The Fraser river is the largest river in British Columbia, winding its way from Mount Robson to the Strait of Georgia, a length of over 850 miles. This magnificent river begins as a glacial fed stream, tumbling northwest towards Prince George, barely avoiding a passage to the Arctic watershed along the way, when it sweeps southerly to begin its tumultuous downhill journey to the Pacific. It flows through several biogeoclimatic zones and past interesting and unique ecosystems; from open alpine to spruce stands, through the dry ponderosa pine bunchgrass zone of the interior plateau and through coastal western hemlock laden with cedar, hemlock, alder and ferns. It is joined by large tributaries like the Nechako, Chilcotin and the Thompson. It was the route eventually explored by Simon Fraser in 1808 and the passageway for thousands of gold rush dreamers. Both national railways connect the east to the west via the blasted and carved track through the Fraser canyon, the only possible route that would join British Columbia to the rest of Canada.
Iíve had the pleasure and opportunity to travel this river right from the strait all the way up to the Gang Ranch bridge by boat, covering nearly all of it save for the Bridge river rapids. This has included two hunting trips; one by floating downriver on a 10 foot zodiac through the whitewater south of Big Bar and the other by our 19 foot riverboat heading north, taking on the unforgiving French Bar Canyon ( Iíll never forget waking up in the truck at the ferry crossing to see two other large jet boats lined up behind us, obviously getting in later than we did the night before. A quick chat with the other boaters found us being the loners heading up river through the canyon. I was beginning to feel nervous about our excursion and didnít feel any better about the situation when the ferry operator said heíd call for help if he saw any of our gas cans or other gear floating by!). The spectacular canyons from Gang Ranch to Lillooet can be as narrow as 50 feet and over 150 feet deep. The rocks and steep canyon walls are splashed in beautiful shades of purple. The windswept hoodoos stand guard over the river here, centuries old sentinels carved out of the sandstone by the howling winds and sudden rainstorms. Old mining sites are visible from the river where the pioneers struggled to pack in their equipment and provisions. Magnificent canyon views, abundant wildlife and very few humans make this area a natural treasure.
Iíve had the opportunity to fly over the Fraser by helicopter from Big Bar downstream to the Pitt River for the purpose of tracking radio tagged white sturgeon. The stunning views of the north are quickly displaced by the views of heavy industrialism in the lower reaches of the Fraser valley. Gravel extraction, log dumps, cedar mills and other heavy industries all rely on the waterway for one reason or another. It gets worse as you travel further downstream towards the strait. I was apalled at the use and abuse of one of the worldís greatest salmon pathways. I felt sorry for the fish that have to run the gauntlet of this industrialism to reach their spawning beds. I was thankful that it only stretches for 80 kilometres before they reached an area that resembled a "natural river" if you were to give in to the miles of dyking and rip rap. Further upstream, the fish can actually navigate by natural corridors called gravel bars.
Many people believe the Fraser is polluted, judging by the color. The glacial green of its tiny meanderings change into a muddy till by various tributaries laden with silt and sand. Sit in an aluminum boat during freshet and youíll hear the hissing on the sides of your boat as the Fraser silt scrubs the hull. This is not to say the river isnít polluted, nor is all the damage done in the Fraser Valley. Pulp mills and sewage treatment plants all the way up the river have contributed in the past to various levels of pollution. Even a heavy thundershower will do damage as the rain cleans the streets of days of oil, exhaust and car wash detergents that run into the storm sewers that inevitably lead to the Fraser. And yet, the river keeps plugging along, washing it all away.
We know so little about the consequences of our actions on the river. From controversial dredging and other various methods of gravel extractions, to waste dumping and estuary development, we carry on with our business of "improvement and progress". We will, and probably already are, seeing the effects of our presence. The coho could be a prime example of this. Think about your presence and your effect on the river the next time youíre out fishing. Consider the consequences of dumping chemicals and detergents down the storm sewer. Tremendous urban pressure is going to be placed on the waterway by a quickly growing population. Think about how youíd like the river to look in the next 20 years.
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