Skiers and salmon vs. Nature 

By Veronica Sommerville,

Whistler Naturalists

People desperately holding onto Indian summer dreams may have been ecstatic with the less than average precipitation in October, but it may have some interesting effects on the upcoming year. Wearing your ski boots around the living room to make sure they still fit just isn’t the same when there is not a flake of snow on the mountain on the first of November. I am sure this feeling of anxious impatience is similar to how late fall spawning salmon feel hanging in the depths of the river awaiting the last leg of their journey to their natal streams.

The Coho salmon have returned to the Lillooet River watershed for one reason and one reason only, to spawn. Coho salmon have a penchant for small, ground-water fed streams. Come hell or low water, the Coho will make do, even if they have to spawn in less than desirable habitat. This may affect the survival rate of the eggs and alevin, however this may be a blessing in disguise. The less-than-average rainfall this summer and fall left many of the ponds dry where newly hatched Coho salmon fry like to hang out and grow before moving into the ocean one year later. However, a high egg mortality rate will leave fewer fry competing for available habitat and food. Consequently, this translates into larger and hardier smolts, which will have a greater chance of survival in their upcoming travels.

The drier fall may also affect the spectacular Sockeye salmon run the Birkenhead River saw this past September. Hopefully the worst thing to come of the low water is the smell of rotting salmon the Mount Currie folks have had to endure. Although plummeting water levels throughout October may have left some eggs high and dry, the salmonid species’ natural resilience will come in handy. All salmon bury their eggs in gravel nests, called redds, which can be up to 50cm deep. This ensures that once the eggs develop eyes (appropriately called eyed-eggs) they are hardy enough to withstand periods of drought. The eggs can be sustained with minute amounts of rainfall filtered through the gravel for a surprisingly long time.

This egg survival technique will also support the Chinook salmon that also consider the Birkenhead the place to be if in the mood to spawn, though may be only marginally affected by waning water levels since they prefer deeper channels.

For now it seems like the usual Coast Mountain climate will come through for all of us alike – skiers, snowboarders and salmon. Whatever weather we are blessed (or cursed) with, nature will prevail better than a snow enthusiast in a downpour.

Upcoming Events:

Thursday, Nov. 28th, 6:15 to 7 p.m., MY Place — Whistler Naturalists Annual General Meeting. The Whistler Naturalists encourage anyone interested in getting more involved to join us for our third AGM. New board members welcome. For details, contact Bob Brett (604-932-8900;

Thursday, Nov. 28th — Andy MacKinnon, "Coastal Rainforests: More Than Just Trees?" 7:30 p.m., MY Place.

Andy MacKinnon, best known as the co-author of Plants of Coastal B.C., is an incredibly energetic and enthusiastic speaker. A mushroom guy (mycologist) by training, Andy has studied and monitored temperate rainforests through his senior position with the B.C. government. His presentation will describe temperate rainforests (including those in Whistler) and the challenges in managing them for a number of uses, including the opportunities and risks of harvesting non-forest timber products (for example, mushrooms and plants for the floral trade). Admission by donation. Follows the Whistler Naturalists AGM.

Sightings: To report noteworthy bird sightings any time of year, please contact Michael Thompson (604-932-5010; email:

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