Archive for January, 2021

Paradise Lost

Sunday, January 31st, 2021


The lack of concern over the present highly reduced access into the woods in the Cowichan Lake area puzzles me greatly. Island outdoorsmen fought long and hard for public access to forest lands and now that it’s slipped away, there seems to be hardly a whimper of protest. The present situation reminds me of how things were in the 1960’s when gates were everywhere and access was only available to fish and game club members on a limited basis. Even though that arrangement amounted to some fine hunting and fishing preserves for club members, the clubs battled for full public access.

It was a tough go. The clubs pressured the government and the forest companies for a number of years before the door opened a crack. In 1962 public access hearings were held during the legislative session. Forest company executives attended and argued against full access while the Island fish and wildlife clubs – especially Nanaimo and Victoria – carried the ball for recreationists. Company opposition was very stiff until a letter from a company official broke the hearings wide open. Challenged by the Forest Minister, Ray Williston, to show where they were being kept from forest land, the Victoria Club produced the letter. It explained that the company could not provide access because there were just enough fish, deer and grouse in the area to satisfy company employees.

That was enough for Williston, who, in the main was a friend to the forest industry and had little sympathy for the environment and outdoor recreation. The minister said he would introduce a Public Access Act unless the companies and the outdoor recreation community worked out an access agreement. The companies were quick to agree and the clubs came aboard because they were worried that public access legislation could probably not fully apply to the private lands of the E&N Land grant area which covers about a third of the Island and most of our area. To their credit, the companies worked out a very reasonable access policy whereby there was full access unless crews and equipment were working or there was an element of danger. This condition lasted about twenty years and things were good. The companies produced recreation maps and many of them established fine campsites. Companies like BCFP and Canfor were especially proactive.

Sometime in the early 1980’s, a subtle change began. In this area, lesser roads to rough campsites and other recreation spots not widely known began to be dug out and barrier berms were humped up. Then gates started to appear where none had been present for years. This went on without significant protest and now public access is now very highly curtailed in the E&N Land Grant area. It’s at least as bad as it was in the 1960’s.

What happened? Why have we let it slip away? The most common answer I get is that there is simply no appetite for another fight with the companies particularly at a time when they themselves seem to be on the ropes. It also appears that this is not a government that would provide much help. They have dumped the Forest Land Reserve and allowed a TFL to convert resource land to real estate. This is a government (BC Liberals) that was even prepared to dump the BC Forest Service recreational site program. Imagine where Cowichan Lake access would be without Pine Point, Maple Grove, Nixon Creek, Springs Beach and Pineapple Bay! In addition, traditional outdoor pursuits on forest land seem to be fading as more people are urban oriented and would seemingly rather shop and jog rather than hunt and fish. And there is a good deal of sympathy for the companies in this era where horrible garbage dumping, bush parties, human caused fires and general vandalism are a plague upon the land. In addition, theft is quite common. Companies report lots of stolen saws, shake blocks and good timber. Gates are either ripped out and destroyed or quads and motor bikes go around the gates and pose a risk. Edna Slater wrote an article in Lake News in 1987 that provided a good summary of the issues and some possible solutions. There must be away to resolve this if someone is willing to work at it. After all, some of the finest recreational lands on earth are right here in our backyards just beyond the gates. There is a considerable history of multiple use where problems were few. Surely it’s worth an attempt to re-establish a reasonable degree of public access. Indeed. Perhaps groups like Wilderness Watch could be beefed up to a greater degree. Company security personnel could make more patrols. And maybe more locations could be designated as recreational sites with small fees to cover costs for maintenance and security as is the present case for places like Heather, Kissinger and Caycuse Campsites. Now is the time to get something going because the E&N land area forest companies could be selling off many of their prime recreational lands to real estate developers. If that happens, there isn’t much chance of the average person setting foot on them again.

Ted Burns

July 29, 2009

Lake Cowichan Gazette

July 30 003

Company gate on Beech and Trace Road – TimberWest.


Old (1980’s) Fletcher Challenge road sign near Misery Creek. Color coded signs indicated whether roads were open or closed.

