019

at the Seniors on the Bow Auditorium, located on the second floor, at the east end of Spray Lakes Sawmills Family Sports Centre at 14h00.

  • Financial update
  • Overview of ongoing projects:- aquatic and terrestrial insect studies, temperature loggers, trail maintenance, water analysis year 2
  • Guest speaker: Kathryn Hull from Cows and Fish will present the results of the Riparian Health Assessment conducted in 2018
  • Future plans

We look forward to see you there!

 

 

Presentation to Town of Cochrane March 25th, 2019

BCPS Town of Cochrane Presentation 03 25 19 final(1)

Riparian Health Summary Report-2018

Cows and Fish/Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society has completed their study.2018 BCPS communty report_final

Cows and Fish
Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society
Riparian Health Summary Report – 2018
Bighill Creek
A Riparian Health Assessment is a tool designed to help individuals and organizations evaluate and understand the health of riparian areas within their landholdings and watersheds. This information is intended to document the current state of riparian health and help direct future efforts to promote important riparian functions, such as improved water quality, forage production, and fish habitat. To assess a trend in riparian health, we recommend that riparian health assessments be repeated every three to five years to track progress and riparian recovery in response to a management change.
This summary report provides information on the riparian health of 3 sites along Bighill Creek, based on data we collected in July 2018. Information obtained from the assessment of riparian health in the watershed will help to inform and facilitate landscape management planning within the local municipality, and further encourage private landowners to understand and effectively manage riparian areas under their care.
This project was initiated by the Bighill Creek Preservation Society (BCPS) and funded by Alberta Ecotrust with in-kind support from Cows and Fish.
The Bighill Creek watershed and associated riparian areas provide important fish and wildlife habitat, improve water quality, and maintain water quantity on the landscape. The project area encompasses two riparian sites on private landholdings and one site on County owned land along Bighill Creek. The riparian sites were assessed using the Alberta Lotic Health Assessment (Survey). Overall, all sites assessed as part of this project rate healthy, as shown in Table 1. The average riparian health rating for all three sites in the project area is 88% well above the provincial average (70%, healthy, but with problems)1. The project area includes approximately 14 hectares of riparian habitat and 1.9 kilometers of streambank.
To better understand the overall health rating for the project area, it is helpful to take a closer look at which pieces of the riparian area are intact and functioning and which are not. Table 1 lists the health parameters evaluated and how they rate for the Bighill Creek project sites. Figure 2 provides an overview of the health ratings for each of the riparian health parameters assessed.
1 Cows and Fish Riparian Health Inventory Data 1996 – 2017. Based on 2,803 sites, on 728 waterbodies in Alberta.
Provincial Average Score1: 70% (Healthy, but with problems)
Project Average Score: 88% (Healthy)
Prepared for the Bighill Creek Preservation Society February 2019 2
Table 1 Riparian Health Parameters Evaluated along Bighill Creek by Number of Sites in each Health Category (3 Sites)
All three sites assessed were along Bighill Creek which is considered a perennial stream. A Perennial Stream flows continuously for most of most years and is fed in part from springs or groundwater discharge. Perennial streams are less than 15m wide.
Table 2. Project Area Site Description
Site Number
Waterbody Type
Riparian Distance Inventoried (km)
Riparian Area Inventoried (ha)
Average Riparian Width (m)
BIG4
Perennial Stream
0.9
5.8
82
BIG7
Perennial Stream
0.6
3.3
136
BIG8
Perennial Stream
0.3
5.0
220
Total KM
1.8
Total Ha
14.1
Avg. width
146
RIPARIAN HEALTH
RIPARIAN HEALTH CATEGORY
PARAMETER HEALTHY HEALTHY, BUT WITH PROBLEMS UNHEALTHY
VEGETATION
Number of Sites Per Health Category
1. Vegetative Cover of Riparian Area
3
0
0
2a. Invasive Plant Species – Cover
0
3
0
2b. Invasive Plant Species – Density / Distribution
0
0
3
3. Disturbance-Caused Undesirable Herbaceous Species
1
2
0
4. Preferred Tree/Shrub Establishment & Regeneration
3
0
0
5a. Utilization of Preferred Trees and Shrubs
0
1
2
5b. Live Woody Vegetation Removal Non-Browse
3
0
0
6. Decadent and Dead Woody Material
3
0
0 Number of Sites by Overall Vegetation Health Category 2 1 0
SOIL/HYDROLOGY
7. Streambank Root Mass Protection
3
0
0
8. Human-caused Bare Ground
3
0
0
9. Human-caused Streambank Structural Alterations
2
1
0
10. Human Physical Alterations to Rest of Lotic Site
3
0
0
11. Stream Channel Incisement
3
0
0 Number of Sites by Overall Soil/Hydrology Category 3 0 0
NUMBER OF SITES BY OVERALL HEALTH CATEGORY
3
0
0
Healthy (80-100%) – Little or no impairment to riparian functions.
Healthy, but with problems (60-79%) – Some impairment to riparian functions due to human or natural causes.
Unhealthy (<60%) – Impairment to many riparian functions due to human or natural causes.
Prepared for the Bighill Creek Preservation Society February 2019 3
