Stuart-Takla Fish-Forestry Interaction Project (1990-2008)
Project Initiation - 1990
The Stuart-Takla Fish-Forestry Interaction Project (STFFIP) was initiated in
1990 from the recognition that our knowledge of the interactions between forest
harvesting and aquatic habitats was very limited for the interior of British
Columbia. At the time, forestry guidelines and regulations for the protection of
fish and fish habitat were largely based on research conducted in coastal
watersheds. This research significantly improved both our scientific knowledge
and our management capability for mitigating the effects of logging activities
on aquatic habitats. However, there are significant differences in physical and
biological aspects between coastal and interior watersheds that could affect the
functional relationships between forestry and fisheries and their responses to
logging disturbances. This uncertainty about the applicability of coastal forest
management practices to interior forests was one of the primary driving forces
behind the creation of the STFFIP.
General views of the landscape surrounding the STFFIP watersheds
The STFFIP was sited in the northernmost watersheds of the Fraser River basin
in north-central British Columbia. Initially, four similar salmon-bearing tributaries and
their watersheds were selected for the study. These were subsequently
complemented by the addition of headwater streams (bankfull width < 1.5 m) to
the study. Small streams received little riparian buffer protection under
forest practices legislation and little was known about the ecological roles of
headwater streams in British Columbia. Variable-retention riparian buffer strips
had been used in the forest harvesting industry; however, their efficacy for
maintaining natural stream and riparian functions had not been well documented.
As an interdisciplinary study, the STFFIP incorporated hydrology, forestry,
fisheries science, and aquatic ecology expertise. Research activities included
monitoring and assessment of stream and groundwater hydrology and thermal
dynamics, streambed composition and mobilization, water quality, suspended
sediment dynamics, local meteorology, incubation environments, predator-prey
interactions, primary productivity, invertebrate production and patterns, large
woody debris (LWD) surveys, and the distribution, movement, growth, and habitat
use of resident and migratory salmonids. Due to its multidisciplinary design,
the STFFIP involved numerous researchers from various organizations including
the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (lead agency), the B.C. Ministry of
Forests and Range, the B.C. Ministry of Environment, Environment Canada, the Canadian Wildlife
Service, the University of Northern British Columbia, the University of British
Columbia, and Simon Fraser University. Collaboration of a forest industry
partner (Canadian Forest Products Limited) was an important component of the
study. The early involvement of the local First Nations bands in the STFFIP was
also imperative. The study watersheds are part of the traditional territories of
the Tl'azt'en Nation. Tl'azt'en band members, as well as members from other
First Nations bands of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, were involved in many
areas of the research.
One of the four main study streams of the STFFIP, together with spawning
Logging operations in watersheds
surrounding the Stuart-Takla area
The four spawning creeks (Bivouac, Forfar, Gluskie and O'Ne-ell Creeks) are
fourth-order and arise in the Hogem Range of the Omineca Mountains within
British Columbia's Sub-boreal Spruce (SBS) biogeoclimatic zone. They are tributary to
the Stuart Takla system, which comprises Takla, Trembleur, and Stuart Lakes. The
surrounding mature forests are comprised primarily of hybrid white spruce (Picea
glauca X engelmannii), subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa), and lodgepole pine (Pinus
The study stream watersheds are largely undisturbed; Gluskie and Bivouac had
minimal harvesting to control a beetle outbreak, and a logging road intersects
each stream 500 to 1700 m upstream of their mouths. The four streams flow Northeast
into Takla Lake or its outflow, Middle River, at an elevation of 700 m. Watershed
areas range from 36 to 75 km2 with main channel lengths of 15-20 km and stream
bankfull widths of 9-15 m. The lower 3-4 km of the watersheds are
low-gradient (0.5-2%), with large alluvial fans near their mouths.
The general location of the study watersheds of the STFFIP
The Stuart-Takla watershed supports both early- and late-run sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus
nerka), together with a distinct race of kokanee and other species of salmonids
(e.g., lake, rainbow, and bull trout, and whitefish) and non-salmonids (e.g., burbot,
peamouth chub, pike minnow, sculpin, and shiners). The creeks are spawning
grounds for Early Stuart sockeye salmon, which have the earliest river entry and
one of the longest sockeye migrations runs in the Fraser River system. Stuart
sockeye salmon enter the Fraser River in June and migrate ~ 1200 km in about 24
days to reach their spawning grounds.
Headwater studies were located in the upper watersheds of Baptiste and
Gluskie Creeks at an elevation of approximately 900 m. Some of the Baptiste
streams had rainbow trout in their lower reaches. Variable-retention riparian
treatments were prescribed to test the efficacy of current British Columbia legislation that
allowed for varying amounts of riparian retention as best management practices
for the management of windthrow.
