Stream Tender Magazine

November 2012

“ Prairie Streams; The Disappearance of Riparian Cover and the Decline in Water Quality ”

    There was a time when you could visually determine the course of a prairie stream across a pasture or valley bottom, by following the line of willows along its stream bank.

    Nowadays, you would be lucky to see any type of riparian willow cover on many of Alberta’s prairie streams! What is left in natural willow and tree stands, is now definitely in decline!

    The impacts of agriculture, mainly cattle pasturing and herbicide spraying, have taken their toll!

    With not much remaining in native stands of willows along these creeks, there is little hope for natural seed recruitment to restore what has already disappeared. It is a pretty bleak situation for these important flowing waters!

    If new generations of willows did manage to take root from seed, there is little chance that they will reach maturity, because of the same ongoing agricultural practices.

    There needs to be some serious measures taken to resolve this problem!


    Further to the East of Calgary, these disappearing riparian buffers along prairie creeks are vital habitats for not just fish, but native prairie wildlife species. There is very limited habitat on our prairie landscape, when you take away the cover along all of the flowing streams!

    I have spent many hours on the prairie lands of the central part of Alberta, and I thoroughly enjoy watching and listening to the native wildlife in that zone of the province. Having done this for years, I have noticed a definite decline in our prairie


    I don’t know what the future holds for what is left of our prairie streams, but I know that projects such as the Nose Creek Watershed Partnership Program are definitely a step in the right direction.

    Willow planting programs with volunteers will help inform the public of the importance of this issue. These type of programs will also help to promote further education and the development of remediation techniques. Combined, this will help to reduce impacts and

restore what is important for the environment of prairie streams!!

“Thistle Spraying Kills Willows!”


    This photo shows how thistle spraying killed part of a Wolf Willow or Silverberry Willow stand. The spray kills broad leafed plants when it comes in contact with the leaves, so willow plants will also fall victim to the chemicals.

    It is a concern to think about what the long term impacts that these type of chemicals have on not only the soil, but the water quality as well. Spraying thistle sprays and other similar herbicides have probably played a roll in the disappearance of many a willow plant and other native riparian cover!

    The cumulative increase of chemicals in our environment are of major concern to all of us!

Willow Planting Update for Nose Creek in Airdrie!

    I have closely monitored the planting project sites that CP and Stantec completed on Nose Creek in Airdrie, over the summer and fall months. I am please to report that we should have a good willow crop surviving into the 2013 growing season! Although there were areas where the plants did not survive that well, overall there were enough plants surviving to make the program worthwhile.

    Some of the plants that were damaged by rodents or lack of moisture during hot and dry spells, will probably show new growth in the spring of next year. As long as the root systems are still alive and the cuttings respiratory system is not damaged too much. The photos to the right and below will show you how some of the plants are doing!

Nose Creek Plantings Will Contribute To More Willows Downstream!

    Once the willow plants in Airdrie and Calgary have reached maturity, the seeds that they produce will recruit new willows downstream on Nose Creek. The willow plants will take about 10 years to mature enough for optimal seed production.

    The willows planted along the west stream bank in Airdrie and on West Nose Creek in Calgary, are in the best position on the stream channel for recruitment by seed. The prevailing wind from the west will blow seeds into the flowing water, where they will be dispersed downstream on the system.

    The seeds germinate very quickly when they hit the water, in less than a few days! As they float down the creek, they will be deposited onto moist areas along the stream channel. Here they will take root and grow.

    For volunteers that participated in the planting program in Airdrie, these long term benefits of planting willows is something that you should consider, for your time investment.   I personally, really get a lot of satisfaction out of knowing this, while being involved in such planting programs! 

    Hopefully, we are all still around to witness some of these benefits in future years!

Update for Microsoft’s Planting on West Nose Creek in Calgary!

    I visited the planting site, one week after the planting program in the spring and noticed that we still had a good crop of willows. However, a number of the plants were in recovery from planting shock and a killing frost that occurred the day after the planting.

    Later on in the summer, when I visited the site, I found a number of willows in the tall grass that had survived the initial shock of  transplanting.


Top Left:

    This is the photo that I took, one week after the planting program. You can see that a number of plants were still coming out of the shock of transplanting.


Bottom Left:

    This is a photo of one of the willow plants in late August. By that time, it was very hard to find the willows in the tall grass.

    I expect that next spring will be the best time to visit the site for further assessment on the survival rates.

Below Left: This  photo was taken in early August of 2012. The red arrows will help you identify a few of the willows.


Below:  This photo shows some of the plants in September, when they are about to loose their leaves.

Funding for the Nose Creek willow  planting programs was provided by Evergreen and its corporate donors