More will soon be known about the future of salmon populations in the Columbia River thanks to an online tool developed by experts in collaboration with First Nations groups.
This tool, Pacific Salmon Explorer, provides insight into the state of salmon in British Columbia and has recently expanded its reach to the Columbia region of the province.
The Pacific Salmon Explorer is a comprehensive source of information with data and assessments for 90% of the province’s salmon.
According to Dr. Katrina Connors, director of the Salmon Watersheds Program, the tool compiles data and interactively visualizes their populations and habitats online.
With the inclusion of the Columbia region, the Pacific Salmon Explorer now provides access to salmon data for seven of British Columbia’s eight salmon regions.
The Columbia region includes the watersheds surrounding Revelstoke, Kelowna, Penticton, Nelson and Cranbrook.
Vesta Mather, project manager for the Salmon Watersheds Program, says it’s great to see the work being done in the Columbia River with the reintroduction of salmon to the area. The two Conservation Units in the Columbia region, which are aggregations of fish containing the biodiversity needed to generate new species, are a population of sockeye salmon and chinook salmon.
According to Mather, a key part of the work done in the Columbia area has been listening to the stories told by the people who know the river best, because the river itself and its people have a rich and devastating history. The tool benefited from the expertise and feedback shared by First Nations groups in the region.
Historically, the Columbia River had thriving salmon populations. However, in the 1930s the damming of the river had major impacts on fish, making migration difficult and in some cases completely cutting salmon off from their freshwater habitats.
Over the past decade, stewardship efforts by the Okanagan Nation Alliance and others have kickstarted the return of salmon to the region.
The Pacific Salmon Explorer highlights key finds in the Columbia region as more salmon in the Okanagan go unfished and instead given the opportunity to spawn.
“We really look forward to working with these and other groups to make sure Explorer supports them in their vision for salmon,” Mather said.
The data also shows that sockeye salmon spawning habitats in the watershed face a high risk of habitat degradation due to extensive road development.
The inclusion of the Columbia area was made possible through the expertise and input of groups working in the area, including the Okanagan Nation Alliance, Shuswap Indian Band, Ktunaxa Nation Council, Living Lakes Canada, the ‘Okanagan Basin Waterboard, Okanagan Fisheries Foundation, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Province of British Columbia and others.
Since 2016, the Salmon Watersheds Program has been working from north to south across the province, collecting salmon data to provide insight into the status of salmon in particular regions.
The tool is used by First Nations groups, government agencies, researchers and the public to provide insight into the status of salmon. It can also be used by communities to help inform decisions about restoring salmon populations, and this collaborative effort is one of their main goals.
The next step is to examine the data they have compiled and zoom in on the correlation between salmon habitats and populations and the impacts humans can have on them through industrial development.
You can see the Pacific Salmon Explorer at salmonexplorer.ca.
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