The office building at the site of the former Field Sawmill operation in Courtenay.

Restoring Field Sawmill site is important

When I was at the Puntledge Hatchery Open House I picked up a small pamphlet from Project Watershed that caught my attention: “Community Forum – Restoration and Conservation of Fields Sawmill Site.

“You are invited: The Comox Valley Project Watershed Society (CVPWS), with the support of North Island College, is hosting a community forum about the Project Watershed community vision for restoration and long-term conservation of the decommissioned Fields Sawmill Site.

“Date: Tuesday, November 3, 2015. Location: Stan Hagen Theatre, North Island College. Time: Doors open at 6:45 p.m. for time to view displays – the forum begins at 7:15 p.m. with presentations and a panel to highlight the event.”

Several recent events have drawn me to this forum in the on-going efforts of like-minded conservation groups and government agencies in adventurous projects of reclaiming the incredibly important K’omoks-Courtenay River Estuary, through an on-going acquisition process of one piece at a time, until we have enough to restore and protect this life-creating ecological quilt.

Ducks Unlimited, the Courtenay and District Fish and Game Protective Association, Nature Trust of British Columbia, the K’omoks First Nation, City of Courtenay and  senior governments as in DFO are among the ecological quilters in this important estuary renewal project.

I recently attended the CVPWS celebration of the restoration of the old sewage lagoon which is now a working part of the estuary with the large tunnel-like  culverts that restored circulation in the estuary beyond the Courtenay Air Park. It is a place where small salmon can find security and food before entering the Strait of Georgia through the Comox Harbour and Baynes Sound.

The decommissioned Field Sawmill site is on the opposite side of the river, below the 17th Street Bridge. Prior to the construction of the mill site there were numerous small channels that provided access to the estuary for salmon to escape seals during spawning runs, and when the small salmon returned to the sea they were also protected by the small outlets.

Pictured with the column is the decaying sawmill office building. The mill has been taken down and shipped to another location. If you look at the paved yard and work area you see broken asphalt and concrete with trees growing in the cracks.

The river side of the site was built about 30 feet out into the river to facilitate the loading and unloading of logs for the mill. This became the killing wall for seals and seriously altered the route of salmon using the river.

You may wonder about the challenges of restoring the site so it is more fish friendly. There are two close-to-home examples where decommissioned mill sites and logging sorting grounds have been restored with great success.

The first is the foreshore and campground development at the Courtenay Fish and Game Protective Association on Comox Lake, the second is the reclamation of the estuary of the Lower Campbell River where it has been restored to a fish friendly environment. We can do no less with our K’omoks- Courtenay River estuary.

By the end of the century the K’omoks estuary is forecast to be about one metre higher  due to climate change and global warming. This rise will expand the living space of the  estuary.  By returning as much as is feasible of this much-altered site to an ecological productive state makes good sense while it is still relatively easy to work with.

There is much wisdom in the saying “Camp and leave no trace.”

My thanks to CVPWS chair Paul Horgan for help in writing this column.

 

Ralph Shaw is a master fly fisherman who was awarded the Order of Canada in 1984 for his conservation efforts. In 20 years of writing a column in the Comox Valley Record it has won several awards.

 

 

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