MacKay Wetland is a large freshwater marsh situated in a highly developed area within the District of North Vancouver. Several automotive repair shops and a bus depot are located along the perimeter of the wetland. Two major roads also run along its boarders. These factors cause significant amounts of pollution to enter the wetland as runoff during rain events. This contaminates the site, as well as the adjacent salmon bearing stream, MacKay Creek.
The wetland is also subject to additional threats including illegal dumping and encroaching invasive species. Many individuals in the area use this site as a dumping ground for garbage, as we have found considerable amounts of refuse throughout the marsh. In addition to this, the aquatic and riparian areas of the wetland have been heavily inundated with invasive vegetation including Himalayan blackberry, English ivy, reed canary grass, and yellow flag iris. The overwhelming amount of invasive plants, along with urban garbage, has negatively impacted water quality and reduced habitat availability for fish and wildlife within the wetland.
This project has been on our radar for several years now, as MacKay Wetland is a unique and important ecosystem. There are very few urban wetlands left of this size in the Lower Mainland, so it is critical that we allow those that remain to retain as much of their ecological integrity as possible. Wetlands filter sediment and pollution, mitigate flooding, store carbon and provide habitat for many wildlife species. We will need all of these vital ecosystem services in our fight against climate change, which is quickly becoming the new reality.
Our group has been working on restoring MacKay Wetland for several years, but the brunt of our efforts have occurred throughout the summer and fall of 2019. Our crew has worked tirelessly for months removing garbage, managing invasive plants, and preparing the area for restoration. A 3000 m2 area of the riparian zone was cleared and prepared for planting during this period.
Following the preparation of the riparian area, our crew salvaged wappato tubers (Sagittaria latifolia), which were growing abundantly throughout MacKay Wetland. As these plants have cultural significance to the Coast Salish peoples, we ensured that the tubers were saved so they could be transplanted back into the wetland following the removal of invasive vegetation in the aquatic area.
In addition to the manual restoration efforts, we had to bring in some heavy machinery to deal with the invasives overtaking the wetted area of the site. Luckily for us, Vanscape Landscaping & Contracting was up for the job! It took three days of work with the excavator to completely remove the reed canary grass and yellow flag iris which had overtaken the wetland. Once this was completed, we were able to see open water for the first time in years!
In the past, MacKay Wetland has remained dry until well into the fall. During our restoration, however, the rain came early, and the area had a significant amount of water as in September. This made it exceptionally difficult for the excavator to move around. Swamp pads (the wooden boards in the image below) were necessary for the machine to remain above the water while excavating out the invasive vegetation. Luckily our excavator driver was highly skilled and managed to remain dry for the duration of the project. There were a few times where we were nervous the excavator would get stuck, but he made it though with no mishaps at all!
Having an excavator on site to remove the aquatic invasives was really incredible. Not only did this method allow us to quickly clear away a huge amount of unwanted vegetation, but the excavator driver was also able to stand up several logs, which had fallen in the wetland, so that they could create habitat and roosting opportunities for birds and other wildlife. With the addition of these standing dead logs, we will be able to install several bird and bat houses to this site to further increase the habitat availability in this urban wetland.
The final stage of the project was the riparian planting. To complete this, Wildcoast Ecological Society hosted a volunteer event with members of the local community. A total of 23 people came out to help us plant the riparian area surrounding the wetland in October 2019. We couldn't have asked for a better fall day! The sun was shining and everyone was in good spirits to help improve the biodiversity at their local urban wetland. 300 trees and shrubs were planted around the wetland, along with ~100 willow stake, which were used to improve bank stabilization.
We are so appreciative to all the volunteers that came out and helped with this project. We couldn't have done it without them! MacKay Wetland looks amazing and it is all thanks to the many hands that came together and made this all possible! Thanks goes to the North Shore Wetland Partners, Wildcoast Ecological Society and the District of North Vancouver, who helped support our work. We would also like to thank our funders, Environment and climate Change Canada, and the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, who have given us the ability to do important environmental work within our local communities to engage individuals and help restore critical ecosystems.
MacKay Creek has been the focus of much of Echo Ecological's work over the past several years. We initially started the restoration process for this site at the mouth of the creek, where it connects to Burrard Inlet. Following that, we have been slowly making our way up the creek and restoring the riparian area as we go. In 2016/17, we received funding from the Habitat Stewardship Program to focus on restoration activities along the banks of the creek south of 1rst Street W, North Vancouver.
West bank completed fall 2016
The west bank of MacKay Creek was severely impacted by an immense amount of english ivy strangling mature trees and covering many native shrubs. This was the primary invasive that was tackled in this section of the restoration project and removal efforts were quite successful.
Throughout the span of our project, we removed a total of 6.5 tonnes of invasive vegetation. This took 3 truck loads, as well as two 30-yard bins. The District of North Vancouver aided us in some of the removal efforts by providing the in-kind use of their truck and trailer.