Collectively, the vegetation parameters in the project area rate healthy, but with problems (71%). Riparian areas are well vegetated on all sites with a diversity of mostly native species. In total, 119 different species were recorded, of which 79% are native. Plant community or habitat types in the project area include: yellow willow / red-osier dogwood habitat type with 37% cover, awned sedge habitat type with 32% cover, beaked willow / awned sedge habitat type with 23% cover, white spruce / low-bush cranberry habitat type with 4% cover and flat-leaved willow / water sedge habitat type with 3% cover. The remaining 1% was designated as open water and was excluded from the site. Preferred tree and shrub regeneration is considered excellent on all sites, with each site having greater than 15% of the canopy cover of preferred trees and shrubs being seedlings and/or saplings. Structural diversity is important for providing different habitat layers for livestock and wildlife as well as ensuring longevity of the stand. Beaver activity was noted on two of the sites, only one of which showed signs of recent activity. Live woody vegetation removal by beaver use (chewed, cut stems) or human clearing is not a concern in the project area. Although beavers can reduce the tree canopy in the short term, beaver cuttings often stimulate regeneration and suckering of willows and poplars which has a long-term benefit to riparian health. Beaver ponds and dams can also benefit riparian restoration efforts and promote resiliency by raising the water table, flooding out weedy species and promoting conditions for native sedges and willows to thrive.
Detracting from the vegetative health is the presence of 4 invasive weed species which cover approximately 1% of the project area. These species include: Canada thistle, common tansy, perennial sow-thistle and tall buttercup (in order of highest to lowest % cover). These noxious weeds are well distributed throughout the project area and all sites have weeds present. Disturbance-caused undesirable herbaceous species cover approximately 6.5% of the project area and commonly include introduced grasses like Kentucky bluegrass, smooth brome and quack grass. Disturbance-caused plants tend to be shallow rooted and have limited value for bank binding, nutrient filtration and erosion prevention. Browse or utilization of preferred trees and shrubs by livestock or wildlife in the project area ranges from light to heavy. Woody plants can sustain low levels of use but continuous browsing at moderate or heavy levels can deplete root reserves and inhibit establishment and regeneration. The indicators of heavy browse are umbrella-shaped mature shrubs and flat-topped or hedged seedlings and saplings.
Prepared for the Bighill Creek Preservation Society February 2019 4
Figure 2. Riparian Health Parameter Ratings for Bighill Creek Watershed 2018 Project Area
The soil/hydrology parameters in the project area rated healthy (98%) on average. Streambank
root mass protection is excellent on all sites, with native grasses and willows providing most of
this bank cover. The role of streambank vegetation is to maintain the integrity and structure of
the bank by dissipating energy, resisting erosion, and trapping sediment to build and restore
banks. Healthy, well vegetated riparian areas slow the rate of erosion and balance erosion in one
spot with bank increases elsewhere through deposition. The overall cover of bare soil due to
human or livestock causes is low in the project area, with each site having less than 1% of the
area comprised of human-caused bare ground. Recreation and livestock grazing impacts
contribute to the amount of bare ground observed. Two of the sites have little to no concern with
0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100%
Stream Channel Incisement
Human-Caused Alterations to Floodplain
Human-Caused Streambank Structural
Alterations
Human-Caused Bare Ground
Streambank Root Mass Protection
Decadent and Dead Woody Material
Live Woody Vegetation Removal Other than
Browse
Utilization of Preferred Trees and Shrubs
Preferred Tree/Shrub Establishment and
Regeneration
Disturbance-Caused Undesirable Herbaceous
Species
Invasive Plant Species (Density/Distribution)
Invasive Plant Species (Cover)
Vegetative Cover of Riparian Area
Bighill Creek Watershed – Evaluation of Riparian Health
Parameters 2018
Unhealthy Healthy, but with problems Healthy
Prepared for the Bighill Creek Preservation Society February 2019 5
alterations to the streambank having less than 5% and between 5-15% of the bank altered. The remaining site shows no evidence of physical alterations to the bank. Human activities can over time alter the soil structure, stability, and slope of a riparian area and are usually related to soil compaction from livestock trailing and construction (roads, berms, dugout etc.) in grazing situations and trailing from people and/or vehicles in recreational situations. Modifications to the natural soil structure, stability, and slope can reduce the ability of the riparian area to perform key functions such as water infiltration and storage. All three sites have no concerns with physical alterations to the riparian area as each site has less than 5% of the riparian area altered due to human or livestock activities. However, although localized these alterations rate from slight to moderate across sites and are mainly due to recreational trails and livestock use. Stream flows in the project area are not restricted from accessing the floodplain. Periodic flood events are important to disperse moisture throughout the riparian area for the maintenance of riparian vegetation. Flooding also spreads the energy of moving water over the riparian area, allowing sediment to be deposited and creating new areas for seedling establishment. Incisement occurs when the channel bed lowers within the floodplain so that high water events cannot escape the banks of a regular basis. There was no channel incisement observed in the project area and natural processes are progressing unhindered.
Management recommendations for the riparian areas assessed have been included with each individual site report. These include (but are not limited to): improving grazing management (for those sites that are grazed), promoting and maintaining native plant communities, invasive weed monitoring and control, minimizing new human-caused ground disturbance and allowing for rest and natural recovery of disturbed areas. Landowners are encouraged to maintain best management practices already in place, such as riparian exclusion fencing, off-site water development, hardened crossings and designated trails, to continue to improve riparian health.
