Red means go: Katzie councillor Rick Bailey on Red Slough, restoring salmon habitat and Indigenous leadership

In late August, Katzie First Nation band councillor, Rick Bailey, and a literal boatload of restoration workers, funders and WWF staffers headed upriver and down forest service roads in traditional Katzie territory to review this season’s progress to restore salmon habitat in the Upper Pitt River watershed.

Katzie First Nation man standing in a green forest
Katzie councillor Rick Bailey at the Red Slough intake construction site in the Upper Pitt © Joshua Ostroff / WWF-Canada

We visited work on a new intake valve that reconnects freshwater flow to Red Slough, a waterway largely cut off by the logging industry back in the 1930s. We also checked this year’s progress on a new salmon spawning channel beside Boise creek, an ongoing project which had been delayed to protect wolf pups in a den nearby, and saw how year two is shaping up in Sθqəy Channel, which was completed last season. (Read about it here.)

Along the way, we spoke to Bailey, whose portfolio includes fish and other wildlife, about the ongoing restoration work and its future.

What are your thoughts on today?

It is way more than I expected to see — like the fresh, recent diggings and construction at the Red Slough intake. I was just amazed, and this right here [Boise channel], pretty awesome! Our salmon really need these places because they’re in crisis. The runs are just going down, so we need to do everything we can. Hopefully, these will help bring our salmon back to the numbers that they once were.

Two men in a forest looking at an intake valve beside a creek
DFO engineer Jonathan Bulcock showing Katzie councillor Rick Bailey the intake valve from Boise Creek to the newly dug Boise Channel for spawning sockeye © Joshua Ostroff

We’re now a few years into this work, is it meeting your expectations?

It’s far exceeded my expectations! I [had] thought we were doing the one project at Blue Creek where that landslide plugged up the spawning beds. But we fixed that and turns out we got about 10 years of [other restoration] work. But it doesn’t end there — everything has to be maintained from then onto forever because there’s always some environmental effect or event that will happen. We’re going to take care of that every year.

There was an elder from the Chilliwack area who, whenever he was asked to open an event, he’d give this prayer that was: “If you call it yours, you have to take care of it.” Well, this is our territory, so we have to take care of it. And that’s what we’re trying to do here.

Katzie First Nation man pointing at a body of water with mountains in background
Katzie councillor Rick Bailey pointing at Red Slough in BC’s Upper Pitt valley © Joshua Ostroff

Can you tell me a little more about the Red Slough project?

Salmon are going in there now — but as it is, they’re going in and dying. The iron takes the oxygen out of the water, so the fish come swimming in, there’s no oxygen and they die. Now we’ve got some funding to open it back up. We got the intake — we’ve seen it there today — the channels dug, and we’ll get some flow back in there to keep the oxygen levels up to where the fish can survive and spawn. And it’s a bit of a delta, so it will also be rearing habitat for the fry when they leave. I think it will increase our salmon populations — or give them a better chance, at least.


Can you talk about the importance of Katzie leadership on your traditional unceded territory?

[Environmental nonprofit] Age of Union donated a bunch of money to the BC Parks Foundation to buy up [more than] 700 acres, and part of it is Red Slough. The company that owned it before this, they go out into the wilderness and build resorts, something that we didn’t want to see here. We opposed them, right from day one, because it would have in some ways destroyed the way things are here in the Pitt.

So that’s the importance of our leadership. We’re not just here for money. We really, truly do believe in living with nature the best we can. Not like it used to be, and we may never be able to get back to that, but we’re doing the best we can to not just think about money.