K’ómoks First Nation’s (KFN) Guardian Watchmen have teamed up with Guardians of Mid-Island Estuaries Society to help deal with an emerging threat to the K’ómoks Estuary. The Guardians society has been successfully rehabilitating Vancouver Island estuaries since 2010, and has been studying resident Canada Geese – one of the main sources of estuary damage, since 2008.  Introduced to the island in the 1970s for hunting and wildlife viewing, Canada Geese have flourished here, to an extent where they are now overwhelming ecosystems vital to other species, such as salmon. These resident geese overgraze the vegetation and grub the roots of the ‘marsh platform’ – a thick accumulation of nutrient-dense soils from land, freshwater aquatic and marine sources bound together by vegetation. One plant, Carex lyngbyei or Lyngbye’s Sedge, has taken the biggest hit. This sedge can grow to 1.5 metres tall and overhangs the channels. It provides critical shelter and shade, and hosts invertebrate food sources that young salmon need before they head off to sea.

The partnering Guardians, with support from the Pacific Salmon Foundation and BC Hydro Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, are fencing off parts of Hollyhock Flats on the K’ómoks Estuary to protect remaining sedges and eroding marsh platform from further damage by geese.

“Estuaries and intertidal habitat are critical habitat for migrating Pacific salmon and in particular juvenile salmon.  The Pacific Salmon Foundation fully supports the work of the Guardians of Mid-Island Estuaries Society and the K’ómoks First Nation’s Guardian Watchmen who are working together to restore this vital habitat on the Hollyhock Flats in the K’ómoks Estuary”.

Dr. Brain Riddell, CEO/President, Pacific Salmon Foundation, Vancouver, BC

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Marsh Platform – a mass of soils held in place by plant roots. This is what the geese are destroying.

By reviving cultural practices and innovating restoration techniques, the Guardians are preventing rich soils from being eroded and washed away with the tides.  The KFN Guardians led by Cory Frank have developed an eco-cultural restoration solution to utilize young alder, providing the needed strength and structure to hold the fencing in place while allowing salmon fry to move in and out of the area. Other goose-preferred plants such as arrowgrass will thrive in the absence of geese and smaller birds such as Red-Winged black birds and Kingfishers use the alder poles as perches.  

“The K’ómoks First Nation (Guardian Department) is very pleased to be partnered with the Guardians of Mid Island Estuaries and the Pacific Salmon Foundation in estuary restoration. Salmon are the lifeblood of many Aboriginal Communities and without the habitat to help sustain salmon stocks as they migrate to the estuary we will all suffer in the decline of these stocks. The K’ómoks Estuary has fed our people for thousands of years and with the restoration work we are embarking on and the work of many other community and volunteer groups we can all benefit from this habitat restoration in the future”. 

Cory Frank, Guardian Watchmen Manager, Kómok’s First Nation

Next year, the Guardians will begin the process of re-vegetating areas devoid of vegetation with sedges from nearby donor sites. Ongoing monitoring will measure re-growth and use of the estuary by salmon and other species. Tim Clermont, Guardians of Mid-Island Estuaries Society’s Executive Director explained the project will build resiliency in the estuary. “With habitat loss, warming seas, ocean acidification, overfishing – the salmon and future generations, need this healthy viable habitat to ensure resiliency within the estuary. We are fortunate that KFN and others are so committed to the health of natural habitats.”

For the past five years Project Watershed has been working hard to restore saltmarsh and eelgrass habitats in the K’ómoks Estuary to historical abundance.  The rising population of resident Canada geese can potentially jeopardize this restoration investment and the recovery of these habitats.  Therefore, we are happy to see that a management strategy to deal with the overgrazing by geese is being pursued by the Guardians of the Mid-Island Estuaries society in our local estuary.

Jennifer SutherstComox Valley Project Watershed Society, Estuary Coordinator and Staff Biologist