Drummers laugh as young dancers from Sts'ailes demonstrate The Happy Song at Pretty Estates in Harrison Mills on Tuesday. The gathering was to officially announce the Salmon Festival to be held this weekend

Harrison salmon stronghold agreement signed

Groups gather at Harrison Mills for mutual agreement to monitor river area

Bald eagles soared high above the heads of speakers at Pretty Estates on Tuesday, as the Harrison Salmon Stronghold Strategic Plan was signed.

Several groups have been working on the plan for the past two years. The Harrison River was declared a Pacific Salmon Stronghold in 2010, by an international team of scientists based out of the Wild Salmon Center in Portland.

It was identified as one of the healthiest and most productive salmon ecosystems in the Pacific Basin.

The ceremony included dancing and drumming, with four young dancers from Sts’ailes dancing on their own.  Willie Charlie, the working group chair, invited everyone in the audience to join in with the boys, on the lawn behind Rowena’s Inn. Several school children were at the event, from Bradner elementary school and Sts’ailes, and many joined the boys in The Happy Dance.

It was a moment that brought many of the adults to laughter, but Charlie underlined that it’s that sort of “coming together” that will be needed in the future.

“We’re so fortunate that we live in such a beautiful, rich area,” he said. “We will need to work together. We’re not going to be able to look after all of this on our own.”

The Harrison Salmon Stronghold Plan brings together a long list of like-minded groups that includes the Sts’ailes, the BC Wildlife Federation, BC Federation of Drift Fishers, Harrison Mills Regional Association, ACES of Lake Errock, David Hancock Wildlife Foundation, International Rivers Foundation, Pacific Salmon Foundation, Fraser River Salmon Table, Pretty Estates, and many others. Representatives from each group signed a charter on Tuesday, signifying they are committed to implementing the strategic plan.

The plan outlines the Stronghold’s mission, which is “safeguard the biological diversity of the area;  promote ecologically sustainable lifestyles and economic, cultural, and recreational activities; encourage scientific outreach, research and

education, and responsible use of natural resources, and aspire to be a world model for an environmentally driven economy.”

It also outlines numerous threats to the Harrison salmon, including increasing visitor pressures, development, infill of wetlands and sloughs, bot and foot traffic in spawning areas, growing concentration of fishers, incompatible resource exploitation, mixed-stock fishing and a lack of integrated governance on salmon, salmon habitats, and water resources.

The plan calls to support the provincial initiative to create a Wildlife Management Area, and pushes for monitoring of the salmon and eagle ecosystem.

“There are many organizations here,” David Hancock said on Tuesday, “and we all have one thing in common, and that common thing is the love of that river and what it produces.”

Hancock is involved with the Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival, which is currently underway. The festival invites people to the river to view the eagles as they arrive to feed annually on the spawning salmon.

One of the concerns facing the area is increased tourism traffic, something that the festival has taken to heart, Hancock said.

“For years we’ve been asking ourselves, are we going to make a bad intrusion?,” he said. “Too much love an interest in the land? Finally a year ago, after having cameras out on the centre of the flats, we realized every seven and a half minutes somebody either with a big camera, or running with a dog, or a fisherman, or kayaker or a canoeist was going by, lifting the eagles off their resting place.”

What the eagles need is the quiet feeding place they’ve known for hundreds of years, if not longer.

“So we said the time has come for the next level of concern,” he said. They created a Chehalis Eagle and Salmon Preserve, and the initiative has led to signage along the viewing areas to teach people the importance of keeping their distance.

That initiative has dovetailed with this Stronghold agreement, and both have the support of the David Suzuki Foundation.

The Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival continues this weekend, with the first Salmon Festival hosted by Sts’ailes.

To learn more about the salmon and eagles and their importance to the ecosystem, or for more details on the Salmon Festival, visit www.fvbef.ca.

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