Gordon River Falls Blasted

Sunday, January 31st, 2021

Gordon River Falls Blasted

Lake News, January 27, 1988.

A significant barrier to summer steelhead on the Gordon River has been improved to a point where the fish should be able to pass it with little difficulty.

325 kilograms of explosives were required to lower the western falls channel by 1.2 metres. This will provide more summer flow to ease steelhead passage over the long time barrier. Prior to improvement, summer steelhead were often backed up below the obstruction waiting for favorable flow conditions. They were susceptible to snaggers and suffered periodic mortality when they became trapped in a pool beneath the falls that sometimes dried. In some years, few were able to navigate the barrier.

The work guarantees access to approximately 370,000 square metres of spawning and rearing habitat in Loup Creek and the Upper Gordon for 200 – 400 steelhead according to Lake Cowichan biologist Ted Burns. The project was initiated by Ted Harding, a Victoria biologist who accomplished the work with Burns and Don Hjorth, a Kamloops engineer with specialized blasting skills. The project was funded by a Habitat Conservation Fund grant and aided by B.C. Forest Products.

“Don Hjorth has developed some very creative techniques for down cutting rock with explosives and employed them with excellent results on the project” said Harding.

BC Forest Products with advice from company biologist Dave Lindsay, provided access and some equipment. “ This is a good example of what can be accomplished when government and the private sector work together for the common good” said Lindsay.

The project may not be completely finished however. “It looks good but we can’t be totally satisfied until we see how the fish use it” said Burns. “There may be some fine tuning required. I sure hope not because just getting down and back from the canyon is a tough scramble. I hate to think about doing it again because I’m still feeling the effects of the last time”.


Thaws Can Be Dangerous to Fish

Saturday, January 30th, 2021

THE LAKE NEWS Lake Cowichan, BC Wednesday February 22, 1989

Thaws can be dangerous

This article was written in 1989 and we seldom get serious spells of Arctic air on the coast in these days of California Winters but this article is worthy of re- posting because we tend to forget that was still live in Canada and winter can return with a vengeance without much warning and cause serious problems when it leaves.

By Ted Burns

The current spell of cold wea­ther(1989) has ceased at last and the way it ends is very important to the billions of trout and salmon eggs incubating in the gravel of Cowichan watershed streams.

A quick thaw with very mild air and heavy rain could bring disas­ter. Such an event occurred in

January, 1986, with horrendous results. When spring breakup approa­ches in the interior, forest com­panies usually suspend hauling until the roads dry out somewhat. Of course, conditions are gen­erally much worse there because the frost gets deeper into the soil. But in years like this one and that fateful year of 1986, it can be almost as bad on the coast; even worse when the thaw is rapid and heavy rain is involved. Local companies should shut down haul­ing when this occurs because it may make a large difference in the survival of trout and salmon eggs.

It began in November, 1985, when Arctic air spilled out of the interior, quickly freezing wet ground. About that time it be­came evident that the coho run was going to be large. The cold weather persisted throughout the early run and, just as most of the late run was spawning, the weather changed.

A series of mild storms from the southwest arrived, quickly melt­ing snow right to the mountain

tops and thawing ground that had been frozen for more than a month.­

On January 18, almost no snow was left in the mountains and all local streams were in flood and carrying heavy sediment loads as rapidly thawing soil washed into the creeks.

Robertson River suffered the most. The main line logging road (termed Hillcrest Main by some) contains a good deal of fine sand, silt and clay, which had been wet prior to the cold spell and froze solid. When this material thawed, it lost its consistency and the road turned to mush. Trucks continued hauling right through the mess and this didn’t help. Indeed, it made things much worse.

The extent of the damage wasn’t readily apparent although it was obvious that conditions had been severe. When Cowichan Lake Salmonid Enhancement Society volunteers began assessing fry salvage needs on the lower Rob­ertson a few months later, the extreme impact of the thaw was clear. Where there were normally upward of 100,000 fry, there were almost none.

It was possible to walk and wade hundreds of metres and not see a single fry. The losses were stag­gering. Conditions weren’t much better in other tributaries of Cow­ichan Lake like Meade and Sut­ton creeks. Sediment, a high pro­portion from logging roads, had smothered nearly all the eggs of a very good Coho return which was possibly the best since the 1970’s.