Small streams of the type
monitored as part of the Baptiste Creek study
Landscape of the Baptiste watershed following logging operations
For the spawning creeks, 1990-1994 were devoted to collecting baseline and
pre-harvest data on natural physical, chemical, and biological processes thought
to be sensitive to forest harvesting effects. In the original study design, most streamside forest harvesting activities were to have been initiated
in the autumn of 1994, with road building and logging in the Gluskie and O'Ne-ell
watersheds. Logging was to have begun in the lower portions of each watershed,
progressing upstream with time, and using Forfar Creek as a non-harvested
control for the duration of the project.
DFO and First Nations personnel conducting
sampling in the Stuart-Takla study streams
Map and general overview of the Baptiste study streams
treatments at the Baptiste study site. The buffer strip in the foreground is
the high retention treatment (B3 watershed), the buffer strip in the far cutblock is the
low retention treatment (B5 watershed) and the unlogged section
between the two cutblocks (upper side of road) is the control watershed
(B4watershed). The photo looks west.
However, to date forest harvesting has been limited to small parts of the
upper Gluskie Creek watershed and the lower O'Ne-ell Creek watershed. Economic
changes in the forest industry in the mid 1990s and a re-distribution of local
logging tenures from CanFor to the small business sector altered logging plans
and the economics of harvesting in the watersheds. The Early Stuart sockeye also
suffered a recent downturn in abundance that raised sensitivity to any extensive
logging in the watersheds of these culturally and economically important sockeye
salmon populations. Nevertheless, the baseline data amassed is an invaluable
assessment of the natural variations and functions of north-central
salmon-bearing streams spawning many scientific publications, The STFFIP
significantly improved our knowledge of the natural processes that make interior
watersheds and aquatic ecosystems different from coastal systems. Baseline data
collection for most parameters continued until 2000 and some hydrologic/climatic
data are still collected.
For the headwater studies in the Baptiste and upper Gluskie watersheds,
pre-harvest monitoring began in the fall of 1995, incorporating both temporal
and spatial controls. Measurements included discharge, suspended sediment,
stream and groundwater temperature, nutrients, invertebrates, and sediment
geochemistry. Clearcut forest harvesting began in January 1997 using
fellerbunchers. Variable-retention buffer strips (20 m wide) were left on the
treatment streams. Depending on the parameter, up to four riparian treatments
were investigated: clearcut, patchcut, low retention (all merchantable timber
removed), and high retention (all timber > 30 cm dbh removed). Intensive
post-harvesting monitoring continued until 2000 and some parameters continue to
Sampling for bedload transport and spawning sockeye
1) Salmon Spawning Creeks
- The hydrograph of the streams is snowmelt driven, with freshet
occurring in the spring.
- The snow water equivalent at peak of snow accumulation was 51% higher in
clearcuts relative to the adjacent forest.
Stream thermal dynamics
- The annual pattern of stream temperatures is typical of northern
interior streams. Stream temperatures usually remain < 1°
C from November to
April, showing little diurnal variation. Summer stream temperatures are
between 8 and 16° C with diurnal ranges of 1-4°
C. Annual maximums occur
during August when sockeye salmon enter and spawn in the study streams.
- Each of the study streams has many distinctly different types of
channels. The general progression is from downstream low-gradient (< 2%)
channels characterized by pool-riffle morphologies to mid-stream
pool-riffle-bar morphologies with gravel and cobble-sized bed materials,
abundant Large Woody Debris (LWD), and gradients < 4% to steep (> 7%), narrow, and boulder-bedded
- The study streams are strongly influenced by in-stream LWD, which
appears to control specific channel shapes, sediment patterns, and streamflow characteristics.
Sampling efforts in the Stuart-Takla
for invertebrates in the main study streams
Suspended and gravel-stored sediments
- Suspended sediment concentration typically increases with increasing
stream discharge in the study streams, with annual peaks in sediment
concentrations occurring during the spring snowmelt.
- Fine-grained sediment in suspension moves not only as single-grained
particles but also as aggregates of fines that are held together by
physical, chemical, and biological forces. The aggregates have different
settling properties than do individual clay and silt particles, and they can
potentially be stored in channels, on the bed surface, and within the gravel
Riparian litterfall inputs, storage, and processing
- Deciduous trees and shrubs within 5 m of the bank edge are the major
sources of direct litterfall to the streams, while over 90% of the
in-channel LWD is derived from the conifer overstorey.
Nutrients and periphyton accrual
- The nutrient levels in these interior streams are low relative to
coastal systems. Periphyton productivity in the STFFIP streams is nutrient
limited; increased periphyton accrual coincided with increased nitrogen and
phosphorous levels derived from spawning salmon.
