By Lexi Bainas, The Citizen March 4, 2011
"Sh-hwuykwselu" lived up to its name earlier this week.
Named "Busy Place Creek" in English, the small watercourse that runs behind the Polkey Road industrial area to join the Koksilah River, was a busy place indeed as students from Koksilah Elementary School’s streamkeepers program planted young willow trees that will provide habitat for coho salmon in the coming years.
The highly effective program is still under the leadership of former Koksilah teacher Kathy O’Donnell, who has been part of the effort for its full 10 years of existence.
She usually has many helpers from both inside and outside the school’s community and this year that is particularly noticeable.
The area of the stream where the school’s work is centered this time is located near where it crosses Miller Road.
A path has been constructed with the help of the Cowichan Valley Regional District, connecting Polkey and Miller Roads and that section of stream has been prepared for habitat improvement with the help of the Ministry of Transportation, according to Tim Kulchyski, the associate biologist for Cowichan Tribes, who with the Pacific Salmon Foundation, the Cowichan Community Land Trust, the Cowichan Valley Naturalists and Living Rivers have joined hands to improve the area.
Although originally there was not much interest in the channel, its potential has now been seen and it has been deepened by about a metre as part of it had become silted up, he said.
The Land Trust has held bioengineering workshops to help build habitat on the Koksilah River recently and some of their work is also being done at Sh-hwuykwselu, as evidenced by bundles of trimmed saplings soaking near the water’s edge.
In those sessions, held recently in several spots around the Valley, David Polster, a plant ecologist with more than 30 years of experience in vegetation studies and reclamation demonstrated the wide variety of bioengineering reclamation techniques he has developed as well as talking about soils, plant types, growing seasons and even maintenance of habitat.
Kulchyski and O’Donnell spoke to the Koksilah students as they arrived for work parties, telling them how coho love to return to their favourite spots for spawning. Busy Place is one of those spots, while other varieties of salmon may prefer the upper reaches of the Cowichan River or other wider channels closer to the estuary.
Living Rivers’ Tom Rutherford had discovered 120 coho smolts in that section of Sh-hwuykwselu just the previous weekend, which is really heartening news for their conservation effort, the young streamkeepers learned.
While for the youngest children it’s the beginning of an exciting conservation adventure, Grade 6 and 7 students have followed the stream’s progress all of their school years and can now, at an age when their cultural heritage takes on new importance, see how their stream will prosper under the continuing effort.
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