For further information on any aspect of this summary, please contact:
Kristina Wantola, P. Biol.
Riparian Specialist
Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society – Cows and Fish
Tel: (403) 451-1184
Email: kwantola@cowsandfish.orgCows and Fish
Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society
Riparian Health Summary Report – 2018
Bighill Creek
A Riparian Health Assessment is a tool designed to help individuals and organizations evaluate and understand the health of riparian areas within their landholdings and watersheds. This information is intended to document the current state of riparian health and help direct future efforts to promote important riparian functions, such as improved water quality, forage production, and fish habitat. To assess a trend in riparian health, we recommend that riparian health assessments be repeated every three to five years to track progress and riparian recovery in response to a management change.
This summary report provides information on the riparian health of 3 sites along Bighill Creek, based on data we collected in July 2018. Information obtained from the assessment of riparian health in the watershed will help to inform and facilitate landscape management planning within the local municipality, and further encourage private landowners to understand and effectively manage riparian areas under their care.
This project was initiated by the Bighill Creek Preservation Society (BCPS) and funded by Alberta Ecotrust with in-kind support from Cows and Fish.
The Bighill Creek watershed and associated riparian areas provide important fish and wildlife habitat, improve water quality, and maintain water quantity on the landscape. The project area encompasses two riparian sites on private landholdings and one site on County owned land along Bighill Creek. The riparian sites were assessed using the Alberta Lotic Health Assessment (Survey). Overall, all sites assessed as part of this project rate healthy, as shown in Table 1. The average riparian health rating for all three sites in the project area is 88% well above the provincial average (70%, healthy, but with problems)1. The project area includes approximately 14 hectares of riparian habitat and 1.9 kilometers of streambank.
To better understand the overall health rating for the project area, it is helpful to take a closer look at which pieces of the riparian area are intact and functioning and which are not. Table 1 lists the health parameters evaluated and how they rate for the Bighill Creek project sites. Figure 2 provides an overview of the health ratings for each of the riparian health parameters assessed.
1 Cows and Fish Riparian Health Inventory Data 1996 – 2017. Based on 2,803 sites, on 728 waterbodies in Alberta.
Provincial Average Score1: 70% (Healthy, but with problems)
Project Average Score: 88% (Healthy)
Prepared for the Bighill Creek Preservation Society February 2019 2
Table 1 Riparian Health Parameters Evaluated along Bighill Creek by Number of Sites in each Health Category (3 Sites)
All three sites assessed were along Bighill Creek which is considered a perennial stream. A Perennial Stream flows continuously for most of most years and is fed in part from springs or groundwater discharge. Perennial streams are less than 15m wide.
Table 2. Project Area Site Description
Site Number
Waterbody Type
Riparian Distance Inventoried (km)
Riparian Area Inventoried (ha)
Average Riparian Width (m)
BIG4
Perennial Stream
0.9
5.8
82
BIG7
Perennial Stream
0.6
3.3
136
BIG8
Perennial Stream
0.3
5.0
220
Total KM
1.8
Total Ha
14.1
Avg. width
146
RIPARIAN HEALTH
RIPARIAN HEALTH CATEGORY
PARAMETER HEALTHY HEALTHY, BUT WITH PROBLEMS UNHEALTHY
VEGETATION
Number of Sites Per Health Category
1. Vegetative Cover of Riparian Area
3
0
0
2a. Invasive Plant Species – Cover
0
3
0
2b. Invasive Plant Species – Density / Distribution
0
0
3
3. Disturbance-Caused Undesirable Herbaceous Species
1
2
0
4. Preferred Tree/Shrub Establishment & Regeneration
3
0
0
5a. Utilization of Preferred Trees and Shrubs
0
1
2
5b. Live Woody Vegetation Removal Non-Browse
3
0
0
6. Decadent and Dead Woody Material
3
0
0 Number of Sites by Overall Vegetation Health Category 2 1 0
SOIL/HYDROLOGY
7. Streambank Root Mass Protection
3
0
0
8. Human-caused Bare Ground
3
0
0
9. Human-caused Streambank Structural Alterations
2
1
0
10. Human Physical Alterations to Rest of Lotic Site
3
0
0
11. Stream Channel Incisement
3
0
0 Number of Sites by Overall Soil/Hydrology Category 3 0 0
NUMBER OF SITES BY OVERALL HEALTH CATEGORY
3
0
0
Healthy (80-100%) – Little or no impairment to riparian functions.
Healthy, but with problems (60-79%) – Some impairment to riparian functions due to human or natural causes.
Unhealthy (<60%) – Impairment to many riparian functions due to human or natural causes.
Prepared for the Bighill Creek Preservation Society February 2019 3
