Watershed Groups Are Proactive On Many Issues

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Producers are demonstrating their commitment to the environment through their work with watershed and other environmental organizations.

That was the message of a panel for a gathering of about 150 producers at the fifth annual Holding the Reins Landowner Summit for the Oldman Watershed.

“Stewardship groups stepped up to the plate in the Oldman River Basin,” said Dwayne Rogness, an extension specialist with the County of Lethbridge.

“We all benefit from it, and those doing the work benefit on their bottom line.”

Rogness works with three watershed groups. They vary in size but all have producers protecting rivers and streams by building off-stream watering sites for livestock and planting buffer strips to prevent run-off from reaching streams and irrigation canals.

Some of the work is funded by the Oldman Watershed Council’s $50,000 legacy fund, but the landowners also contribute considerable funding, he said.

Tim Romanow, assistant fieldman with Cardston County, said there is a wide range of issues handled by watershed groups in his area. For instance, the Chief Mountain group was initially focused on informing producers about oil and gas issues. But with a rise in predator attacks on livestock in recent years, they are more concerned with getting deadstock removed before predators can cause problems. They are also having some good success dealing with abandoned pipelines and leases, he said.

Panellist Jeff Porter of High River, who works with watershed groups in four municipalities, said a strong network of partnerships with organizations like Trout Unlimited, Alberta Conservation, and even the private sector with firms like the Pincher Creek Shell Canada gas plant, help build the capital base for work. In many cases, sweat equity is the main producer contribution, said Porter.

Eleven groups

Porter works with 11 watershed groups, and highlighted the efforts of several. For instance, the Drywood/Yarrow group has built “quite a few” off-stream watering projects, some off-stream calving sites, and has been planting trees along water systems to enhance the riparian areas. Predators remain a problem with some other groups, and all are being encouraged to remove deadstock quickly.

On the Piikani Reserve, a group called Peigan Friends Along the River is working on conservation efforts.

Porter said the Beaver Creek group is the oldest in southern Alberta, and has become a mentor to many groups. So when Beaver Creek was identified as a source of bad water entering the river, members mobilized to track water quality along the creek at several places. Cattle were ruled out as a cause and focus is now on recreational users, logging, and to a lesser degree, oil and gas activity.

The Willow Creek Watershed Group is the only one that is not producer driven. Its projects include improving the riparian watershed and an all-season watering system based on motion sensors was introduced, said Porter, who is co-ordinator for that group.

Recreationists are widely blamed when problems occur but only a small minority are to blame, Porter said.

“In any group, there are always radicals who think the message doesn’t affect them,” he said.

He credits media for publicizing damage caused to public camping areas and headwaters.

Officers with Alberta Sustainable Resource Development do the best they can with stretched resources, he said.

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