Celebrating 20 years of conservation this winter, it seems quite fitting that local land trust, Habitat Acquisition Trust (HAT), whose emblem is encircled with a fern, went full circle this year by returning to Ayum Creek in Sooke. Protecting 14 acres of land around Ayum Creek in 1998 was one of the first major accomplishments HAT shared with the community thanks to the collaborative efforts of The Land Conservancy, the Society to Protect Ayum Creek, Capital Regional District, Mountain Equipment Co-op, and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Today HAT carries on its role in collaborative conservation, working to restore habitat surrounding the salmon-bearing creek, estuary, and forest at Ayum as co-covenant holder for land along the creek.
This October, HAT is hosting a two-day riparian restoration initiative alongside the Greater Victoria Green Team and more than 33 volunteers. As anyone who has embarked on an invasive plant removal mission knows well, it is challenging work, but the results are gratifying. This is an opportunity for new comers and long-time visitors to enjoy the beautiful sights, smells and sounds of Ayum Creek and fight back the encroaching Himalayan Blackberry (Rubus armeniacus), Daphne laureola, and English Holly (Ilex aquifolium) that threaten the natural area.
Ayum and its estuary are indeed a wonderful spot for birding with species like Purple Martins (Progne subis), Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), and Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) waiting in the wings. In later October to November, it is also a spot where you can witness the salmon run, with adult salmon displaying those vivid sunset hues while American Dippers (Cinclus mexicanus) wait to snap up an orange pearl of egg in their beaks. More than 80 different types of bird have been spotted in this ecological rich area. Ayum Creek also boasts over 107 native plants, including two rare species. For those that paddle, you can get another great perspective by launching from Cooper’s Cove and working your way there by water.
Many places in Sooke are touched by a history of logging activity, and Ayum Creek is no different. The site was historically a prosperous salmon run and Olympia Oyster (Ostrea lurida) habitat, but in the 20th century the landscape was significantly altered with the coming and going of a lumber mill, concreteplant, wood treatment plant, and more recently a bridge for car traffic, as well as heavy water withdrawal from wells. Low water levels have been a concern at the creek in recent years, and careful water use in the surrounding watershed can help alleviate this strain. From 1998-2001 stream restoration took place to introduce large woody debris and boulders to enhance the habitat for salmon. Reintroducing logs to the creek provides places for young salmon and trout to hide from predators, gives aquatic insects something to attach to, and stabilizes the banks.
Though salmon, trout, and Olympia Oysters as well as many other native species continue to survive in Ayum Creek and Estuary, historical accounts by First Peoples and pioneers, and evidence from shell middens littered with oyster shells, tell a story of a once much greater bounty of these culturally and ecologically important species. Up until the 1930s, T’Sou-ke Elders remember substantial runs of Chum, Coho, Steelhead and Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarki). Hunting for brant geese, mallards, goldeneyes was once common in the area too.
During the first half of the October restoration at Ayum Creek, volunteers saw first-hand the wildlife benefiting from their involvement and care. A sleepy owl watched casually from above, two Western Red-backed Salamanders were spotted among the ferns, and at the end of the day a small black bear was spotted rustling in a tree overlooking the estuary, perhaps anxious for the salmon’s return.
Ayum Creek has come a long way.
“We removed 14 refrigerators from Ayum. That was normal then. Truckload after truckload of garbage was removed, washing machines, stoves, you name it. There even used to be bamboo encroaching. That mindset is changing because of organizations like HAT,” says veteran HAT supporter Linda Beare, looking back over HAT’s nearly 20 years of conservation in the region.
Though they only make up 3% of our province’s coastline, estuaries support a disproportionate amount of British Columbia’s flora and fauna on the coast. Ayum Creek sends important nutrients from the higher reaches of the watershed out to the ocean, and the salmon’s yearly return brings nutrients back up river, which is further dispersed inland by bears and birds who consume the salmon. This valuable cycling of nutrients shapes marine and terrestrial communities important to the ecological integrity of our region. Creeks and estuaries are also important in the filtration of the water and substances that flow from the surrounding watershed. Despite the great cultural and ecological value of these habitats, only 13.5% of coastal estuaries are protected in British Columbia, making places that are protected all the more vital to restore and maintain, which is why HAT and our partners are focusing our efforts at Ayum.
The ongoing management of places like Ayum Creek is possible because of people like you. To contribute to the conservation of Ayum and other significant local places, make a gift to HAT’s Land Protection program today at hat.bc.ca/donate, by calling in to 250-995-2428, or by cheque in the mail to PO Box 8552 Victoria BC V8W 3S2.