A kokanee fry pulled from Redfish Creek earlier this month. Photo submitted

COLUMN: A cross-border effort that connects us all

Farmers, natives work to restore our rivers

Eileen Delehanty Pearkes

It has been a reluctant sort of spring, one certainly not measured much in rising temperatures. We have endured endless rain and freakish bouts of late snow. Those experiencing their first Nelson spring are easy to spot: they are the ones who look panicked. As one new arrival I know said to me recently when I was talking about the bizarre weather: “I thought this was normal!”

This spring proves the inaccuracy of the phrase “global warming.” The term “climate change” sums it up much better as we face unpredictable swings in temperature and precipitation. With snow accumulations in the alpine rising day by day, water engineers are starting to prepare for the possibility of an extreme melt season in the upper Columbia Basin, what B.C. Hydro refers to as a “big water” year.

The Columbia River Treaty (CRT) and its impacts are much on the minds of many people these days. CBC Radio just completed a series of morning interviews that focused on issues related to the treaty: from salmon re-introduction to the merits of the Canadian Entitlement. I was interviewed to provide a sense of what the pre-dammed Columbia was like. Call it a dream job – the chance of a lifetime – to inspire the collective imagination of radio listeners about memories of a free-running river.

Last week, I took to the road on Highway 200, threading through the south Selkirk and Purcell mountains, across the Idaho panhandle into western Montana. The route followed the Kootenai, Bull, Jocko and Clark Fork rivers, all flowing free, greenish-blue and beautiful through forests, hills and plains. It was a perfectly inspiring entrée into the attractive city of Missoula, where I spoke at the university about negative Canadian impacts from Libby Dam. The conference, “One River, Ethics Matter,” was one of a series over the past half-dozen years aimed at broadening the lens of CRT discussions to include ethics. In my experience, many Americans are only now growing more aware of the significance of losses north of the boundary from the water storage agreement. The U.S. has recently signaled a readiness to begin negotiations. Stay tuned.

A highlight of the conference was hearing about the efforts of the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho (located near Bonner’s Ferry) to bring back sturgeon and burbot (fresh water ling cod) to the Kootenay River and Lake. The tribe has accessed significant funding to construct spawning beds, build a state-of-the-art hatchery and release hundreds of thousands of fry into the water. They are coordinating efforts with local farmers, B.C. fisheries biologists and those in charge of the nutrient program for Kootenay Lake. Whenever I hear a story of people giving back to the rivers, I am hopeful for the future.

I recently met local fisheries technician Gary Munro on a metal footbridge that crosses a constructed spawning channel at Redfish Creek. It was cold, raining lightly and almost dark. Gary set three nets in the stream for precisely 10 minutes, lifted them out and looked inside: nothing. We drove west to Kokanee Creek’s spawning channel and repeated the process. This time, all three nets produced a squirming mass of 1-inch kokanee fry. The out-migration has begun. Gary’s nightshift counting the silver beauties will continue for the next several weeks. Between dusk and midnight, safe from predators, fry will squirm from their nests and head downstream to their futures. I’ll say more about these fish and their adventures in my May column.

Over the past few years, I have been working on a new book, one that has involved travel and study of the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest in the context of climate change. I look forward to sharing some of the results of my research, in a short film by the talented Amy Allcock. Our 12-minute baby will premier alongside a superb, full-length documentary by award-winning filmmaker Damien Gillis called Primeval, about the old growth rainforest of the Incomappleux valley. Please join us for a wonderful evening of awareness and appreciation for our region’s natural gifts.

Eileen Delehanty Pearkes is the author of A River Captured: the Columbia River Treaty and Catastrophic Change. The film Primeval screens in Nelson May 4, 2018, 7 p.m., Hart Hall, at 501 Carbonate Street.

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