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Spawning channel repairs may help save the kokanee

by John Keery
The Daily Courier
May 15, 1995

The Fish and Wildlife Branch will spend more than $500,000 this year on nine Okanagan conservation projects.

More than half of the money from the Habitat Conservation Fund will be used to rebuild the Kokanee spawning channel in Mission Creek Park.

“That one leaks a lot and the head gate ices up in winter,” said fisheries biologist Dave Smith. “We have to rip all the gravel out and put in some geotextile cloth and establish a good base.”

The head gate is unreliable and sometimes gets plugged with ice in winter allowing too little water to run to protect the Kokanee eggs in the channel.

An improved channel should result in double the number of Kokanee hatching each spring, Smith said.

He said up to 90 per cent of the natural spawning capacity of streams flowing into Okanagan Lake has been lost this century due to settlement and other forms of human activity.

In 1994, officials estimated just 19,600 kokanee spawned in Mission Creek, down from 400,000 in 1971.

A total of about 101,000 kokanee spawned in the whole lake in 1994, compared to one million in 1971.

Emcon, a road maintenance company based in Merritt, has won the contract to build the channel.

The Fisheries Branch also has $40,000 to study the population decline of Kokanee in Okanagan Lake.

Another $4,000 will go to investigate why shore spawning kokanee are declining.

Fisheries introduced a ban on kokanee fishing in March after determining numbers have declined to 10 per cent of what they were to decades ago.

Wildlife has five projects aimed at protecting declining or endangered species in the Okanagan.

The Westside Sheep Project will get $40,000 to help the mountain sheep herd in Short Creek, on the west side of Okanagan Lake half way to Vernon.

Wildlife biologist Orville Dyer said he has some pretty good ideas why the herd is declining and what can be done.

“There has been a long-term habitat decline,” Dyer said.

“The population has had a severe crash in the last three to five years.”

Isolation from other sheep herds, loss of winter range to agriculture and urban development and attacks by cougars are some of the problems.

The modern passion for stopping forest fires has resulted in the decline in the quality of range for sheep, Dyer said.

A deer population which has grown rapidly because of new feeding sources in logging cut blocks has supported a growing cougar population.

But some cougars prefer relatively scarce sheep to deer.

The enhancement project will include controlled burns to improve sheep range.

A similar project for $35,000 will carried out in the Ashnola, near Hedley, to improve sheep range.

The other three projects will help protect endangered species of birds, insects and mammals in the South Okanagan.