Restoring Birch Island Creek and Wetlands

The restoration of a historically significant creek and wetland in the heart of Labrador, and the development of a citizen-based science monitoring program, is creating a place to be proud of once again thanks to funding from Loblaw Water Fund.
Written by Tammy Lambourne, Project Manager, Healthy Waters Labrador
During a recent paddle down the Creek at Birch Island I could not help but be reminded of why this place is so important, for so many reasons. The beautiful waterways, wetlands and old-growth forests of the Island hold special meaning to almost everyone in Happy Valley – Goose Bay. To many families it was once a home, to naturalists it’s a mecca for bird-watching, and for children it’s a place to see stickleback and tadpoles from the shoreline. The first settlers of Happy Valley recognized the Island as a rich and varied landscape; making it their first choice for new homesteads.

Tammy next to a large Black Spruce tree on Birch Island © Marina Biasutti-Brown
Tammy next to a large Black Spruce tree on Birch Island. © Marina Biasutti-Brown

No longer inhabited by the people of the community, Birch Island still provides refuge for a diverse community of plants and animals, however it has endured years of degradation from development, and use. More recently, the Island was again recognized for its ecological significance, and a formal stewardship agreement has been signed to protect the area.  As a result, a Habitat Conservation Plan was designed, and Healthy Waters Labrador (HWL) has been working with the Town and other community partners to implement the conservation goals outlined in that plan, beginning with restoration efforts, and survey work to better understanding current conditions.
With the help of local expertise and an energetic student, HWL now has a custom set of waterfowl and breeding land-bird survey protocols, and we have completed a series of spring surveys. These surveys will be carried out each year by HWL staff and volunteers and will become part of a citizen-science program at Birch Island. We are now in the midst of fall shorebird survey work, and are creating a plant inventory for the area.
Tammy of HWL in front of a beaver dam on Birch Island Creek. © Marina Biasutti-Brown
Tammy of HWL in front of a beaver dam on Birch Island Creek. © Marina Biasutti-Brown

HWL recently became certified under a national water quality monitoring program, CABIN (Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network). This training along with the purchase our own water quality monitoring equipment now enables us to monitor water and aquatic habitat quality, and to contribute to a national water quality database. We are also beginning to build our own database of wildlife, plant and water quality information to better understand current conditions at Birch Island and effectively monitor the health of the ecosystem there.
This monitoring work supports a major restoration effort, including the repair of two dilapidated stream crossings; both of which are currently restricting flow and blocking fish passage. These sites will be outfitted with new culverts at one location and a bridge at the second.  Monitoring conditions before, during and after this work is very important, and we are very pleased to be able to do this independently.
Marina of HWL measuring the culverts that will be replaced with a bridge. © Tammy Lambourne
Marina of HWL measuring the culverts that will be replaced with a bridge. © Tammy Lambourne

In between field work, we have been busy participating in local markets, hosting volunteer days, and sharing information through various forms of media to discuss the importance of conserving and protecting freshwater ecosystems and to continue to raise local awareness and interest. This has been a great success, and we have had more people than ever wanting to get involved.
As a restoration effort being undertaken in the heart of our community, the project has begun to capture a great deal of local interest, and that has been a rewarding experience in itself.
To learn more about HWL and our work you can find us online at, or join us on Facebook.
We look forward to continuing this exciting work in the coming months!
If you’re a registered charity or not-for-profit, you can find this year’s Applications and Guidelines for the Loblaw Water Fund at until December 14, 2015.