Collectively, the vegetation parameters in the project area rate healthy, but with problems (71%). Riparian areas are well vegetated on all sites with a diversity of mostly native species. In total, 119 different species were recorded, of which 79% are native. Plant community or habitat types in the project area include: yellow willow / red-osier dogwood habitat type with 37% cover, awned sedge habitat type with 32% cover, beaked willow / awned sedge habitat type with 23% cover, white spruce / low-bush cranberry habitat type with 4% cover and flat-leaved willow / water sedge habitat type with 3% cover. The remaining 1% was designated as open water and was excluded from the site. Preferred tree and shrub regeneration is considered excellent on all sites, with each site having greater than 15% of the canopy cover of preferred trees and shrubs being seedlings and/or saplings. Structural diversity is important for providing different habitat layers for livestock and wildlife as well as ensuring longevity of the stand. Beaver activity was noted on two of the sites, only one of which showed signs of recent activity. Live woody vegetation removal by beaver use (chewed, cut stems) or human clearing is not a concern in the project area. Although beavers can reduce the tree canopy in the short term, beaver cuttings often stimulate regeneration and suckering of willows and poplars which has a long-term benefit to riparian health. Beaver ponds and dams can also benefit riparian restoration efforts and promote resiliency by raising the water table, flooding out weedy species and promoting conditions for native sedges and willows to thrive.
Detracting from the vegetative health is the presence of 4 invasive weed species which cover approximately 1% of the project area. These species include: Canada thistle, common tansy, perennial sow-thistle and tall buttercup (in order of highest to lowest % cover). These noxious weeds are well distributed throughout the project area and all sites have weeds present. Disturbance-caused undesirable herbaceous species cover approximately 6.5% of the project area and commonly include introduced grasses like Kentucky bluegrass, smooth brome and quack grass. Disturbance-caused plants tend to be shallow rooted and have limited value for bank binding, nutrient filtration and erosion prevention. Browse or utilization of preferred trees and shrubs by livestock or wildlife in the project area ranges from light to heavy. Woody plants can sustain low levels of use but continuous browsing at moderate or heavy levels can deplete root reserves and inhibit establishment and regeneration. The indicators of heavy browse are umbrella-shaped mature shrubs and flat-topped or hedged seedlings and saplings.
Prepared for the Bighill Creek Preservation Society February 2019 4
Figure 2. Riparian Health Parameter Ratings for Bighill Creek Watershed 2018 Project Area
The soil/hydrology parameters in the project area rated healthy (98%) on average. Streambank
root mass protection is excellent on all sites, with native grasses and willows providing most of
this bank cover. The role of streambank vegetation is to maintain the integrity and structure of
the bank by dissipating energy, resisting erosion, and trapping sediment to build and restore
banks. Healthy, well vegetated riparian areas slow the rate of erosion and balance erosion in one
spot with bank increases elsewhere through deposition. The overall cover of bare soil due to
human or livestock causes is low in the project area, with each site having less than 1% of the
area comprised of human-caused bare ground. Recreation and livestock grazing impacts
contribute to the amount of bare ground observed. Two of the sites have little to no concern with
0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100%
Stream Channel Incisement
Human-Caused Alterations to Floodplain
Human-Caused Streambank Structural
Alterations
Human-Caused Bare Ground
Streambank Root Mass Protection
Decadent and Dead Woody Material
Live Woody Vegetation Removal Other than
Browse
Utilization of Preferred Trees and Shrubs
Preferred Tree/Shrub Establishment and
Regeneration
Disturbance-Caused Undesirable Herbaceous
Species
Invasive Plant Species (Density/Distribution)
Invasive Plant Species (Cover)
Vegetative Cover of Riparian Area
Bighill Creek Watershed – Evaluation of Riparian Health
Parameters 2018
Unhealthy Healthy, but with problems Healthy
Prepared for the Bighill Creek Preservation Society February 2019 5
alterations to the streambank having less than 5% and between 5-15% of the bank altered. The remaining site shows no evidence of physical alterations to the bank. Human activities can over time alter the soil structure, stability, and slope of a riparian area and are usually related to soil compaction from livestock trailing and construction (roads, berms, dugout etc.) in grazing situations and trailing from people and/or vehicles in recreational situations. Modifications to the natural soil structure, stability, and slope can reduce the ability of the riparian area to perform key functions such as water infiltration and storage. All three sites have no concerns with physical alterations to the riparian area as each site has less than 5% of the riparian area altered due to human or livestock activities. However, although localized these alterations rate from slight to moderate across sites and are mainly due to recreational trails and livestock use. Stream flows in the project area are not restricted from accessing the floodplain. Periodic flood events are important to disperse moisture throughout the riparian area for the maintenance of riparian vegetation. Flooding also spreads the energy of moving water over the riparian area, allowing sediment to be deposited and creating new areas for seedling establishment. Incisement occurs when the channel bed lowers within the floodplain so that high water events cannot escape the banks of a regular basis. There was no channel incisement observed in the project area and natural processes are progressing unhindered.
Management recommendations for the riparian areas assessed have been included with each individual site report. These include (but are not limited to): improving grazing management (for those sites that are grazed), promoting and maintaining native plant communities, invasive weed monitoring and control, minimizing new human-caused ground disturbance and allowing for rest and natural recovery of disturbed areas. Landowners are encouraged to maintain best management practices already in place, such as riparian exclusion fencing, off-site water development, hardened crossings and designated trails, to continue to improve riparian health.
