Columbia River

The Columbia River, the fourth largest watershed in North America, is truly one of British Columbia's great rivers. Because of its size and location it has been the focus of extensive development activity and has taken on a high profile nationally and internationally. It meanders over an 800 km course through the Rocky Mountain Trench and the Arrow Lakes system before crossing over into the United States.

The upper Columbia drainage is known for the internationally significant wetlands that extend for 180 km between the communities of Canal Flats and Donald. This large continuous wetland has developed a system of sedge meadows, bulrush swamps and shallow lakes (that flood annually) surrounded by white spruce, cottonwood, aspen and willow. A major staging area for thousands of waterfowl on the Pacific flyway, the area is also used by rare trumpeter swans and an abundance of loons, gulls, terns, bitterns, herons, hawks, bald eagles, osprey and 100 species of song birds. The wetlands also provide important wintering habitat for ungulates and important habitat for a variety of other species including mink, weasels, bats, amphibians and reptiles.

The area also has major significance to First Nations. Recorded use of the area by the Ktunaxa people dates back 5,000 - 7,000 years, as indicated by the settlements and artifacts discovered all along the edges of the marshes. More recent use of the river by native people for salmon fishing prior to the damming of the river for hydro development is also well documented.

In contrast to the upper reaches of the river, the middle and lower reaches of the river (in Canada) have been extensively modified by human activity. The topography of this segment of the river through the southern Monashees and Selkirk Mountains is more subdued with few rugged peaks and moderately-sloped, forested hillsides. Forests reflect the variability of climate over the area from dry to moist and contain the full range of species typical of the region. Drainage systems are complex and many community watersheds are found connected to the Columbia system. The valley bottoms are heavily modified by industrial development, hydro reservoirs, rural settlement, farms, transportation routes, communication systems, and communities. The middle segment of the river now generates a significant portion of British Columbia's hydroelectric power supply and further expansion of this production is being considered. The Keenlyside Dam has been identified for upgrading to increase hydro production. However, dam proposals downstream from Castlegar to the US border have for the time being been shelved in favour of ensuring the integrity of other social and economic values. Some of the major communities are Revelstoke, Castlegar, Trail, and Rossland. Much of the land in the valley bottom is held privately.

In spite of the extent of development and the modification of the riverine environment, the corridor remains an important area of wildlife habitat. It serves as a travel corridor for wide-ranging species within the West Kootenays, as well as containing critical habitat for caribou, grizzly bear, elk and moose. The lower section of the river, downstream from Trail before crossing over into the United States, has maintained a remarkable rainbow trout fishery, possibly the most productive in British Columbia, and continues to be the cornerstone of an active local angling culture. There is also potential for further enhancement of this stretch of the river, particularly in the tributaries, that could make this section of the river one of the most productive trout fisheries in Canada if not the world. Sturgeon are also an important part of the river's fishery. In addition, effective water management upstream and fish ladders downstream could partially restore the Columbia's former status as North America's greatest salmon river. Fish habitat is a crucial component of the river's recreation potential.

Land use and resource management within much of the Columbia River corridor within Canada is addressed in the East Kootenay Land-Use Plan. The plan reflects a balanced approach to on-going industrial activity, combined with conservation of special ecological characteristics and functions. Critical ecosystems along the Upper Columbia are being designated by the BC Government as Wildlife Management Areas. Special efforts have also been made to improve the contribution this area can make to maintaining large mammal populations through habitat and corridor identification while recognizing opportunities for responsible industrial activity.

Canadian and American interests in the Columbia watershed have been the focus of a special international body and international treaty. The Columbia Basin Trust is the Canadian organization which receives its mandate from the international agreement with respect to the river and the assets which accrue from the treaty. The Trust seeks to monitor and advise on basin management issues and is a logical link for co-operation on environmental and development initiatives within the watershed between the two countries. In the United States, similar concerns have resulted in a major initiative being launched in 1994 called the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management project. The purpose of the project was "to develop and then adopt a scientifically-sound, ecosystem-based strategy for managing all Forest Service or BLM [Bureau of Land Management] administered lands within the Basin." Its comprehensive assessment included analysis of: the socio-economic setting; First Nations interests; the biophysical setting and landscape dynamics; terrestrial ecology; aquatic species and habitats; and ecosystem integrity. The results of the analysis provided an analysis of management options and recommendations for the future of the basin

Proclaimed B.C. Rivers: