Agriculture Providing Answers in Riparian Areas
The following article is an excerpt from Growing Together newsletter – Winter 2000 issue …….
British Columbia’s fisheries and wildlife resources, together with our provincial agriculture industry are linked together in their reliance on two critical components: water and land. In much of the province, valuable fisheries habitat is situated on or close to privately owned farmland. Recognizing these two sectors must co-exist, the Partnership Committee is working on ways to enhance fisheries, water quality and wildlife resources as well as facilitate growth and development of the agricultureindustry.
BEFORE: A stream suffering from poor riparian management.
The Fish Protection Act requires that riparian protection measures must be implemented on watercourses that are known to be important to fish and their habitat. Agricultural areas are currently exempt from the regulations under the Act, however, there is agreement between the agriculture industry and provincial government agencies that the industry will prepare guidelines and implement a process to manage activities in riparian areas.
A Riparian Working Group established by the Partnership Committee has been tasked to develop the guidelines and implement the process. This group, led by the BC Agriculture Council, is overseeing a contract to develop self-audit procedures for riparian management on watercourses in agriculturalareas, along with guidelines for the dairy, beef and horticultural sectors.
In view of the importance of this initiative, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, the Ministry of Environment Lands and Parks, Environment Canada’s Georgia Basin Ecosystem Initiative and the Canadian Wildlife Service as well as the industry, are providing financial support. All agencies are participating on the Working Group and are committed to developing a process that will meet the objectives of the Fish Protection Act.
Riparian areas are an important component of fish habitat, and therefore subject to the habitat provisions of the Federal Fisheries Act. As a result Fisheries and Oceans Canada is actively involved in the development of the self-audit to help ensure that the product will address the needs of all stakeholders.
“Many of our most important fish streams flow through some of the province’s prime agricultural land. The challenge is to find ways of protecting and enhancing these fisheries resources while at the same time maximizing the economic potential of our farmlands,” said Ron Bertrand, Director of BCMAF’s Resource Management Branch. “This project is a critical step in finding approaches to riparian management that meet both the needs of fish, and farmers and ranchers.”
Significant progress has been achieved. The Working Group is now reviewing draft outlines that include principles, riparian functions, riparian factors for inclusion in the audit process and a self-audit template.
“I am pleased with the progress we are making. We are committed to developing a practical, useful tool that will be utilized by producers to enhance riparian areas on their farms. All parties recognize that a proactive educational approach through this initiative can enhance both agriculture and environment while providing the flexibility to accommodate the unique character of each farm and its watercourses,” commented Steve Thomson, BCAC Coordinator and Chair of the Riparian Working Group.
The Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks is encouraged by the progress to date that has been made at the Riparian Working Group in the development of this self-audit document.
“Our main hope and concern would be that this self-audit riparian quality process will be promoted proactively by the agriculture community as a key means for producers to vastly improve the riparian and in-stream quality of many lowland watercourses that contain fish values or enter into streams with high fish values,” said Glen Carlson, Regional Habitat Biologist and BCMELP representative on the working group.
George Derksen, Pollution Abatement Coordinator with Environment Canada, commented, “Providing a healthy riparian area is certainly an important means to enhancing wildlife values and measures such as maintaining a vegetative filter strip along a watercourse have been shown to improve water quality. The direction this initiative is taking should benefit wildlife and help improve water quality.”
AFTER: The same stream benefiting from good riparian conditiions.
“Due to the important contribution of riparian areas to fish habitat, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has a strong interest in ensuring that the riparian self-audit will clearly communicate good riparian management practices to producers,” said Jennifer Nener, Senior Program Biologist. “Having good riparian condition usually benefits both producers and fish. Through our Habitat Conservation and Stewardship Program, we now have Habitat Auxiliaries and other support people available to provide guidance to producers who wish to improve the condition of riparian areas on their farms. These staff can also help form linkages between producers and community groups that can assist with riparian planting and other activities.”
Over the coming months, the Working Group will be completing the self- audit process and testing it in a number of pilot projects. They will continue to work closely with producer organizations during the implementation of the project.
To find out more about this project please contact: Steve Thomson, Coordinator, BC Agriculture Council telephone: (250) 763-9790