During restoration efforts, numerous species of fungus were found on site. Fungi species aid in improving soil health and are becoming more commonly used at restoration sites.
During the fall of 2016, we conducted weekly in-stream spawner surveys for returning salmonids. We completed several surveys between September and December. This was our first year for completing in-stream surveys and we were excited to see mature chum and coho species returning to MacKay for spawning.
East Bank invasive removal completed spring 2017
The east bank of MacKay Creek provided a greater challenge when it came to removing invasives from this area. Access was more difficult and the spread of invasive plants was far more extensive. In this part of the site, there was numerous types of non-native plants, including English ivy (Hedera helix), Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus), English holly (Ilex aquifolium) and Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica).
To undertake such a large-scale restoration project, it is necessary to have a dedicated team of hard working individuals. Echo Ecological is an equal opportunity employer that hires current students and recent graduates that have educational experience related to biology, ecology or ecological restoration.
Planting March 2017
During our spring 2017 planting event, 90 trees were installed, 690 shrubs and 807 ground cover species for a total of 1587 plants.
To help us with the installation of this large number of native species, we were joined by 100 volunteers who were excited to lend a hand to help improve their local creek. The volunteers included members from the local community, the North Shore Wetland Partners, some members of the Northshore Streamkeepers, as well as many students and teachers from Bodwell High School. We really appreciated of all of their hard work!
During this season, Echo Ecological worked with Bodwell High School, Cleaveland Elementary and BCIT to cut, paint and construct nest boxes and bee houses. This was made possible by the large donation of plywood from Seaspan Shipyards. These boxes were then installed along the length of MacKay Creek and will hopefully be inhabited by mason bees, swallows and chickadees!
An important part of riparian restoration in urban areas is to manage for wildlife populations. In MacKay Creek there is the established beaver presence. In recent years they have become much more active. To prevent the beavers from using our newly planted native trees and shrubs as foraging materials, we installed beaver exclosures on all plants that might be impacted.
At any planting event there is always a sizeable collection of pots left when all the plants are in the ground. Thankfully, these pots can be delivered to the local recycling facility to be made into something new!
Following the planting event, a 2 inch thick mulch layer was installed on-site to aid in the repression of emergent weeds and to retain moisture for the new native plants.
Many hundreds of hours have been given to MacKay Creek in the last 5 years in hopes of helping to restore its functionality. Since restoration activities began in 2013, we have seen a definite increase in fish species utilizing the creek and the general public has become much more aware and interested in this area. We hope to further our work to protect MacKay Creek in the years to come and educate future generations on the importance of urban streams and their inhabitants.
Riparian areas are necessary in maintaining stream health and functioning. They provide shade during warm summer months, which reduces in-stream temperatures and creates a cool micro-climate necessary for fish health and wellness. The riparian zone also acts as a filtration system to remove urban runoff, chemicals and pollutants before they contaminate waterways. Healthy plant communities aide in providing bank stabilization through provision of root cohesion, which prevents excess amounts of sediment from entering the stream. In addition, stream-side vegetation provides food and habitat complexity for the aquatic ecosystem, as leaves, branches, and large wood often fall into the stream.
In the summer of 2015, Echo Ecological began working on a restoration project at MacKay Creek in North Vancouver, upstream of where initial estuary work had been completed through 2013-2015. This project focused on restoring the riparian zone surrounding MacKay Creek by removing the dense coverage of invasive species and re-planting the area with native vegetation. This area had been significantly disturbed, and was been used as a dump site for many years. Even though it was adjacent to the highly used North Shore Spirit Trail, it had been overlooked by the community and had become overgrown with a myriad of invasive plants.
This project worked in conjunction with another very prominent estuary restoration project that occurred along MacKay Creek in 2013/14 that was funded in part by the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation. MacKay creek runs along the Kings Mill Walk, the North Shore Spirit Trail and Lower MacKay Creek Park, and multitudes of people utilize these amenities on a daily basis for biking, dog walking, wildlife viewing and recreation. MacKay Creek is also a prominent salmon spawning and rearing channel on the North Shore. Chum (Oncorhynchus keta), Coho (Oncorhynchus kisutch) and Pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) utilize this creek and have been increasing their returns since the weir was removed from the estuary in 2013. The goal of this project was to help maintain the health of the previously restored estuary, thus enhancing the area for both the community and wildlife species.
This site had previously been significantly degraded due to encroachment from waterfront heavy industry and upland urban development. The riparian area along the banks of MacKay Creek had been overrun by invasive species, resulting in poor habitat and little cover for in-stream salmonid populations. This project’s goal was to restore the riparian area surrounding MacKay Creek so that it would support habitat for salmonid populations and other estuarine and riparian wildlife species.
