TUC's S.W.A.T. (Small Watershed Action Team) program is dedicated to increasing the abundance and quality of stream habitat of native salmonids through stream restoration efforts in both Alberta and Ontario.
In September of 2020 the second of two dams on Armstrong Creek in Markdale, Ontario, was removed, draining the Town Pond Dam and reconnecting the stream with the Rocky Saugeen River. Since then, native Brook Trout have been seen swimming in the stream, finally able to use this cold-water creek as a refuge during hot days. The work, however, was not finished. The ground around the stream is composed of the loose sediments that settled in the pond over the course of its hundred-year life and were likely to erode into the stream without roots to hold the sediment in place. The stream is fed by several small, cold springs, but the unshaded stream was liable to warm during the summer making it unsuitable for Brook Trout.
To tackle these issues, the SWAT crew, along with some volunteers from the local Happy Trout TUC Chapter and the Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority (SVCA), planted 775 native trees and shrubs throughout the drained pond. Through a generous grant from the Ontario Wildlife Foundation, TUC secured 525 trees and shrubs, SVCA donated 200 bare-root saplings, and 50 white birch came from a local chapter member.
To best replicate a natural riparian forest structure, the SWAT crew planted mixed species at varying distances from the stream. Immediately next to the stream, the water-loving gray dogwoods and pussy willows were planted in hopes that their roots will prevent further erosion. White cedar saplings were planted behind these shrubs, interspersed with nannyberries, elderberries, serviceberries, spicebush, and ninebark shrubs. These shrubs are ideal for the first stages of forest regrowth as they can handle both the current full sun and the partial shade created by the white cedar once they mature. In time, the fully grown white cedars will also shade the stream, preventing the cool, spring-fed water from warming and increasing the resident Brook Trout resilience towards the future impacts of climate change. Finally, farthest from the stream, the crew and its volunteers planted red oak that prefers well-drained soils. These trees will aid in securing the soils and shading the springs that feed Armstrong Creek.
After two days of dedicated planting, all 775 plants were in the ground, each protected by a biodegradable weed mat that will restrain the fast-growing grasses surrounding the saplings. There is, however, more work to be done at the Town Pond Dam site. To further prevent erosion, dogwood live stakes will be inserted directly into the side of the stream bank, where their root system will stabilize the sections most at risk of collapsing into the stream. Furthermore, a series of tree logs, previously buried in the sediment but now exposed, are redirecting flows into the bank, rapidly degrading the structure, and will need to be removed or modified.
Finally, in line with the SWAT program’s mission to monitor resident Brook Trout populations, the crew will return later this year to electrofish above and below the removed barrier to confirm the trout and their preferred prey species are recolonizing the stream