For further information on any aspect of this summary, please contact:
Kristina Wantola, P. Biol.
Riparian Specialist
Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society – Cows and Fish
Tel: (403) 451-1184
Email: kwantola@cowsandfish.orgCows and Fish
Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society
Riparian Health Summary Report – 2018
Bighill Creek
A Riparian Health Assessment is a tool designed to help individuals and organizations evaluate and understand the health of riparian areas within their landholdings and watersheds. This information is intended to document the current state of riparian health and help direct future efforts to promote important riparian functions, such as improved water quality, forage production, and fish habitat. To assess a trend in riparian health, we recommend that riparian health assessments be repeated every three to five years to track progress and riparian recovery in response to a management change.
This summary report provides information on the riparian health of 3 sites along Bighill Creek, based on data we collected in July 2018. Information obtained from the assessment of riparian health in the watershed will help to inform and facilitate landscape management planning within the local municipality, and further encourage private landowners to understand and effectively manage riparian areas under their care.
This project was initiated by the Bighill Creek Preservation Society (BCPS) and funded by Alberta Ecotrust with in-kind support from Cows and Fish.
The Bighill Creek watershed and associated riparian areas provide important fish and wildlife habitat, improve water quality, and maintain water quantity on the landscape. The project area encompasses two riparian sites on private landholdings and one site on County owned land along Bighill Creek. The riparian sites were assessed using the Alberta Lotic Health Assessment (Survey). Overall, all sites assessed as part of this project rate healthy, as shown in Table 1. The average riparian health rating for all three sites in the project area is 88% well above the provincial average (70%, healthy, but with problems)1. The project area includes approximately 14 hectares of riparian habitat and 1.9 kilometers of streambank.
To better understand the overall health rating for the project area, it is helpful to take a closer look at which pieces of the riparian area are intact and functioning and which are not. Table 1 lists the health parameters evaluated and how they rate for the Bighill Creek project sites. Figure 2 provides an overview of the health ratings for each of the riparian health parameters assessed.
1 Cows and Fish Riparian Health Inventory Data 1996 – 2017. Based on 2,803 sites, on 728 waterbodies in Alberta.
Provincial Average Score1: 70% (Healthy, but with problems)
Project Average Score: 88% (Healthy)
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Table 1 Riparian Health Parameters Evaluated along Bighill Creek by Number of Sites in each Health Category (3 Sites)
All three sites assessed were along Bighill Creek which is considered a perennial stream. A Perennial Stream flows continuously for most of most years and is fed in part from springs or groundwater discharge. Perennial streams are less than 15m wide.
Table 2. Project Area Site Description
Site Number
Waterbody Type
Riparian Distance Inventoried (km)
Riparian Area Inventoried (ha)
Average Riparian Width (m)
BIG4
Perennial Stream
0.9
5.8
82
BIG7
Perennial Stream
0.6
3.3
136
BIG8
Perennial Stream
0.3
5.0
220
Total KM
1.8
Total Ha
14.1
Avg. width
146
RIPARIAN HEALTH
RIPARIAN HEALTH CATEGORY
PARAMETER HEALTHY HEALTHY, BUT WITH PROBLEMS UNHEALTHY
VEGETATION
Number of Sites Per Health Category
1. Vegetative Cover of Riparian Area
3
0
0
2a. Invasive Plant Species – Cover
0
3
0
2b. Invasive Plant Species – Density / Distribution
0
0
3
3. Disturbance-Caused Undesirable Herbaceous Species
1
2
0
4. Preferred Tree/Shrub Establishment & Regeneration
3
0
0
5a. Utilization of Preferred Trees and Shrubs
0
1
2
5b. Live Woody Vegetation Removal Non-Browse
3
0
0
6. Decadent and Dead Woody Material
3
0
0 Number of Sites by Overall Vegetation Health Category 2 1 0
SOIL/HYDROLOGY
7. Streambank Root Mass Protection
3
0
0
8. Human-caused Bare Ground
3
0
0
9. Human-caused Streambank Structural Alterations
2
1
0
10. Human Physical Alterations to Rest of Lotic Site
3
0
0
11. Stream Channel Incisement
3
0
0 Number of Sites by Overall Soil/Hydrology Category 3 0 0
NUMBER OF SITES BY OVERALL HEALTH CATEGORY
3
0
0
Healthy (80-100%) – Little or no impairment to riparian functions.
Healthy, but with problems (60-79%) – Some impairment to riparian functions due to human or natural causes.
Unhealthy (<60%) – Impairment to many riparian functions due to human or natural causes.
Prepared for the Bighill Creek Preservation Society February 2019 3
Collectively, the vegetation parameters in the project area rate healthy, but with problems (71%). Riparian areas are well vegetated on all sites with a diversity of mostly native species. In total, 119 different species were recorded, of which 79% are native. Plant community or habitat types in the project area include: yellow willow / red-osier dogwood habitat type with 37% cover, awned sedge habitat type with 32% cover, beaked willow / awned sedge habitat type with 23% cover, white spruce / low-bush cranberry habitat type with 4% cover and flat-leaved willow / water sedge habitat type with 3% cover. The remaining 1% was designated as open water and was excluded from the site. Preferred tree and shrub regeneration is considered excellent on all sites, with each site having greater than 15% of the canopy cover of preferred trees and shrubs being seedlings and/or saplings. Structural diversity is important for providing different habitat layers for livestock and wildlife as well as ensuring longevity of the stand. Beaver activity was noted on two of the sites, only one of which showed signs of recent activity. Live woody vegetation removal by beaver use (chewed, cut stems) or human clearing is not a concern in the project area. Although beavers can reduce the tree canopy in the short term, beaver cuttings often stimulate regeneration and suckering of willows and poplars which has a long-term benefit to riparian health. Beaver ponds and dams can also benefit riparian restoration efforts and promote resiliency by raising the water table, flooding out weedy species and promoting conditions for native sedges and willows to thrive.