Lake News Column

February 22, 1989

Ted Burns

Big Deal at a Small Creek

Tuesday, January 26th, 2021

Lake News, January 11, 1989

Triumph at Beaver CreeK

By Ted Burns

Leo Nelson and fellow mem­bers of the Cowichan Lake Sal­monid Enhancement Society, have done much to further the cause of natural stream enhancement in Western North America. I am not aware of any other group that has suc­ceeded in revitalizing an entire stream. The concept has received a lot of lip service but results have been spotty at best.

Prior to 1983, Beaver Creek was almost a lost cause in terms of trout and salmon habitat. Because of its small drainage area and low flushing capacity, it had matured to a condition where most of its channel was little more than mud, skunk cabbage and hardhack. It dried by May in most years and its coho run was just hanging on.

Leo Nelson lives on the edge of Beaver Creek’s little valley and is a fisherman. He saw the con­dition of the creek and decided to do something about it. He con­tacted government fisheries agen­cies and, after a long period of wrangling and with much support from Trevor Morris, DFO’s community advisor (an advocate for community participation in fish habitat improvement) received approval to rehabilitate the channel. The atti­tude of fisheries bureaucrats was “the creek’s a write-off; he can’t do any harm, so why not?” They really didn’t expect any positive results. But they didn’t know Leo.

He took a backhoe to the creek in the late summer of 1983 and cleaned out most of its channel. Tons of mud and waterlogged debris were cast aside. But that was only step one. The creek still needed summer flow. He hand built a small berm near the outlet of Beaver Lake later that year reali­zing that it probably wouldn’t be enough to provide summer long flow.

Returning next spring to see if any fry had resulted from his digging efforts, he found that a family of beavers had taken the opportunity to build on his work and raised the lake level over one metre. He also discovered that coho had spawned in the new channel and produced about 10,000 fry.

The basic ingredients were now in place—spawning habitat and permanent flow.

Lifted by the early results of Leo’s efforts, public and govern­ment enthusiasm has grown to the point where Beaver Creek is now the central link in a much broader effort under the umbrella of the Cowichan Lake Salmonid Enhance­ment Society. A small hatchery, fry salvage and colonization and continued upgrading of Beaver Creek have resulted. The Society salvages up to 300,000 trout and salmon fry from drying reaches of streams each summer and transfers thorn to suitable up­stream habitat and rears 50,000 to 100,000 fry in its mini-hatchery for similar outplanting.

But Beaver Creek is still the heartbeat of their effort. Leo counted 30 spawners in 1983. 250 returned last year. Almost 600 have come back this year and Leo is still counting. His smile is ten miles wide.

The present coho commercial harvest rate is 75 per cent means about 1,800 of Leo’s were caught at sea and downstream The creek’s total production was 2400 coho. That’s amazing and certainly merits at giant smile.

The Other Cutthroat

Sunday, January 24th, 2021


Most of BC’s population is concentrated in the lower mainland and southeast Vancouver Island so the fish they know as cutthroat trout if they know it all, is the coastal cutthroat both sea run and resident. A fine fish by any measure. but not the only cutthroat trout in the province. Not by a long shot


Westslope cutthroat. Water colour by V. Ericson in Native Trout of North America by Robert H. Smith

