Chilliwack River Habitat Atlas

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The Chilliwack River Watershed 

 

The Chilliwack River is found to the southeast of the City of Chilliwack, approximately one hour east of Vancouver, British Columbia. The river itself spans a distance of 45 kilometres from its headwaters above Chilliwack Lake to Vedder Crossing, where the Chilliwack then drains into the Vedder River, onto the Sumas River, and eventually to its confluence with the mighty Fraser. The Chilliwack River watershed is the largest drainage in the northwest Cascade Mountain range and has a catchment area of over 1,230 square kilometres. The southern portion of the watershed is protected within North Cascades National Park in Washington State. The northern portion of the watershed can be defined by the Chilliwack River Valley; a sparsely populated stretch of floodplain surrounded by steep mountainous slopes and glaciated peaks. The area’s proximity to major urban centres in the Greater Vancouver area and Fraser Valley, make this area a prime destination for recreational users. The river itself is known to support the largest volume of recreational use of any other river system in British Columbia.

 

Community

The Chilliwack River Valley community is defined by several residential hamlets. These include developments at Baker Trails – McFaud Road, Edwards Road, Bell Acres and Slesse Park. Settlement can be defined as rural residential or recreational and residential trailer parks. A recreational subdivision at Post Creek near Chilliwack Lake is the most easterly development in the area. Chilliwack Lake Road is the main transportation corridor through the valley and commercial developments, in general, are confined to this route. First nation history in the valley is evidential through old settlement sites and cultural sites, trail networks and place names. The Sto:lo peoples are known to have lived and occupied this area for thousands of years. The Soowahlie First Nation occupies approximately 1,200 acres in the area south of Vedder Crossing and east of Cultus Lake.

 

Ecology

The Chilliwack River Valley is a glaciated u-shaped valley with a flat floor bounded by steep sloping uplands and glaciated ridges. The climate is transitional between warm and wet maritime and colder continental. Drainage is influenced largely by heavy winter rains and spring snow melts.

Forests in the Chilliwack River Watershed are dominated by Douglas fir and Western red cedar. Alpine areas include Mountain hemlock and Yellow cypress, and are interspersed with patches of alpine tundra and meadows. Upland slopes and riparian forests include Mountain hemlock, Western hemlock, Sitka spruce and Lodgepole pine with deciduous associations of Broad-leaf maple, Red alder and Cottonwood. Vine maple, Bitter Cherry, Red-osier dogwood and Nootka rose are also commonly found. Forestry is a significant economic activity in the watershed.

Wildlife of special concern found commonly in the watershed include Spotted owl, Bald eagle, Western screech owl, Black bear, Black-tailed deer, Mountain goat, Coastal giant salamander, Pacific water shrew and Marbled murrelet. Threatened species’ Mountain beaver, Keen’s long-eared bat and long-tailed weasel are also known to frequent the area. Grizzly bear and Roosevelt Elk are infrequently observed in the watershed, but are known to the area in small numbers.

The Chilliwack River is highly valued for its fisheries values and has long been recognized as the most heavily fished river in the Province. All five species of salmon use the river system for spawning and rearing and the river supports one of the most productive steelhead fisheries in British Columbia.  Other fish species found in the Chilliwack River and its tributaries include Mountain whitefish, Rainbow trout, Kokanee trout, Dolly Varden char and Bull trout.

 

Issues

The sustainability of the Chilliwack River Watershed is under growing pressure due to conflicting resource use and activity, high demands for recreation and development, and impacts to water quality and riparian habitat from various land use and water use activities. Conflicting interests and a lack of clear jurisdictional responsibility to address these issues has resulted in the need for the many agencies and interest groups to come together. This has resulted in the formation of a pro-active, multi-jurisdictional committee that is working cooperatively toward the development of a Strategy for the Chilliwack River Watershed. This Atlas is a product of this initiative.