Sundre's Water Work: Connecting waterways and improving fish habitats in Alberta

West Fraser’s forest managers play a vital role in helping balance out the needs of many users in the forest. Sundre Forest Products, based out of west central Alberta, has a woods team that considers the values across the forest, beyond timber resources. The waterways, fish and wildlife that use them require special attention to manage appropriately.

Overall, West Fraser manages more than 5,000 km of temporary and permanent roads in Alberta.

For more than 25 years, the Sundre team has been inspecting crossing structures on these routes, such as bridges and culverts, as well as other historical or derelict roads in the operating area. To date, there have been more than 3,000 bridge inspections and nearly 11 thousand culvert inspections. During the inspection, if barriers to fish are found, they are assessed and repaired. These inspections are done on an annual basis and after flood events, but it is better to think ahead to reduce the need for future repairs. In total, the Sundre FMA has almost 14300 km of streams and rivers that could be classed as fish bearing.

“Cold water fish species rely on the four “C”s principles: cold, clean, complex and connected habitats to perform their life processes. As a stakeholder in land management in Central Alberta, Sundre Forest Products want to do our part to ensure the productive capacity of our streams,” says Kelsey Kure, Sundre Forest Product’s Water Resource Technician.

Sundre plans out its crossings with fish and wildlife in mind. For the most part, bridges are the best option for fish-friendly crossings. But, there are other steps the team follows to ensure plans are comprehensive, including:

  • Identifying fish-bearing streams
  • Identifying other fish habitat values
  • Creating erosion control structures and use of temporary crossings
  • Adding temporary crossings while constructing the permanent structure

The main native fish species in the Sundre Forest Management Area (FMA) are bull trout, a species classified as Threatened in the province. Other common freshwater fish found in the area are brook trout, brown trout, and rocky mountain whitefish.

Sundre’s Stream Projects

Sundre’s woods team is proud that they have improved more than 30 kilometres of reconnected fish habitat in the FMA. The added habitat is a benefit of improved planning for the roads that Sundre must build, and from correcting historic fish passage barriers on old roads that were inadequately maintained or abandoned by their builders.

Within a strong, 20+ year working partnership with the Alberta Conservation Association, Sundre has inventoried 288 km of streams in 960 unique locations, including previously unknown bull trout spawning habitat and unstudied streams. The information is publicly available and has been incorporated into planning initiatives and leveraged for improved forest practices that conserve fish habitat.  

All together, Sundre Forest Products efforts to  reconnect watercourses has improved seven different drainages in the management region:

  • Swale Creek
  • Tay River
  • Wigwam Creek
  • James River
  • Dry Creek
  • Prairie Creek
  • Cripple Creek

Cripple Creek tributary, in particular, was a significant project for the team. Initially, there was a road and culvert that was the crossing over the creek. However, it did not allow for the proper passage for fish and needed to be fixed. The road was removed, including 2,500 cubic metres of fill. While the bridge was being constructed, runoff controls were installed. After the culvert was removed, fish were found above the crossing location indicating a successful rehabilitation project.

The most recent project was at Tay River. The culvert was removed, and a bridge was added to this location in June of 2019.

Several small tributaries still need to work in this FMA, as well as ongoing inspections and upgrades. Some of these projects have been sole ventures, while others have been partnerships with local organizations and companies.