Horsefly River Riparian Conservation Area

//Horsefly River Riparian Conservation Area
Horsefly River Riparian Conservation Area 2017-04-13T16:57:25+00:00
On September 30, 2015, TLC completed the transfer of 26 properties, including Horsefly River Riparian Conservation Area, to the Nature Conservancy of Canada for their continued stewardship. For more information please view the news release.

Property Overview

The Horsefly River Riparian Conservation Area is one of our largest properties. From between 1999 and 2006 we have purchased almost 400 hectares (980 acres) along the mid-section of the Horsefly River Valley. We purchased 5 quarter sections (approximately 320 hectares (800 acres)) of the Black Creek Ranch in 1999.  Four of these parcels are lumped in one contiguous area while the fifth is approximately 2 km upstream. Between 2004 and 2006 we added two additional parcels that lie between our initial acquisition. Together this property represents almost 12 km of river shore line.

hrrca map
The lots that make up the HRRCA

This property represents some of the best sockeye salmon spawning habitat in the world. It is also used for spawning and rearing by rainbow trout, Chinook and Coho salmon. This broad riparian valley bottom (up to 800 m in places) is also home to a wide range of songbirds, waterfowl, wading birds. The area is known for its high density of grizzly and black bears which gather to feed on spawning sockeye in the fall. It is also  exceptional moose winter habitat.

Grizzly bear fishing on the Horsefly. Photo courtesy of C. Iwan

Grizzly bear fishing on the Horsefly. Photo courtesy of C. Iwan

Acquisition History

The impetus to protect these lands began in two years prior to the actual purchase by TLC.  The Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Quesnel River Watershed Alliance, a community based non-governmental environmental organization, were both instrumental in raising awareness of this area to environmental and conservation groups across British Columbia. Strong support was gained from many parties to purchase and protect the initial 5 lots including the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation, the BC Conservation Foundation, Sierra Legal Defense Fund, Ducks Unlimited Canada, and Mountain Equipment Co-Op.  In subsequent years we have received additional funding for further acquisitions from the the Donner Canada Foundation and The Ministry of Transportation. TLC currently holds a mortgage for $105,000 on Horsefly River Riparian Conservation Area.

Site History

The Horsefly River in the fall. Photo courtesy of C. Iwan

The Horsefly River in the fall. Photo courtesy of C. Iwan

This property and the surrounding area is a story that has much history, both old and new. First Nations Peoples relied on the returning salmon for hundreds of years; Billy Miner homesteaded along the Horsefly in close proximity to the Conservation Area; ranching sprung up in the area as far back as the 1890s; hardrock and placier mining and commercial forestry have and continue to leave their indelible marks throughout the watershed.

Ranching is perhaps the one land use whose mark is most evident on the Conservation Area itself. In the lower reaches of the Conservation Area the Horsefly River the river meanders through a wide valley (up to 800 m in places). This broad valley represented potential areas for the cultivation of reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea) once the original vegetation was removed.

While the removal of the original vegetation allowed for the cultivation of hay for cattle, it had a number of unintended affects. The first and most obvious affect was the destabilization of the river bank and subsequent increased incidence of erosion along vast stretches of the river both inside and outside the Conservation Area.

A hay field extending to the bank of the Horsefly in a prime sockeye spawning area

A hay field extending to the edge of the Horsefly River in a prime sockeye spawning area. Note bank slumping in to river.

A concomitant affect of the clearing of the native vegetation was a decease input of large coarse woody debris into the river system that represented a loss of valuable fish habitat. Dyking was also used to control flooding in two places on the Conservation Area. In these two places containment dykes were built with the hope that these structures could hold back the annual flood waters that inundate much of the sections of the mid-Horsefly River.  While holding back some of the melt waters of the Cariboo mountains, these dykes created barriers for fish movement. Once flood waters overtopped, or circumvented these dykes, fish would move into areas behind them only to become trapped as flood waters subsided.

Reed canary grass on the HRRCA

Reed canary grass dominates in some parts of the HRRCA

Perhaps the most insidious affect of ranching was the introduction of reed canary grass as a forage crop in the Horsefly River Valley. This species of grass is perfectly adapted to this section of the Horsefly River: it tolerates prolonged flooding, spreads by rhizomes and forms solid sod dense mats. Unfortunately it’s values as a forage crop in this, and many other parts of North America, also make it a problem for the long-term health of wetlands. In fact it is one of the most problematic plants that affect wetlands in North America as it is extremely difficult to control once established. Indeed, reed canary grass covers a large portion of the flood plain in the Conservation Area.

We are working to restore some of the original habitat along the main stem of the Horsefly. We are also working with adjacent ranchers to maintain agriculture in specific parts of the conservation area. Approximately 30% of the area is leased to neighbouring ranches.

To view Horsefly River with your Google Earth software, please download our kmz file and open it with Google Earth.