January, 2004 Letter to the WLAP Regarding Riparian Zones on Salmon Streams

January, 2004 Letter to the WLAP Regarding Riparian Zones on Salmon Streams


To Minister of Water Land and Air Protection

On behalf of the members and directors of Steelhead Society of BC (SSBC), I would like to express my concern over the provincial government’s lack of commitment to fish habitat preservation. In the face of forceful pressure from the development community and related stakeholders, it appears the Ministry of Water Land and Air Protection (MWLAP) is revamping the Streamside Protection Regulation (SPR) contained in the Fish Protection Act, and relaxing riparian setback requirements.

SSBC is aware that after much urging, most municipalities in the Lower Fraser area are currently assessing riparian setbacks based on the SPR, with a few utilizing the older DFO/MELP “Land Development Guidelines for Aquatic Habitat”, leave strip recommendations. DFO has currently embraced the more prescriptive SPR setbacks with the realization that riparian habitat, particularly in urban areas, is rapidly dwindling as are the fish populations which utilize it. SSBC understands that MWLAP is proposing to change the current SPR to a new results based, site specific riparian assessment methodology, which may provide limited riparian protection (5-12m) for small streams and disconnect the regulatory agencies from the assessment process.

Small streams are where a majority of coho, cutthroat and steelhead, BC’s most threatened salmonids, spawn as mature adults and rear as juveniles. The trees, shrubs and forbs contained within the riparian corridor are extremely important for buffering the effects of residential, commercial and industrial land use. Furthermore, riparian vegetation plays a critical role in water quality, water quantity, channel morphology, food and nutrient contribution, instream complexity and overall stream ecosystem health. Best science (See below for example references) has shown us that small streams, with a functional riparian corridor of 15-30m, are more healthy and stable and provided a much higher index of productivity in terms of macro-invertebrates and fish population numbers.

The SSBC is committed to steelhead and salmon habitat preservation. As angler’s we are intimately aware of the local and global pressures affecting the health of our anadromous fish species. Many of us have experienced a favorite fishery which has suffered until poor returns force angling closures. This reoccurring theme in British Columbia is what the SSBC is determined to fight. I implore you, the Minister of Water, Land and Air Protection, to stand up and use the precautionary approach for riparian setback assessment. Let us err on the side of caution and not be persuaded by economic, developmental pressures. After all, with the protection of fish habitat, are we not in turn taking steps to ensure this highly economically valuable resource is perpetuated?


Scott Baker-McGarva

Steelhead Society of British Columbia President


1- John Millar et al. 1997. “Establishing Fisheries Management and Reserve Zones in Settlement Areas of Coastal British Columbia”.

2- Leavitt, Jennifer. 1998. “The Function of Riparian Buffers in Urban Watersheds”.

3- Knutson, K.L., and V.L. Naef. 1997. “Management Recommendations for Washington’s Priority Habitats: Riparian”.