West-Central Forage Association

Chip Lake Stewardship Project

West-Central Forage Association and Yellowhead County, as partners in the Stewardship Alliance for Conservation Agriculture (SACA), have secured funding with the Land Stewardship Centre of Canada to initiate a Chip Lake Stewardship Project. The project is aimed at addressing concerns that have been brought forward regarding the environmental condition of Chip Lake, the riparian area around the lake, and it's adjacent landholdings.

SACA(non-editable-web-ready-file).jpgThe need for a stewardship group that will address the environmental health of Chip Lake became apparent early in the development of the scope of the Chip Lake Stewardship Project. While our service agencies have the resources to conduct investigative activities around the lake, what is really needed for the longevity of a project of this nature is the support and action of land owners that have a stake in the health of Chip Lake. We are looking for participation from individuals that live around or near the lake and use this area for anything including supporting a farm operation, recreational activities or nature conservation.

Currently the Chip Lake Stewardship Project has three goals:

  • Carry out riparian health assessments around Chip Lake to measure lake health and develop physical benchmarks by which to design future project activities and measure overall impact;
  • Conduct water quality sampling and tests within Chip Lake, and at the major tributaries and outlets, to establish benchmarks and plan future activities;
  • Initiate the formation of, and maintain support of, a group of stakeholders around Chip Lake to create awareness and gain feedback in regards to the lake and ecosystem health and beneficial management practices, to maintain or improve the environmental health of Chip Lake.

Click here to download the Chip Lake Brochure

Work completed to date

    Water Sampling: Working with the Alberta Lake Management Society (ALMS), as a part of their Lakewatch Program http://www.alms.ca/content.php?content=1 has allowed us to collect water samples, following the ALMS protocols, at four different times throughout the summer. Water samples are in the process of being collated and a report will be generated by ALMS for the public.  
Events: Two events have been held to gather and disseminate information to interested parties with regards to the project.
    Riparian Health Assessments: Riparian Health Assessments have been conducted around Chip Lake and down the Lobstick River (east of the Chip Lake). Six polygons were defined on Chip Lakes Northwest and Northern shorelines and four polygons identified on the Lobstick River. These ten sites were assessed following the Alberta Habitat Management Society (often referred to as Cows and Fish) Riparian Health Assessment protocols for Lentic and Lotic riparian areas. The sites were assessed for their vegetative characteristics (including canopy cover, invasive and disturbance increaser vegetation, tree and shrub establishment/regeneration, browse utilization, woody vegetation removal, human alterations to vegetation), and, physical characteristics (including the percentage of human cause alteration, severity of alteration, human cause bare ground and degree of artificial water level changes). Developing scores for each of these qualities allowed the assessors to determine the overall health of the selected sites.
    In general, based solely on the sites assessed, the health of Chip Lake and the Lobstick’s riparian areas seem to be in relatively good health. However, more sites will need to be assessed in subsequent years to develop a more representative area and to get a more precise understanding of the lake and river’s overall riparian health.
    Within the sites, polygons, that were assessed on Chip Lake there was not a great variation between sites, though some factors that were most damaging to the scoring were those of invasive weeds and human traffic. Sites that were more remote and had little human presence tended to score very well. Even sites that were devoid of human activity though were presented with various kinds of invasive weeds. However this can likely be attributed to the pervasive and prolific nature of the weeds such as Canada thistle, Perennial sowthistle and Catchweed, and in those cases they were likely present as a part of a sectional stage following a flooding event or reclaimed land from receding lake water levels. Where there was more human traffic polygons were also negatively scored in some aspects due to clear erosion or compaction issues. These sites could benefit from reduced or controlled human impact to allow for the sites to recover. Traffic is often just simply too heavy for the vegetation to sustain itself.
As for the polygons assessed on the Lobstick there was a greater deal of variation in the scoring. Some sites were quite healthy and others were very heavily and negatively impacted. The primary human caused disturbance came in the form unrestricted cattle grazing. In this respect the consequences on the riparian area was significant. Invasive weeds were present, vegetation was degenerated, woody vegetation was non-existent in many circumstances or supplanted by non-preference species (i.e. rosebush, buckbrush, etc), soils compacted and eroded, bank stability undermined, and the river often restricted from a flood plain.
    Reiteration needs to be made on the need for further assessments. Overall this season seems to suggest a need for more concerted work on the Lobstick River with a generally lower concern for Chip Lakes riparian area. Cattle grazing does not have to be inherently negative to riparian area health, but in an unrestricted format grazing can cause considerable harm. If the cattle are separated from the riparian area but allowed to graze on occasion (when the ground can support their weight and vegetation can best recover) then the cattle and riparian area can stand to benefit.