Critical habitat at stake says gravel committee

Members of the Fraser River Gravel Stewardship Committee are concerned about potential habitat damage from the 2013 gravel removal plan for a stretch of the Fraser River near Chilliwack.

The group fired off a letter to Emergency Management BC (EMBC) about proposed gravel extraction dated Jan. 28.

In the letter, they zero in on the Gill and Hamilton gravel bars near Chilliwack, with suggestions offered for alternative, less damaging sites.

"These annual programs, unless accompanied by a long-term comprehensive management plan for that entire section of the Fraser River, could do significant long-term damage to the habitats and hydrological features that indeed build fish habitat in that critical gravel reach of the river," said Otto Langer, a fisheries biologist and member of FRGSC, in a release.

The stewardship committee which comprises recreational fishermen, scientists and citizens is focuses on "a considerable amount of high-quality Chinook salmon rearing habitat" that is at stake along the southern edge of the bar from Hamilton Bar to Gill Bar.

Excavating would "severely disrupt" the habitat and make valuable riparian areas near the site "highly vulnerable to subsequent erosion."

To have any merit, these programs "must have a full and proper technical rationale and scientific measurement of the flood risk reduction gains" juxtaposed against "the immediate and long-term impacts to fish and critical fish habitat, Langer wrote.

FRGSC has lauded government for better lines of communication around the topic of Fraser gravel management, but said that progress has since slipped in the wake of DFO cutbacks to habitat protection resources.

The committee is still waiting for requested technical evidence from EMBC that the gravel extraction proposed will actually result in reduced flood risk.

Emergency Management BC (EMBC) acknowledged receipt of the letter from the stewardship committee, but could not comment on the contents.

"EMBC can confirm we are in receipt of this letter," said EMBC spokesperson Tasha Schollen, in an email. "We will be taking the time to thoughtfully review and respond and we will be drafting a response shortly.

"EMBC continues to work with our partners to analyze sediment deposits in the lower Fraser River to determine our flood protection strategy in the Fraser Valley."

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