Journey beyond the coastal ranges and the Okanagan Valley and you will meet the Westslope Cutthroat. This is a very colourful and beautiful fish that I am going to now refer to as simply the Interior or Inter Mountain cutthroat. He has less spotting than the coastal fish and a part of his body is absent spotting completely. He is rosy orange on the side and kind of olive greenish or brownish on the dorsal surface. He is the Westslope in BC and some parts of the adjacent US but the Intermountain cutthroat have taken on an amazingly wide diversity of forms and characteristics further south. The western US is an area with a complex array of habitat conditions and climates and the trout has made many adjustments in order to survive in an often harsh landscape. Biologists have given these forms titles like the Greenback Cutthroat and Fine Spotted Snake River Cutthroat and more Taxonomists have likely had no end of debate whether or not these classifications are valid. The classifiers fall into two general groups: lumpers and splitters. Lumpers tend to be very conservative about giving a new classification and splitters delight in teasing out small differences and arguing they should justify a separate species or subspecies. We see it here with our rainbows. We speak of the Blackwater Strain, the Gerrard race and the Pennask strain. These have not been given separate classifications or sub specific titles because it is fairly evident that they are simply different forms of our interior rainbows. Take a Gerrard rainbow from a big lake with kokanee and put him in a small lake with sparse food resources and he becomes just another small tiddler. There may be some separation of our rainbows though. Some biologists have classed them as coastal and redbands (interior). Where the cut-off point is is quite vague but there seems to be some justification. But cutthroats are not so easy. One of the most prominent and respected biologists of our time spent more than fifty years and prepared more than 100 scientific papers on the interior cutthroats. More than any other person, he has informed anglers and other interested people on the diversity and biology of our native trout – he is a world authority on the classification of salmonid fishes.

Robert Behnke described at least fifteen forms of Interior cutthroat trout, our Westslope is just one. Dr. Behnke died in 2013.

The Westslope cutthroat seems to be strongest in the Upper Columbia Basin. The cutthroat has crossed the great divide into the Upper South Saskatchewan and Missouri River Basins. But is most common in the East Kootenay Region where it is the primary game fish of streams commonly cohabiting with Bull Trout. It is the native trout of the East Kootenay as rainbows were not able to navigate the falls between Libby and Troy Montana on the Kootenay River. Rainbows of the East Kootenay are hatchery introductions to lakes like White Swan and Premier. I believe these are Pennask strain even though they are reared at The Bull River Hatchery and Premier Lake may once have had a strain of its own or Gerrard Strain (there were some Gerrard size rainbows in Premier prior to rotenone treatment in about 1960). In the West Kootenay, the Westslope is almost absent from the big lakes (you could sometimes find one or two in the West Arm of Kootenay Lake following a year of strong spring freshets in the creeks. The Westslope is confined to reaches of mountain creeks above migration barriers. Kokanee, Lendrum and Woodbury come to mind. Here they are quite small with a 30 cm fish being a prize. It is in the West Kootenay mountain lakes where the West Slope has attained some fame. Not all mountain lakes have Westslopes and they are usually small and undernourished but it wasn’t always so. When some of these lakes around Kokanee Glacier Park were first stocked back in the 1930’s or so, some amazing fish were caught. My father used to fish Wheeler Lake near Ainsworth and catch three and four pound cutthroats for a number of years. The lake had lain fallow until then and food supplies had built up. Now the fish are all small. Some Interior cutthroats have attained great size. A 41 pounder was caught in Nevada’s Pyramid Lake back in the day and sixty pounders were said to have been taken in net fisheries. The original Pyramid stock is finished. They were called Lahontan cutthroats and still survive but are no longer super sized.

Westslopes are fragile and are not in a good state of health over much of their range. The usual land use issues like logging, intense agriculture and grazing have taken a toll as has mining especially East Kootenay coal mining. I cringe when I think of what might happen when some of those raw piles of tailings and overburden get loose. Even coal exploration is problematical when bulldozers trench side hills and pile the overburden wherever they can. The more mess a machine can make, the more ground is exposed and it is easier to decide on a procedure. Currently there is much concern about elevated levels of selenium in the Elk River a prime Westslope cutthroat stream. Some fish are showing deformities and invertebrates like stone flies and mayflies are showing declines. Another of the most outstanding issues in Interior cutthroat management is hatchery introductions. The main culprit is rainbow trout which have been displacing/eliminating cutthroats for decades especially in the US. Shot gunning hatchery trout around the west is coming to a close and was never much of an issue in BC. Our hatchery programs are directed to lakes and have been very successful. There has been some hatchery effort toward steelhead in streams but it is not favoured. The other thing about all cutthroats is their susceptibility to angling. They are very easy to catch and fishing may have to be curtailed even more than it presently is if we are going to keep this fish around.


Coal spoil: Elk River. Photo by Jayce Hawkins The Narwhal


Westslope cutthroat from the Elk River caught by Ryland Nelson. Jayce Hawkins photo from The Narwhal.


