Imagine it’s a chilly 3 AM and you’re sitting in a Black Cottonwood stand along Mission Creek, just south of the Casorso Road bridge. You’ve just played a digital recording of a Western Screech Owl call, and await the real thing in return. Nothing. So you move on to the next spot and play the call again. Then you hear it…soft yet haunting…and oh so near. What a hoot! This is just one of the many ways that biologists from Ecoscape Environmental Consultants Ltd. are gathering baseline information about wildlife habitat and populations in the one-kilometre section of Mission Creek between Casorso Road
and Gordon Drive. The resulting biophysical inventory will be used by the Mission Creek Restoration Initiative to create a concept plan and detailed design for:
- Setting back the dikes to widen the creek
- Re-establishing the floodplain
- Reconnecting remnant oxbows
- Restoring creek banks and planting riparian vegetation
- Creating wetlands and habitat for species at risk
- Improving drainage for agricultural land.
The lower reaches of Mission Creek once supported robust and resilient stocks of fish, birds, mammals, reptiles, and riparian plants and trees. But creek ecology has been severely degraded because of past work undertaken to prevent flooding. Channelization and diking have adversely affected fish and wildlife and their breeding, rearing, and overwintering habitats. Annual kokanee stocks, for example, have declined dramatically from about one million fish in the 1940s to about 30,000 in 1996 and 16,000 in 2010. Other species at risk include the Western Screech Owl, Grasshopper Sparrow,
Painted Turtle, Spotted Bat, Whitethroated Swift, Black Cottonwood, and Great Blue Heron.
Key stakeholders began meeting in 2005 to address the above mentioned concerns. The Mission Creek Restoration Initiative (MCRI) was formally launched in 2008 with the vision of “restoring and protecting Mission Creek to enrich historical, ecological, and recreational values for the Okanagan.”
To that end, MCRI partners which include all levels of government (including First Nations) and local nonprofit organizations achieved the following during
Stage 1 between 2008 and 2013:
- Identified and prioritized key setback areas critical to project success
- Initiated an outreach program to landowners whose properties may be affected by the project
- Purchased land required for dike setbacks
- Launched a project website to support fundraising and other public outreach efforts
- Completed a Mission Creek Channel Width Assessment and an Ecological Goods & Services Assessment.
Between 2005 and 2013, project partners also raised about $1.6 million for property acquisition, technical studies, communications, and public outreach.
MCRI partners identified the south side of Mission Creek between Casorso Road and Gordon Drive as the area to be restored first. The pilot project began in April 2014 with the baseline biophysical inventory (BBI) to identify the presence/absence of fish, birds, mammals, reptiles, and riparian vegetation. BBO deliverables will include a detailed inventory database and inventory mapping for ecologically sensitive areas and species at risk. The consultants will also develop avoidance and mitigation strategies for future dike reconstruction. Photo plots will be established as well to provide monitoring and subsequent inventory opportunities before, during, and after construction of the setback dike.
The BBI, and ultimately the restoration of Mission Creek, will help to:
- Re-establish fish and wildlife habitat
- Increase fish stocks and the local sport fishery
- Expand biodiversity and protect species at risk
- Protect people and property from flooding
- Manage sediment accumulation and disposal
- Inspire and support community stewardship
- Improve water quality
- Enrich recreational opportunities
- Support local agriculture
- Enhance property values.