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Recovery Strategy for Cultus Pygmy Sculpin (Proposed)

4. Habitat Trends

Current and historic data are lacking for quantity and quality of Cultus pygmy sculpin habitat, so specific trends in habitat availability are unknown. Comparisons of limnological information from 2001 with that collected in the 1930s and 1960s suggest that Cultus Lake limnetic habitat has changed little over the past 65 years, despite a considerable increase in public use of the lake and adjacent lands (COSEWIC 2003). Land use practices and other human activities have likely caused some decline in habitat quantity and quality, but the magnitude of change appears to be greatest in shallow littoral areas. The impact of these changes on Cultus pygmy sculpin is not known. Below we discuss general trends in land and water use in the watershed.

Cultus Lake has been a popular recreation destination dating back to the late 1800s. The watershed is heavily developed for recreation, residential and agricultural uses, and virtually all developable shoreline is developed to some extent (Ministry of Lands, Parks & Housing 1980). The remaining shoreline is steep-sided and inaccessible by road. Cultus Lake Provincial Park was formed in 1948, and today contains 656 ha on both east and west shores of Cultus Lake. In 1969, International Ridge Recreation Area was established, totalling 2080 ha encompassing all of the land between the eastern boundary of the park and the height of land. Cultus Lake Municipal Park is located on the north shore of the lake and covers about 259 ha. The park was formed under provincial statute in 1932 and is owned and operated by the City of Chilliwack.

Cultus Lake Provincial Park is the most popular destination area in the Lower Mainland and ranks either second or third in the province for total campground visitation, depending on the weather during a given summer (Ministry of Lands, Parks & Housing 1980). Park use is heavy and sustained throughout the summer, resulting in capacity crowds each weekend and on most midweek days during fine weather (Ministry of Lands, Parks & Housing 1980). Historic park use has been proportional to population growth in the region, with approximately 1.5 million park visitors per year at present (COSEWIC 2003). Both parks are operated for intensive water and beach activities. The foreshore and upland areas of the park continue to be developed, primarily for recreation and tourism (Ministry of Lands, Parks & Housing 1980; Cultus Lake Parks Board 2006).

Activities such as hunting and forest harvest are permissible within the Recreation Area, but logging is unlikely throughout much of the watershed due to steep and unstable soils (Ministry of Lands, Parks & Housing 1980). Present forest cover on the east side of the lake is predominantly second growth Douglas fir and maple, a result of logging prior to park status. At present, logging occurs only in the headwaters of Frosst Creek in the United States (COSEWIC 2003). The impacts to Cultus Lake from forest harvesting are probably minor (COSEWIC 2003).

Permanent housing is restricted to small areas on the northeast and northwest sides of the lake and at Lindell Beach at the south. Farming occurs near the south end. Activities with direct impacts to the lake's littoral zone include the removal of aquatic and riparian vegetation, shoreline alteration and physical encroachment by wharves and piers (COSEWIC 2003). Activities that impact tributary streams include channelization and the removal of riparian vegetation (COSEWIC 2003). Of special concern is the potential degradation of the quality of the lake's surface and ground water inputs as a result of seepage from septic systems, agricultural runoff and the domestic use of fertilizers (COSEWIC 2003).

The biggest observable change in lake habitat occurred following the introduction of Eurasian milfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum) in the late 1970s. From 1977 to 1991, its distribution in the littoral zone nearly doubled and shifted from mainly sparse patches to dense mats (COSEWIC 2003). By 1991, it covered 22 ha of the lake's 74 ha littoral area (Truelson 1992); subsequent distributions have not been monitored. It is not known if Cultus pygmy sculpin historically used littoral areas now infested with milfoil.