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Recovery strategy for the Nooksack dace in Canada

Critical habitat

Identification of Critical Habitat

The Recovery Team has developed biologically-based recommendations for defining critical habitat for Nooksack dace. These recommendations have been prepared as a separate document (Pearson 2007), which is available to the public upon request to the Recovery Team. The proposed critical habitat document will be submitted for external scientific peer review through the Pacific Science Advisory Review Committee. After the peer review process, a final version will form the biological recommendations for designating critical habitat. To conform with current policy on species at risk and recovery strategy content, the following discussion on critical habitat presents general habitat features that should be considered when defining and designating critical habitat, but does not make specific geospatial recommendations.

Critical habitat is defined in SARA as “the habitat that is necessary for the survival or recovery of a listed wildlife species and that is identified as the species’ critical habitat in the recovery strategy or in an action plan for the species.” [SARA S. 2(1)]. Attributes of critical habitat for Nooksack dace have been defined but not mapped or designated in this recovery strategy. A quantity of proposed critical habitat sufficient to ensure the survival and recovery of Nooksack dace will be designated through the action planning process, which will include socioeconomic analysis and consultation with affected interests. The Recovery Team has compiled scientific data that will provide the basis for an official designation of critical habitat (Pearson 2007). Further studies are required to confirm the presence of other Nooksack dace populations and their critical habitats, and to characterize specific threats. Designating critical habitat will contribute to the refinement of recovery objectives and the management of activities that impact the species.

Potential critical habitat for Nooksack dace consists of reaches in their native creeks that contain or are known to have previously contained more than 10% riffle by length. It includes all aquatic habitat and riparian reserve strips of native vegetation on both banks for the entire length of the reach. Reserve strips should be continuous with width requirements based on reach-scale assessments as described in Pearson (2007; in review through PSARC).


Critical Habitat Features

Based on available physical and biological data, potential Nooksack dace critical habitat features likely include the following key elements:

The Reach Scale

Riffles and shallow pools (see below) are the required habitats of Nooksack dace, but critical habitat should be defined at the reach scale, a larger, natural unit of river morphology that ranges from hundreds to thousands of metres in length (Frissell et al. 1986). There are three reasons for adopting this scale. First, the reach scale corresponds to the distribution of subpopulations within watersheds (Pearson 2004a). Second, the ‘channel units’ of critical habitat (riffles and shallow pools) are dynamic and frequently move during flood events in these streams. In Bertrand Creek, this occurs on an annual basis (Pearson pers. obs.). Effective protection and management of critical habitat in these circumstances must allow for normal channel processes and must, therefore, occur at a spatial scale larger than the channel unit. The reach scale is the next largest in accepted stream habitat classifications (Frissell et al. 1986; Imhof et al. 1996). Third, the reach scale corresponds most closely to that of land ownership in these watersheds and, consequently, to most potential recovery actions.

Riffle Habitat

Available information overwhelmingly suggests that riffles are critical to species persistence. Nooksack dace typically occur in riffles over loose gravel and cobble substrates where water velocity exceeds 0.25 m.s-1. They spawn near the upstream end of riffles (McPhail 1997) between late April and early July (Pearson 2004a) and forage nocturnally for riffle dwelling insects (McPhail 1997). The percent of riffle in a stream reach is a good predictor of dace presence. Riffles that are isolated by long stretches of deep pool, however, are seldom inhabited (Pearson 2004a). A threshold of 10% riffle by length would exclude these small isolated riffles that have little value to Nooksack dace.

Shallow Pool Habitat

Young-of-the-year Nooksack dace inhabit shallow (10-20 cm) pools adjacent to riffles where they swim above sand, mud, or leaf litter substrates and feed upon chironomid pupae and ostracods (McPhail 1997). Loss of these habitats will likely produce negative population-level impacts.

Riparian Habitat

Riparian vegetation should be included in critical habitat to the extent it is necessary to protect the integrity of in-stream critical habitat. Required widths would vary among sites and should be defined in reach scale assessments. Reserves must be sufficient to control sediment entry to the stream from overland flow, to prevent excessive bank erosion and to buffer stream temperatures. Reserve areas will also remove significant amounts of nitrate and phosphorous from groundwater, although their efficiency depends strongly on hydrogeologic conditions (Martin et al. 1999; Puckett 2004; Wigington et al. 2003). The effectiveness of a riparian reserve in preventing materials (e.g., sediments, nutrients, toxins) from entering a stream depends strongly on its continuity in addition to its width (Weller et al. 1998). Consequently, riparian reserves in critical habitat reaches should be continuous. In open landscapes, such as agricultural fields, vegetation from reserve areas will collect windblown insects (Whitaker et al. 2000). Such insects, falling from riparian vegetation into the water constitute an important food source in headwater streams (Allan et al. 2003; Schlosser 1991).

