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Elk River Alliance planting trees to lower flood risk in Fernie

6,000 cottonwood trees were planted along the banks of the Elk River this spring
(Photo courtesy of Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program)

The Elk River Alliance is undertaking a wetland restoration tree planting project that will help increase biodiversity and decrease flood risk along the Elk River.

6,000 cottonwood trees were planted by more than 80 volunteers along the river at the Morrissey Meadows Conservation Area this spring, in an effort to stabilize the river bank and decrease erosion, and slow the flow of water into the river.

“It trickles across through all that vegetation and comes into the river much slower, so that can actually slow down the rate of the whole flood,” explained executive director Chad Hughes.

“If you’ve got a place like Fernie that’s protected by a dike and you can decrease the highest point of the flood by a couple of meters that could end up potentially saving a significant amount of housing or property,” he added.

Greenery also provides more shade that reduces the temperature of the water, which Hughes said is beneficial for westslope cutthroat trout; and it connects the flood plain to the forest, which is ideal for a number of species who frequent the water’s edge like deer, elk, bears, and blue herons.

The area’s historic use as ranch land has caused the prevalence of cottonwood to decrease drastically. Hughes said the alliance was involved with a study that found that at least 50 per cent of cottonwood trees have been lost in the area since colonization.

Later this year, the alliance will move the project to private land on Elk River Lodge and to the Big Ranch Conservation Complex, owned by Nature Trust of B.C.

Work on Morrissey Meadows site is supported by Columbia Basin Trust, Habitat Conservation Trust, Nature Conservancy Canada, TD Friends of the Environment Foundation, Fortis BC, RBC Foundation, and the Freshwater Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program (FWCP).

About the Author: Gillian Francis

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