This Eastern Ontario River Has Friends: Connecting a Community to Its Watershed without a Crisis

This Eastern Ontario River Has Friends: Connecting a Community to Its Watershed without a Crisis

By Gray Merriam, Susan Moore, and Steve Pitt

The Friends of the Salmon River (FSR) is a volunteer group formed in 2004 to care for the Salmon watershed by gathering, producing, and dispensing knowledge in educational projects for users of the watershed. There was no major crisis. We hoped that by informing users, their attachment to the land would be strengthened, their stewardship would be more effective, and crises would be avoided. A major project was the publication of a book, The Salmon River Watershed: Jewel of Eastern Ontario.

This book combines existing information with new knowledge from a basic assessment of the watershed accomplished by the local Stewardship Councils with support from FSR. The work was funded from the Canada-Ontario Agreement that supported cleanup of the Bay of Quinte Area of Concern.

There are Salmon Rivers in several U.S. states and at least three Canadian provinces. This particular Salmon River flows south for about 150 kilometers off the Precambrian (Canadian) Shield, down across the Ordovician limestone plain, and into Lake Ontario at the Bay of Quinte.

The Salmon River assessment produced a report, The Salmon River Habitat Strategy, in 2005. The 18-month project followed guidelines published by Environment Canada (How Much Habitat is Enough, 2004). Comprehensive measurements included: quantity and quality of several types of habitats, and natural vegetation, these variables were compared to values recommended by Environment Canada for the entire watershed and separately for the northern portion on the Canadian Shield and the southern portion on the limestone plain. In addition, with help from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, fish were inventoried along the river and in some of the 53 named lakes in the watershed.Water chemistry was analyzed along the river by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE) and in the lakes by FSR by way of the Lake Partners Program of MOE.

Three public meetings were hosted by FSR and the local Stewardship Councils to report results to the residents and the users of the watershed. There was still no crisis to announce; instead our challenge was getting everyone fired up to look after a watershed that was basically healthy.

Using all this information, sites that could be effectively targeted for restoration projects were selected. These were mainly riparian vegetation restorations in the southern limestone area of the watershed. On-the-ground, follow-up projects included no-obligation, no-cost land stewardship plans for private landowners, discounted supplies of seedling trees and shrubs, how-to workshops, and help in planting. Over 20 owners have received professional stewardship plans for parcels ranging up to a few hundred hectares (x2.5 for acres).Many thousands of trees and wildlife shrubs have been distributed.

Other spin-offs have included: information signs for lake users; cooperative projects with volunteer lake associations to improve fish habitat and provide habitat to compensate for construction losses; and a pilot project to improve cooperative lake stewardship by volunteer associations and the watershed Conservation Authority.

A station for benthic faunal survey of unimpacted headwaters has been established to provide baseline data into the future, and a network of precipitation gauges with online data input has been developed.

FSR has mounted several watershed education projects including classroom visits by trained educators to two grade levels in all elementary schools in the watershed, a Public Lecture Series, an annual public bus tour of the watershed, and articles in several print media.We have provided information sessions to all conservation agencies working in the watershed. Currently, we are giving information presentations to seven Municipal Councils in the watershed and to service clubs in towns outside the watershed that are sources of visitors.

The best news is that the Salmon River watershed still provides favourable habitat for otter, mink, and pileated woodpeckers over most of its length; for moose and black bear in many places; for a full diversity of amphibians; for human users, too. The Salmon River watershed will continue to make healthy contributions to the Bay of Quinte and Lake Ontario.

For more information, please contact The Friends of the Salmon River at



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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.