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Habitat Creation

Wildlife habitat creation/restoration consists of ensuring adequate space, food, shelter, and water for particular types of animal species (including birds, insects, fish, mammals, etc.). Wildlife habitat creation refers to establishing habitat where none has existed for some time. Wildlife habitat restoration refers to the enhancement of habitat features to provide improved habitat value for wildlife.

The Challenge

As municipalities grow, finding a balance between building new communities while preserving natural systems is becoming increasingly more important. At the Summerwood residential development in Strathcona County, Alberta, the municipality and developers established a unique pilot project that balanced the new community’s storm water management needs while maintaining and enhancing fish habitat, creating a diverse wetland and upland ecosystem, and providing recreational open space opportunities.

The Project

The Summerwood pond was designed to serve the newly constructed residential area as a storm water management facility, while mimicking a natural stream ecosystem. The site of the Summerwood storm water pond originally contained fish bearing creek habitat. The federal government required that it be retained as functioning fish habitat. The fish present in this system are relatively small; less than 10 centimeters long. The original stream was meandering and new construction followed this same formation. The newly constructed habitat was nine times the original area.

Overcoming Barriers

The greatest barrier the project team faced was that water had to be flowing at all times during construction, as mandated by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Construction of the project was also done in the presence of fish. Thus, water had to be diverted and kept pristine at all times. The team developed and implemented a detailed erosion control strategy that used hay bales to help maintain the water quality. Rain also had the potential to cause significant erosion problems during construction, so the team had to be prepared to work quickly to cover the site when rain was imminent.

Additional challenges included addressing salt-laden snow melt in spring and large volumes of snowmelt water that resulted in ice blockages. The solution was to straighten out some of the bends of the stream to allow for a more direct flow of water and less ice build-up. As a result of these challenges the construction also took much longer than a conventional project.

Successes and Outcomes

The project team attributes the success of this project to the support and involvement from local resident and good communication between the project team and the community. Another factor that contributed to the success of the project was cooperation from government. Many approvals were required, but they were accomplished quickly and efficiently. Since the project was established in 2003, it has operated successfully, with no erosion and no sediment build-up.

The Economics

While the costs associated with this type of project can be extensive, the County felt it was the right thing to do to enhance and protect the area’s natural habitat while serving the needs of the community.

Construction materials that were not available locally (i.e. the gravel and rocks used to line the pond) increased the cost of the project. In addition, special vegetation was required for the project. It also took four years for the grass to establish, due to the fact that there was water running through it all the time. Site maintenance also added to the cost of the project. The top soil was full of weeds and using chemicals was not a viable option in a wetland environment. As such, weeds were entirely hand-picked, contributing to a large maintenance and labour expense.

Visit Strathcona County’s website for more information about the Summerwood sediment control pilot project.

For more unique and interesting examples of stewardship in action in your community, request a copy of the Green Communities Guide today.

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Photo credit John Buchko.

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