Detracting from the vegetative health is the presence of 4 invasive weed species which cover approximately 1% of the project area. These species include: Canada thistle, common tansy, perennial sow-thistle and tall buttercup (in order of highest to lowest % cover). These noxious weeds are well distributed throughout the project area and all sites have weeds present. Disturbance-caused undesirable herbaceous species cover approximately 6.5% of the project area and commonly include introduced grasses like Kentucky bluegrass, smooth brome and quack grass. Disturbance-caused plants tend to be shallow rooted and have limited value for bank binding, nutrient filtration and erosion prevention. Browse or utilization of preferred trees and shrubs by livestock or wildlife in the project area ranges from light to heavy. Woody plants can sustain low levels of use but continuous browsing at moderate or heavy levels can deplete root reserves and inhibit establishment and regeneration. The indicators of heavy browse are umbrella-shaped mature shrubs and flat-topped or hedged seedlings and saplings.
Prepared for the Bighill Creek Preservation Society February 2019 4
Figure 2. Riparian Health Parameter Ratings for Bighill Creek Watershed 2018 Project Area
The soil/hydrology parameters in the project area rated healthy (98%) on average. Streambank
root mass protection is excellent on all sites, with native grasses and willows providing most of
this bank cover. The role of streambank vegetation is to maintain the integrity and structure of
the bank by dissipating energy, resisting erosion, and trapping sediment to build and restore
banks. Healthy, well vegetated riparian areas slow the rate of erosion and balance erosion in one
spot with bank increases elsewhere through deposition. The overall cover of bare soil due to
human or livestock causes is low in the project area, with each site having less than 1% of the
area comprised of human-caused bare ground. Recreation and livestock grazing impacts
contribute to the amount of bare ground observed. Two of the sites have little to no concern with
0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100%
Stream Channel Incisement
Human-Caused Alterations to Floodplain
Human-Caused Streambank Structural
Alterations
Human-Caused Bare Ground
Streambank Root Mass Protection
Decadent and Dead Woody Material
Live Woody Vegetation Removal Other than
Browse
Utilization of Preferred Trees and Shrubs
Preferred Tree/Shrub Establishment and
Regeneration
Disturbance-Caused Undesirable Herbaceous
Species
Invasive Plant Species (Density/Distribution)
Invasive Plant Species (Cover)
Vegetative Cover of Riparian Area
Bighill Creek Watershed – Evaluation of Riparian Health
Parameters 2018
Unhealthy Healthy, but with problems Healthy
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alterations to the streambank having less than 5% and between 5-15% of the bank altered. The remaining site shows no evidence of physical alterations to the bank. Human activities can over time alter the soil structure, stability, and slope of a riparian area and are usually related to soil compaction from livestock trailing and construction (roads, berms, dugout etc.) in grazing situations and trailing from people and/or vehicles in recreational situations. Modifications to the natural soil structure, stability, and slope can reduce the ability of the riparian area to perform key functions such as water infiltration and storage. All three sites have no concerns with physical alterations to the riparian area as each site has less than 5% of the riparian area altered due to human or livestock activities. However, although localized these alterations rate from slight to moderate across sites and are mainly due to recreational trails and livestock use. Stream flows in the project area are not restricted from accessing the floodplain. Periodic flood events are important to disperse moisture throughout the riparian area for the maintenance of riparian vegetation. Flooding also spreads the energy of moving water over the riparian area, allowing sediment to be deposited and creating new areas for seedling establishment. Incisement occurs when the channel bed lowers within the floodplain so that high water events cannot escape the banks of a regular basis. There was no channel incisement observed in the project area and natural processes are progressing unhindered.
Management recommendations for the riparian areas assessed have been included with each individual site report. These include (but are not limited to): improving grazing management (for those sites that are grazed), promoting and maintaining native plant communities, invasive weed monitoring and control, minimizing new human-caused ground disturbance and allowing for rest and natural recovery of disturbed areas. Landowners are encouraged to maintain best management practices already in place, such as riparian exclusion fencing, off-site water development, hardened crossings and designated trails, to continue to improve riparian health.
For further information on any aspect of this summary, please contact:
Kristina Wantola, P. Biol.
Riparian Specialist
Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society – Cows and Fish
Tel: (403) 451-1184
Email: kwantola@cowsandfish.org