Winter sampling and
measuring stream discharge
Low-level air photograph of O'Ne-ell Creek taken at an
altitude of 100 m (left), together with a close-up view of large woody debris
- Insect drift in the study creeks is comprised primarily of dipterans,
ephemeropterans, and plecopterans. Dipteran Chironomid larvae were the most
predominant invertebrate during sockeye fry outmigration and constituted the
majority of fry prey items.
- Insect drift density was highest in July, whereas the period of lowest
density coincided with the highest water levels (May-June).
Sockeye salmon spawning, incubation, and outmigration
sockeye escapements have fluctuated between 475
and 12530, 436
and 17000 for Gluskie, Forfar, and O'Ne-ell Creeks, respectively, in
- Eggs hatch in November and the alevins reside in the intragravel
environment until spring when thermal and hydrologic cues initiate an
outmigration to Middle River and Takla Lake.
- Egg-to-fry survival averages about 30%, which is relatively high,
indicating good incubation conditions.
- Spawner longitudinal distribution was not density dependent or limited
spatially in any of the study streams. Overall, spawner distribution showed
no general pattern relative to variations in-stream depths and velocities.
Spawning salmon in Forfar Creek
Spawning sockeye salmon contributions to bedload and sediment transport
- Activity of mass spawning salmon moved an average of almost half of the
annual bedload yield. Spawning-generated changes in bed surface topography
persisted from August through May, defining the bed surface morphology for
most of the year. Hence, salmon-driven bedload transport can substantially
influence total sediment transport rates, and alters typical alluvial reach
- The size composition of bedload materials collected during flood and
winter events were similar, but samples of material collected during spawning
were composed of larger material.
General view of one of the Baptiste study streams (left) and the installation of
a weir (middle), together with sampling for invertebrates in the Stuart-Takla
2) Headwater Studies
Creek thermal dynamics
- Increases in stream temperatures (up to 5° C daily average) were related
to the amount of merchantable timber retained within the buffer strip. A
clearcut treatment had the largest effect, followed by patchcut, low-retention, and high-retention treatments. Seven years after harvesting, none
of the treatments showed temporal recovery in stream temperatures.
Initially, the high-retention treatment acted to mitigate the temperature
effects of the harvesting, but 3 successive years of windthrow reduced
canopy density, which caused subsequent temperature increases.
- Temperature recovery occurred in the treatment streams as they flowed
back into a forested area.
- Downstream cooling of mean daily temperatures ranged up to 3.7° C 170 m
within the recovery area.
- Road rights-of-way contributed to thermal increases; impacts were
commensurate with right-of-way width.
Snowmelt discharge and suspended sediment
- An increase in peak snowmelt and total freshet discharge occurred in the
second spring following harvest in both the high- and low-retention
treatments and remained above predicted in all subsequent years.
- Suspended sediment also increased during freshet following harvest but
returned to levels at or below pre-harvest predictions within 3 years.
- New sediment sources (in this case related to construction of logging
roads and installation of culverts) changed the multi-element geochemical
fingerprint of stream sediments even though the original stream sediment and
the new sediment source are derived from the same or similar parent
||View of the steep, unstable
cutbanks left after the removal of a culvert (site is located approximately 200m
upstream of the B5 monitoring site), together with sediment from a road crossing
being introduced into a stream following a rain storm
- Stream water chemistry changed in all treatments. Significant increases
in total dissolved phosphorous (TDP) and nitrate (NO3) were observed, but
similar increases in conductivity were not found. Lack of correlation with
treatment type suggests that watershed-scale processes, and not riparian
processes, are largely responsible for water chemistry changes.
- At the top of a clearcut, exposure to UV radiation may have had an
effect on invertebrates, while at the bottom of the clearcut, UV radiation had no
observable impact immediately after harvesting. A 4 mg/L increase in
dissolved organic carbon (DOC)
between the top and bottom of the clearcut may have sufficiently shielded
invertebrates from potentially deleterious effects of UV radiation.
- Long-term benthic invertebrate abundance and biomass changed in the high-retention buffer only. A response in the low-retention buffer may have been
masked by high sedimentation in the first two post-harvest years.
In summary, at this time, there has been limited forest harvesting in
spawning creek watersheds but the STFFIP has already significantly improved our
knowledge of the natural processes that make interior watersheds and aquatic
ecosystems different from coastal systems.
STFFIP is also one of the first studies to begin looking at variable-retention
riparian management on headwater streams. While offering some mitigation,
variable-retention buffers do not appear to fully protect headwater streams from
changes to thermal regimes, discharge, water chemistry, and invertebrate
Although the science is of paramount importance, one of the great legacies of
the STFFIP is the determination and effort of a diverse group of researchers and
resource managers from universities, industry, government agencies, and the private
sector to collaborate and address important resource management issues that
affect all British Columbia stakeholders.
Stuart Takla Poster (PDF 580 kb)
Please direct questions regarding webpage to For.Prodres@gov.bc.ca
Updated February 2009