Healthy creek a priority: Burnaby group champions Stoney Creek

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When John Templeton thinks about the importance of Stoney Creek to his community, one image stands out.

It’s a framed photograph in the wall of the North Burnaby classroom/office of the Stoney Creek Environment Committee. It shows a delighted young child holding up a plastic sandwich bag filled with creek water and coho salmon fry she’s about to release into Stoney as part of the committee’s annual Great Salmon Send-Off.

“When you see the joy, the excitement and the enthusiasm in that little girl’s face when she releases those fish, that tells me we are doing a good thing,” Templeton explained. “We live in a very busy world and people need green space, somewhere they can relax and communicate with nature.”

The committee was co-founded in 1994 by the late Jennifer Atchison as an effort to bring together a group of parties who had distinct interests in the watershed but had never sat down to discuss them with one another.

Templeton describes himself as one of Atchison’s disciples. He now serves as the committee’s chair and is one of a core group of volunteers who oversee a wide range of conservation activities intended to protect the creek and its fish in an increasingly urbanized environment.

“Our mission is to preserve and enhance the watershed for the enjoyment of the citizens of Burnaby,” Templeton said. “There are 90 creeks in Burnaby, but sadly we’re down to about 10 salmon-bearing streams.

“We see a lot more development, more high rises. Our green space is shrinking and our population is going up. What we do as stewards of salmon streams and the environment becomes critically important.

“One of the things we firmly believe in is education. We’re involved from the elementary school child through post secondary. We have students from SFU who use the Stoney Creek watershed as their extended classroom for environmental sciences.”

Taking place this year on May 13, the Great Salmon Send-Off is an annual event that attracts about 2,000 people to Stoney Creek, including the young children who have the responsibility for releasing 3,000 hatchery coho fry in the stream.

“The rest of the calendar year, we have kids come out to do stream bank cleanups and invasive species removal. I have more requests to go into schools than I can accommodate.”

This year, they started a new initiative called the Stoney Creek Rangers — elementary school kids come out and learn all about nature and the environment. “They see birds, they see fish, they see flora, and these kids are really excited to be involved.”

One of the stakeholders the committee has worked with is Kinder Morgan Canada (KMC), parent company for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. In April, KMC and TMEP donated $6,000 to the committee, with Templeton saying the money will be used for upgrades to its website.

“They do work around the creek. They will phone and let me know. They’re very good that way. We have a relationship built on trust and respect. We don’t always agree but we have a relationship that works for the benefit of both of us,” Templeton said. “The essence of streamkeeping is about building good relationships, trying to sell people on what we do for the benefit of nature.”

The Trans Mountain Expansion Project includes some construction work in the vicinity of the creek including an aerial trenchless crossing of Stoney. Templeton has participated in workshops focusing on TMEP.

“Over the years, I’ve probably attended four or five workshops on the pipeline project, the construction, the design, where they ask us what they should be concerned about. In areas where the habitat is sensitive, we’ve asked them to thicken the pipe wall.

“We talk to them about the things that need to be done so when that pipeline goes through there, there is some level of repatriation to the environment. We should work together to the benefit of the whole community.”