Billy Clark

Monday, January 18th, 2021



I have long been amazed at the spirit of adventure displayed by English settlers in areas far from their natural habitat. The chronicles of our province are laced with stories of bachelor characters from the old country that happily settled into some of the wildest lands on earth. Some of these places are still pretty wild and far from the beaten path of contemporary Canadians.

One of these characters was Billy Clark. He left his home in Guildford, Surrey in 1907 at age twenty to journey to the Lardeau region of southeastern BC. This area is located just north of Kootenay Lake and to this day is still remote and wild with settlement just beginning to return and edge in as other areas in the province become too highly settled for some people. But first he stopped in Saskatchewan to visit his sister where he might have stayed until he learned that she had wires out to the outhouse, barn and chicken house. The  were installed to keep people from getting lost in blizzards and freezing solid in minus 64 temperatures.

What drew Billy to Duncan Lake is uncertain but I suspect the glowing accounts of the fruit growing potential had something to do with it. These accounts were available in UK publications and the US. There had been a storm of mining activity in the 1890’s. Most of the activity was in the Lardeau Valley where several towns sprung up. Ferguson, Trout Lake City, Poplar Creek and Goldhill boomed for awhile as did Howser (Duncan City) and Healy’s Landing in the Duncan Valley. Howser was said to have 4000 people with a store, school and steamer landing. By 1904, the boom was pretty well over but more serious folk had settled in. These included Billy and fellow Englishmen like Charlie Malloch, Tim Ainsworth and others who attempted to farm and grow fruit. One of the first places they tried was near the outlet of Duncan Lake. They were able to grow apples and supply the miners


Billy’s cabin at Howser

still working in the Lardeau.  They also trapped, logged and did whatever they could to keep themselves going. The fruit business didn’t last long and when I worked in the Lardeau for the Fish and Wildlife Branch in the 1960’s we used to hunt grouse on the big riparian flat where the farms were. An old railroad grade ran from near Argenta to the bottom of Duncan Lake provided access. This was an old Great Northern Grade but it was abandoned and left to the grouse and deer.

Another ranch was developed by the Hincks Brothers further up the lake. They raised cattle and built two large houses surrounded by flower beds and rock gardens. When the Great War broke out the Brothers returned to England and left the property in the care of Billy Clark. The widow of Tom Hincks returned after the war with her sons but the life didn’t suit them and they left the place to the bush. Several miles above the Hincks Ranch, the Matthews Brothers tried their luck. A bear killed one of the brothers and the other died from blood poisoning. Later on, Doctor Besecker of Woodbury Creek raised sheep on the east side of Duncan Lake. My cousin John Burns worked there and reports that the sheep had to be in the barn at night because of possible grizzly predation.

Because of the decline after the war, Billy Clark moved into Howser which was now almost deserted. His companions had gone off to the war never to return. He built a trim log house and a boat house and settled in. He worked at various mines and logged at times. In the winter, he trapped. He always was a prospector and he and his friend, Joe Gallo discovered a vein of lead and zinc which they sold to Cominco (now Teck) which became their Duncan Lake Mine. When he grew older Billy began making snowshoes for trappers and outdoorsmen in the region which was famous for very heavy snow. My father and I visited Billy at Howser in the 1950’s shortly after the road between Kaslo and Lardo was improved. He was glad to have company and took us down to his boathouse where he fed his breakfast porridge to the fish that frequented the boathouse. It was like feeding time in a hatchery and he was very proud to show us how he got along with his neighbours.

But all great things must come to an end (or so we are told). The Columbia River Treaty and power and flood control demands in the US ended it for Billy. “I will be drowned out like a gopher” he said. The Duncan Dam was completed in 1967 and his place was flooded out along with the creatures and forests around him. The government of the day bragged how they had tamed the wilderness, created a beautiful lake and hoodwinked the Americans in the process.


This is the way Duncan Reservoir looks today. But the basin was left uncleared for a number of years

I am so sorry Billy.

Ted Burns. With input from an Elsie Turnbull story in BC Digest, April 1965.

January 20/2021

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