Langara students’ research to aid in salmon returning to local waterway

Langarans help with Still Creek analysis to create a health baseline for wildlife restoration

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By Christopher MacMillan

This story has been updated to include information and background about Still Creek’s salmon.

Langara students are helping bring back Still Creek’s indigenous wildlife, with hopes that salmon will return.

Environmental studies students are doing their field school at Vancouver’s Still Creek this year, instead of at their usual location in Tofino, due to travel restrictions. The students will be collecting data and information that will eventually be used as a baseline for further studies of Still Creek’s waterway, aimed at bringing back the local salmon.

Still Creek, which runs behind the Real Canadian Superstore in Renfrew and winds around before entering into Burnaby Lake, has sporadically had salmon since 2012. But more than 100 years ago, salmon were plentiful.

Adrian Avendaño is the stewardship programs manager for the Still Creek Streamkeepers, a group of volunteer neighbours and citizen scientists who are helping bring back the creek’s wildlife and ecosystem. He explained that while the salmon have been inconsistent in recent years, the unpredictability is likely a result of their erratic breeding and the irregular testing at Still Creek. 

Regular testing creates a consistency in the baseline. Without it, determining what’s normal for the creek is difficult. By continuing to monitor and care for the creek, the salmon should return more regularly. 

According to the City of Vancouver’s 2002 Still Creek Rehabilitation and Enhancement Study, although there are some open areas in Still Creek, the majority of the stream is still being funneled  through underground sewer pipes. While these pipes allow the water to travel under the city, high volumes of rain can cause overflowing and flooding, therefore polluting the stream. 

Andrew Egan, a Langara environmental instructor, says this urbanization causes a condition called “urban stream syndrome.”

“[The stream] no longer has the ability for the vegetation to grow on the side,” Egan said. 

The environmental students monitor the amount of water that passes through Still Creek to estimate the volume that the stream carries. This information is collected to be used in creating a baseline, which is a report of the creek’s activity. 

“There has been water sampling done in previous years,” said Avendaño. “But since [Langara] students have been doing a super comprehensive and repeated scheduling, it’s a much more important baseline, because they’re doing weekly sampling.”

Langara students here to help

Environmental student Emily Crowley has been testing at Still Creek this semester. 

“The baseline data set show[s] that the stream is in good condition, [which] can provide grounds for further protection, further restoration, and also serve as a baseline if there are troubling changes detected later,” said Crowley

The baseline is submitted to the City of Vancouver, which will publish a report in the spring. This is important information that goes with the city’s program designed to expand Vancouver’s waterways to the indigenous wildlife.

As Langara and the city collaborate and make progress with the report, Langara students will continue their testing at Still Creek into 2022. 

There are a few stretches of Still Creek that still flow above ground and are visible from the shore. Many animals and birds visit those areas of the creek, looking for fish and other sources of food. 

Emily Bendeck, a new resident of Vancouver, goes to Still Creek for photography opportunities and is particularly attracted by the “birds of prey circling around in the sky.”

Emily Crowley testing the water at Still Creek, which will go towards the Creek’s baseline report. 

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