The story of the Tsolum River during the past four decades has gone from tragedy to determination to triumph.
It’s a sobering reminder about the toll that even short-lived industry takes on nature. It’s also an inspiring example of what is possible when dedicated people devote themselves to a common cause.
An open-pit copper mine on the mountain was abandoned after operating only from 1964 to 1967.
Acid mine drainage devastated the Tsolum salmon fishery for a much-longer period.
High concentrations of copper continued to poison the waterway in spite of attempts in the 1980s and early ‘90s to address the problem.
As former Merville (now-Denman) resident Shirley Ward recalls, the “Tsolum River Restoration Society began building local community and government support for an effort to restore the Tsolum ecosystem. The society worked tirelessly to obtain provincial government support and funding to neutralize the acid drainage and ultimately to cap the mine tailings.”
That was a crucial step, but hardly the end of Tsolum restoration for the dedicated members of the TRRS.
Community outreach, restoration projects, research, water-quality improvements and stakeholder partnerships all improved the river’s health.
And this year, almost four decades after the mine opened, the efforts of TRRS volunteers have been rewarded with a healthy return of 60,000 pink salmon in the river.
The TRRS “has taken the first step towards a natural return by not running our hatchery program this year. This is the first time since 1998.”
This a remarkable success story wrought by executive director Jack Minard and the rest of the TRRS.
The group’s members still intend to re-establish riverbed stability and continue wetland and rearing habitat restorations.
The work to save what was regarded not that long ago as the most-endangered river in B.C. seems never-ending.
So, it seems, is TRSS dedication.