Prepared for the Bighill Creek Preservation SocietyFebruary 201912018 BCPS communty report_final

Prepared for the Bighill Creek Preservation SocietyFebruary 201912018 BCPS communty report_final

Bighill Creek and its Watershed Plans

Bighill Creek and its Watershed Plans

By Vivian Pharis, VP, BCPS

 

Bighill Creek’s Watershed and Early Planning

Bighill Creek’s 174 sqkm watershed begins as a classic fan, a gathering of slow waters from sprawling, open, cattle lands. There isn’t much water in the upper reaches of this basin. But, when the creek accepts a burst of pristine water from the nationally significant springs at Big Hill Springs Provincial Park, it becomes a bold flow. Below the park, the robust creek enters a narrower valley. Confined by a high sided coulee it descends to Cochrane and the Bow River, gliding past sandstone cliffs, some of which served ancient peoples as buffalo jumps, and slips past steep, forested slopes hiding deer and cougar. Interestingly, the coulee is a remnant of glacial times when impounded meltwaters broke free in a dramatic flood that carved a path to bedrock, in their escape to the Bow River.

 

In 2007 a tri-creeks watershed initiative was launched by the Town of Cochrane and Rocky View Council, to better understand the three waterways entering the Bow River at Cochrane. Bighill was the last of the three to inspire a group of people to begin planning. Bighill Creek Preservation Society was registered in 2015 and announced a Board of Directors, developed a mission statement, a set of six objectives and began work on four actions aimed at understanding and preserving the watershed.

 

BCPS begins stewardship work and watershed studies

One BCPS objective is to encourage stewardship, another is to educate about the natural and historic features of the valley. To these ends, BCPS accepted stewardship of a 40 acre RVC reserve in the creek’s bottom, most of it designated “environmental”. Trails through the reserve had suddenly been “discovered” by new Cochrane residents and heavy use began around 2015 – walking, dog walking, running and cycling. There was a sudden need to build a footbridge over the creek, to develop a loop trail, and begin diversions and rehabilitation on the steep, forested side where soils are thin and erodible.

