Taku River Tlingit First Nation Otter Creek Restoration
Many of the northern Canadian streams in NW BC and the Yukon have been mined for gold (historical and actively). Prior to industrial mining activities, the stream riparian areas were well vegetated and provided important ecological resources to First Nation communities and wildlife, and vital water cycling processes to the stream and lake environments. Many of these mined areas have been left barren with gravel and heavy cobbles on the surface and are devoid of vegetation. The lack of vegetation has led to an increase in sediment load and heavy metal concentrations being carried by the mined streams to downstream lakes, resulting in significant environmental degradation of these important ecosystems.
In the Atlin Taku region, the Province of British Columbia, and the Taku River Tlingit First Nation (TRTFN) jointly developed Wóoshtin wudidaa: Atlin Taku Land Use Plan to identify resource values and to provide strategic management direction for activities occurring on the land base. The plan calls on placer miners to “use best management practices”, which for the Otter Creek project, are being applied retroactively in the form of restoration and reclamation.
In the mining context, “reclamation” refers to activities that are intended to return land disturbed by exploration or mine operations to an end land use that considers previous and potential future use of the land. In the Atlin Taku area, the designated end land use for placer mine sites is a combination of functional wildlife habitat, recreation, potential future placer mining, and opportunities for the continuation of Tlingit khustìyxh (way of life).
A plan to remediate the delta area of Otter Creek proceeded in 2017, resulting in a plan to divert the creek into a channel that was to be designed to slow the velocity, decrease the slope of the channel, and direct the water through two old sediment ponds prior to flowing into Surprise Lake.
TRTFN and the BC Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation (BC EMLI) secured funding through the Conservation Economic Stimulus Initiative (CESI) that is being overseen by the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund. The project has also received additional funding and in-kind support from the placer mining industry, TRTFN, the provincial government, consultants, and the local community. In 2021, SLR Consulting (SLR) was retained to design and manage the restoration of Lower Otter Creek on behalf of TRTFN and CESI. The restoration work occurred over two summer seasons in 2021 and 2022.
In 2021 the work was mainly focused on diverting the creek into a new channel through a series of settling ponds, and re-contouring of the landscape.
In 2022 the work was mainly focused on revegetation. Shorter growing seasons and colder temperatures present a unique set of challenges for reclamation success. SLR and TRTFN worked together to develop and utilize cost effective regenerative practices with the aim to reverse environmental degradation due to erosion, by revegetating upland and wetland areas with local traditional plants and shrubs which will allow for succession of native flora in place of invasive and permanent agronomic grass species, which is common industry practice.
After two growing seasons, our expectations were exceeded. New growth was identified on early planted plots, and when grayling minnows were found in all portions of the wetlands and the diverted creek.
“By bringing multiple stakeholders together, the Lower Otter Creek Wetland Restoration Project has not only highlighted the power of partnerships, but it has also honoured the Tlingit ‘way of life’— khustìyxh. “Khustìyxh is the concept that we’re not here to take from the land. The Tlingit are here to make sure the land prospers for future generations and everything we do should come back to that concept. The project has taken a historically disturbed area and given it new life, allowing future generations to both enjoy and live off the land.” - Jackie Caldwell, Mining Officer for TRTFN.