The sound of a clanky metal bucket on a steel cable preceded a few seconds of silence before the splash of gravel echoed around the walls of Elk Falls Canyon last week.
The industrial-like sounds were all for the benefit of salmon runs in the Campbell River as spawning gravel replacement returned to the river thanks to an innovative skyline installed last year by the BC Conservation Foundation (BCCF). The cable skyline connects to either side of the canyon and a gravel trolley drops the washed spawning gravel into the river below in full view of the Elk Falls Suspension Bridge. The gravel is brought in using existing and new trails using tracked bobcat type machines.
The John Hart dam stops the natural recruitment of gravel into the canyon from upstream. But there’s good fish habitat from the generating station up to Elk Falls – an approximately 1.5 km long stretch of river that provides spawning and rearing habitat for steelhead, coho and Chinook, among other fish. The lack of suitable spawning gravel within the canyon area is a limiting factor to fish production. So, since 1999, gravel has been replenished to increase fish productivity but, previously, it was done by helicopter. The difficult access with the steep vertical canyon walls has meant the gravel had been historically delivered in buckets by a heavy lift helicopter.
The new skyline delivers the gravel at about one-third the cost of a helicopter drop.
Last year, about 250 cubic metres of gravel was delivered to the canyon by the new skyline. Last week, BCCF move over 500 tonnes (280 cubic metres) of washed spawning gravel in the canyon at a cost of $66,000 which was provided by Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program and DFO with BC Parks, BC Hydro, Sharecost Rentals and Sales and Calci Excavating helping out.
This year, the fire danger levels delayed the start of the project and required it to shut down early.