From June to November 2015, we conducted and preformed invasive vegetation removal manually using small mechanical tools and hand tools such as brush cutters, shovels and rakes to minimize the impact to birds and wildlife present in the area.
The project area was completely inundated with several invasive vegetative species including Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus), English ivy (Hedera helix), Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) and field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis). These species are detrimental to riparian areas as they disrupt natural ecosystem processes by out-competing native vegetation, creating a monoculture which reduces the overall biodiversity of the area. A small patch of introduced giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) was also found on site. This was particularly concerning for wildlife and human health as the sap of giant hogweed contains photosensitive chemicals that can cause permanent and painful rashes if it comes into contact with exposed skin.
A total of 870 m3 of invasive vegetative matter, including leaves, stems and roots were removed from the project area. Ten truckloads of vegetation were taken off-site for high-heat composting. The District of North Vancouver generously provided this service to the project in-kind.
Following completion of invasive vegetation removal, native trees, shrubs and herbs were planted on site. Species were selected based on site conditions such as substrate and light availability. Wildlife value and cultural significance to First Nations were also considered in plant selection.
In order to increase survivability of the newly planted vegetation, a layer of soil amender (rich organic compost) was added to the site prior to planting. The soil amender was blown throughout the planting site over the course of a day to ensure consistent soil depth. The Pacific Bark Blowers added several inches of soil amender to our project site in order to restore much needed nutrients to the soil.
Planting the at project site occurred in two phases with one planting event occurring in October 2015 and the second planting event in March 2016. During the planting events a total of 2575 native plants were planted.
To help us with this project, many volunteers lent their time and resources in hopes of restoring MacKay Creek back to its former ecological state. Students from Bodwell High School came out numerous times to help us battle against the invasive plants. The Ecological Restoration class at BCIT volunteered for a day during the planting event, aiding with the construction of beaver cages and invasive removal. Employees from the company Lafarge helped with the spring planting by putting numerous new native plants into the ground at their new MacKay home.
Beaver-tree exclosures made of galvanized steel fencing were constructed and placed around all newly planted trees, as well as many existing mature stream-side trees. This effort was undertaken to prevent the trees from becoming a food source for the local beaver population, which has been becoming increasingly prevalent along MacKay Creek in recent years.
Once the exclosures were successfully installed, a mulch layer was deposited around the site as a means of preventing invasives from re-establishing. Mulch minimizes the re-growth of invasive plants, but also allows the soil to retain more moisture and helps moderate the ground temperature. Mulch also increases the aesthetic of a planting area, as it creates a more natural look than bare soil.
This project was completed between June 2015 to the end of March 2016.
To date, the habitat enhancement activities at MacKay Creek have been a success. Invasive vegetation and garbage has been removed from the project area, providing a safer and healthier area for native plants, birds, wildlife and humans. Many native plant species have been planted, further enhancing the area and improving ecosystem benefits. In addition to the advantages for fish populations, increased riparian health will also allow for small mammal species and numerous bird populations to have greater usage of this area. Existing and newly planted trees have been caged to protect them from beaver and human impacts, guaranteeing long-term protection and growth. All of these activities on the creek ensure it will be a greater long-term asset to the community. Improved ecological functioning will provide individuals with more wildlife viewing possibilities, and additional educational opportunities for years to come.
In future years we plan to expand the project area and continue with invasive vegetation removal and native species planting. This will provide local fish, birds and wildlife with opportunities to increase their range and have greater success finding shelter, food and nesting/rearing areas. We plan to continue to organize community outreach events to inform the public on the success of the project and how they can help it continue into the future.
This work would not have been possible without the help of our many wonderful partners.
For many of our current projects, Echo Ecological relies strongly on members of the community to help us with our restoration activities. We partner with several different community groups throughout the Lower Mainland, and work together to restore health to our creeks. As the old saying goes, 'many hands make light work' and this is definitely true when it comes to removing invasive species! A considerable amount of work is required to restore the health of a creek in an urban community. This is why we are very grateful to all of our many partners who help us to continue with the important work we do.
One of the the groups that has been supporting us since the very beginning is Bodwell High School. They are a private co-educational boarding school located on Harbourside Drive in North Vancouver. As their school boarders MacKay Creek, they have been very interested and excited about the work we have been doing there. Their environmental club has always been more than happy to come out and lend a hand on the Creek!
At the beginning of May we worked with the 31st Burnaby Girl Guides to remove scotch broom from MacKay Creek. These girls were AWESOME at finding the baby brooms and digging them out. They were on a mission trying to eradicate as many as possible. When the event was over, many girls were BEGGING to come back and help again! Now that's what we want to hear from our future generations!
Most recently, we hosted an event that had many different members of the community coming out to help. With so many adults working hard to battle the invasives at the creek, we had quite the pile to show off at the end of the event!
We are very grateful that we have so many great people that are interested in improving the health of our local creeks! Hopefully we will see you all back again in the future!