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The mighty Fraser tops most-endangered list of B.C. rivers for ‘grave threats’ to habitat

Outdoor Recreational Council of BC beseeches governments to act now to save ‘Heart of the Fraser’
Herrling and Carey Islands, just south of Agassiz. (BCWF)

The Fraser River is still in dire need of legislated protection as the “most endangered river” in B.C. in 2022, said the Outdoor Recreation Council of British Columbia (ORCBC).

The Fraser has topped the list before, but ORCBC just issued its 30th annual Endangered B.C. Rivers list, once again putting the mighty Fraser in the spotlight – particularly the section from Mission to Hope – for “grave threats” to its irreplaceable habitat.

RELATED: Fraser tops list in 2016, 2019, as pressure mounts

“Recent habitat damage to the river’s islands is a major setback for salmon,” according to Mark Angelo, chair of the ORCBC, which has 100,000 members.

Angelo is talking about the controversial land-clearing on undiked islands like Strawberry, Carey and Herrling, which are owned by developers in the Fraser.

The “Heart of the Fraser” between Mission and Hope has long been considered one of the most ecologically significant stretches of river on the entire planet, but inexplicably it is not covered by any legislated protection or joint management plan, he said.

It has been ravaged by urban encroachment, agricultural expansion, gravel removal, climate change, pollution, and development of all kinds.

“It’s essential to protect what remains, especially within the Heart of the Fraser,” Angelo argued.

RELATED: Teeth needed in legislation for protection of habitat

The stretch supports almost 30 species of fish, ideal white sturgeon spawning habitat, and B.C.’s largest single run of spawning salmon. And yet those crucial islands are facing the triple-whammy of industrial logging, land clearing and diking.

The lack of protection has become a sore spot.

And while the ORCBC and Angelo commend governments for recent announcements that will see hundreds of millions of dollars aimed at protecting salmon and salmon habitat, Angelo stressed:

“If we can’t succeed in protecting the most important salmon habitat in the entire Fraser watershed, the goal of rebuilding salmon stocks, especially species such as Spring salmon, will be very difficult to attain.”

What is truly needed is a collaborative plan for the Heart of the Fraser, Angelo said.

In addition, the ORCBC supports the urgent need to utilize various conservation tools to protect the area in collaboration with the 19 First Nations who call the gravel reach home.

Angelo, who is both an Order of B.C. and Order of Canada recipient for his river conservation efforts, is urging the provincial and federal governments, in concert with Indigenous communities to do more. Among the tools that could be used are provincial mechanisms such as Wildlife Management Areas, federal designations such as Ecologically Significant Areas under the Fisheries Act, and Indigenous Conservation and Protected Areas.

Local governments also have a role in terms of better protecting key areas within their boundaries. They need to develop a plan that would enable the acquisition of key threatened habitats for conservation, or ecological restoration purposes.

“The most ecologically significant parts of the major undiked islands within the Heart of the Fraser would be an ideal place to start.”

ORCBC is an umbrella organization of outdoor recreation user groups, including paddlers, hikers, mountain bikers, off-road motorcyclists, equestrians, snowmobilers, quad riders, 4WDs, anglers and nature stewards.

RELATED: Habitat at stake with undiked islands cleared

RELATED: Need a ‘grownup conversation’ about the gravel reach

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Some of the best fish habitat anywhere is in the Heart of the Fraser between Mission and Hope. (ORCBC)

Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering the arts, city hall, as well as Indigenous, and climate change stories.
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