Along the Cheakamus River where Outdoor School is located, the numbers of birds during the eagle count have been as high as 800. This year’s count was one tenth of that – 81. We know that Bald Eagles, a type of fish eagle, depend on late run Chum salmon for winter-feeding. In the past five years we also know that the numbers of large chum salmon have declined in the Cheakamus/Squamish rivershed as well as throughout coastal river systems from Alaska to Oregon. We also know in the last 5 years Russian and Japanese fishing fleets have targeted Chum in a lucrative salmon roe fishery. Combined with these larger outside influences there are recent local factors as well that have influenced Chum, the most significant being the 2003 flood and 2005 CN chemical spill. However in recent years other Cheakamus species have faired well; Coho were ten times more abundant in 2010 than the average and Pink Salmon numbers this year were close to 300 000, a dramatic increase from only a few thousand in the 1980s.
Obviously something is affecting Chum specifically and resulting in the reduction of wintering Bald Eagles on the Cheakamus and Squamish Rivers. Like the “canary in the mine shaft” Bald Eagles abundance is a clear indicator that something has recently changed. Bald Eagles are survivors, and will seek out winter salmon wherever that food can be found.
Bald Eagles, Chum salmon and human interaction is just one aspect of experiential environmental Outdoor School programming that will be further enhanced through the North Shore Credit Union – Environmental Learning Centre due to open this April. These new facilities along with enhanced programming, built on our Outdoor School successes over the past 40+ years will take full advantage of the school’s full potential as a centre for environmental leadership and learning.
report courtesy of Victor Elderton