 

A grant from the Cochrane Foundation allowed BCPS to buy three motion sensor cameras. These were set to work understanding wildlife use in the valley, but one was devoted to monitoring human trail use to enhance stewardship work. BCPS has also set up 7 sites along the trail that are measured and photographed each year for erosion, widening, deepening and root exposure. These will help guide our maintenance program.

 

Funds were raised in 2016, to begin collecting baseline data through studies towards a watershed plan. The first undertaking was to monitor the quality of stream water. A scientist, Dr. Ymene Fouli, was hired in 2017 to test waters at five sites on the creek and at two springs. These studies are to be repeated in 2019, with, hopefully, the addition of more sampling sites in the upper reaches of the basin.

 

Another set of funds allowed BCPS to commission a Riparian Health Assessment of the creek in the early summer of 2018. The expertise of Cows and Fish was hired to survey the creek for riparian cover, invasive plants, tree and shrub establishment, state of vegetation and human or livestock damage to stream banks. While provincial waterways score on average, 70% – healthy but with problems, Bighill Creek scored 87%, or generally healthy. We are in great shape, but it will take work to maintain this record in light of increasing recreational pressure on the creek.

 

The springs contributing most of the flow to Bighill Creek are nationally significant because of their constant year-around flow rate and temperature, as well as their uncommon tufa formations. Of great concern to BCPS are applications for three new gravel mines on the very aquifer of this  unusual set of springs, and the lack of responsibility so far shown by Rocky View County for the springs and the provincial park they support. This situation has occupied much of BCPS’s efforts in the past two years.

 

 

 

Valley Wildlife

This valley, so close to a town nearing 30,000 people, is surprisingly full of wildlife. Our cameras helped to show Bighill Creek as home to healthy populations of moose, white tail and mule deer, cougar, fox, coyote and beaver. Our blue heron colony has been hatching up to 8 nests of eggs continuously for at least 100 years. More rarely seen, but caught on camera were a bobcat and a racoon!!! Mink and muskrat are in the creek, along with chorus frogs, wood frogs, tiger salamanders and there used to be a good population of western toads. Garter snakes are abundant. In spring and summer the valley rings with bird calls. Red tailed hawks, horned owls and prairie falcons all nest and hunt in the valley.

 

A reason for the variety and numbers of wildlife in Bighill Valley is the proximity of the Bow River and the large Glenbow Park along the river. Right now, there is still enough undeveloped land between these two natural valleys to allow a free-flow of wildlife. The main barrier between them though is Highway 1A, with its reputation for killing more wildlife/km than any other highway in Alberta. Plans for vastly increasing residential development on both sides of the highway between Cochrane and Calgary, bode ill for maintaining wildlife numbers.

 

We are especially interested in fish populations and on a day in June, 2018, at 5 sites on the creek, Trout Unlimited, along with board member Ken Stevenson, caught and released 40-50 fish of a wide variety of species including trout (but not Cutthroat Trout), in the space of 12 minutes, in the lower reaches of the creek. Fish were found in all sites tested. Cochrane Environmental Action Committee has committed to buying temperature loggers that will be placed in the creek this winter/spring in order to better understand if the creek could again support endangered Cutthroat Trout.

 

Grant funds have been applied for to begin assessing beaver habitat throughout the creek. Funds are also being sought for the purchase of “pond levelers” or “beaver deceivers” to better control water levels in several downstream dams that have been flooding Ranch Road.

 

Reserve as Laboratory

The small natural reserve so close to Cochrane, is increasingly being seen as an outdoor laboratory for school groups. BCPS is also increasingly asked to talk about the creek and its ecology at Cochrane schools. To better understand the importance of natural areas, BCPS will begin studies of local insect populations on the reserve. Knowing that the world’s insect populations are disappearing at alarming rates, we consider it timely to learn about populations nearer home, and perhaps find out if ours are also in decline. This spring and summer will see a University of Calgary student assess the creek’s aquatic insects. A small grant from the Town of Cochrane has allowed BCPS to purchase two Malaise insect traps from California and these will be tested in the spring of 2019 to begin an educational investigation of terrestrial insects. Several schools have already indicated interest in being involved. Anyone with knowledge of how to undertake such studies is invited to help us.

 

Another buggy undertaking in the little reserve, is to see if we can naturally control invasive Canada Thistle. To this end, BCPS bought a packet of tiny thistle-eating weevils from Alberta Agriculture and released them in an infested area in 2018. Apparently it can take up to 4 years to see if there has been survival and results.