It is important to understand that in some circumstances, more than 30 m of riparian vegetation may be required for full mitigation of warming (Brown & Krygier 1970; Castelle et al. 1994; Lynch et al. 1984) and siltation (Davies & Nelson 1994; Kiffney et al. 2003; Moring 1982), and for long-term maintenance of channel morphology (Murphy et al. 1986; Murphy & Koski 1989). At least 10 m are required to maintain levels of terrestrial food inputs similar to those of forested landscapes (Culp & Davies 1983). Reserves as narrow as 5 m provide significant protection from bank erosion and sediment deposition from overland flow (Lee et al. 2003; McKergow et al. 2003).

Failure to maintain an adequate riparian reserve as part of critical habitat would be highly likely to cause population-level impacts. In habitats lacking sufficient flow or groundwater sources, lack of shade may increase water temperatures to harmful levels. Increased erosion due to poorer bank stability will cause sediment deposition in riffles, impairing spawning and incubation, reducing food availability, and eliminating the interstitial spaces in coarse substrate that dace occupy. Nutrient loading will be higher in reaches without adequate riparian vegetation (Dhondt et al. 2002; Lee et al. 2003; Martin et al. 1999) and is likely to contribute to hypoxia through eutrophication. Solar radiation will also be higher in reaches lacking adequate riparian shading (Kiffney et al. 2003) and will contribute to eutrophication. Reserves of 30 m or more should be maintained around Nooksack dace habitat wherever feasible to provide a high level of protection from impacts of adjacent land uses.


Activities Likely to Result in Destruction of Critical Habitat.

Many of the threats that face Nooksack dace are habitat-related, and this is of particular concern. Threats to potential critical habitat features for Nooksack dace are identified, and the reader is also referred to the Threats section for a more thorough discussion of threats identified below. As mentioned previously, it is important to recognize that the definition and identification of critical habitat for Nooksack dace will follow biologically-based recommendations from the recovery team, following scientific peer review of this advice. It is also important to note that there are many gaps in our understanding of potential critical habitat features and their threats, and that this will be a focus for research in one or more action plans.

ActivityDescription
Excessive water withdrawalWater extraction (surface or ground) during dry periods reduces flows, which may contribute to hypoxia and drying of riffles needed for spawning.
Excessive sediment releasesSediment deposition in spawning substrate and inhibition of the flow of oxygen-rich water to eggs and larvae during incubation.
Drainage projectsDredging, dyking, and channelization works directly destroy habitat, cause sediment deposition in riffles, and reduce base flow,
ImpoundmentPonding caused by either human or beaver activities eliminated riffle habitat.
Urban storm drainageStorm drain systems that discharge directly to creeks are major sources of toxic contamination and sediment. They also reduce baseflow by inhibiting water infiltration to aquifers.
Riparian vegetation removalRiparian vegetation removal exposes a stream to increased erosion and sediment deposition, elevated water temperatures, reduced supplies of terrestrially derived food, and increased nutrient loading
Livestock access to creeksLivestock damage habitat by trampling or causing erosion that clogs riffles with sediment. Access also contributes to nutrient loading.

 

ActivityBertrand CreekPepin BrookFishtrap CreekBrunette River
Excessive water withdrawalmajor concernminor concernmoderate concernunknown
Excessive sediment releasesminor concernmajor concernmoderate concernunknown
Drainage projectsmoderate concernminor concernmajor concernunknown
Impoundmentminor concernmajor concernmoderate concernunknown
Urban storm drainagemajor concernnot a concernmajor concernmajor concern
Riparian vegetation removalmoderate concernminor concernmajor concernunknown
Livestock access to creeksminor concernminor concernminor concernunknown


Schedule of Studies to Identify Critical Habitat

Information exists to assist in the definition of critical habitat for Nooksack dace throughout its presently known range. Further surveys are required to identify other potential populations and characterize their critical habitats, as summarized below:

StudyDescriptionTimeframeStatus
Population IdentificationThe Coquitlam and Alouette Rivers are suspected of containing Nooksack dace based on a preliminary genetic and morphometric study of their R. cataractae populations (J.D. McPhail, UBC, unpubl. data). Additional samples are required for confirmation.2005-2006Underway
Critical Habitat SurveysHabitat in the Brunette River has not been surveyed as its populations were unknown prior to 2004. Surveys will also be required in the Coquitlam and Alouette Rivers if the presence of Nooksack dace is confirmed there.2006-2007Planned


Knowledge Gaps in Nooksack Dace Biology

Additional studies should be conducted to address the following data needs related to specific threats to Nooksack dace. This information will contribute to the protection of Nooksack dace and their critical habitats.

StudyDescriptionTimeframeStatus
Impacts of Riffle DryingThe fate of dace in reaches that dewater during late summer is uncertain. Sampling during this period will resolve whether fish leave the reach, move into pools, burrow into substrate, or die.2004-2005Underway
Impacts of Sediment Deposition in RifflesThe extent to which sediment deposited in riffles affects their ability to support healthy dace populations is uncertain and needs to be quantified.2007-2008Need Identified