A riparian area is the strip of trees, shrubs and grasses that grows along the shoreline of a lake, creek or river. This area acts as a water filter to control erosion and remove impurities from surface water runoff. Without this buffer (riparian area), water bodies have no defense against what enters them. Most riparian areas contain large woody debris—trees that have fallen into a water body—that provide shelter for fish, habitat for aquatic insects and amphibians, and hunting areas for semi-aquatic mammals such as mink and river otters. Large woody debris also creates pools, riffles and runs, which are important components of aquatic life. Large trees and vegetation growing within riparian areas also provide shade, which helps keep stream temperatures cool by controlling the amount of sunlight that reaches the water. Most fish species require cooler water temperatures to breed and survive. The vegetation that grows within a riparian area is also a source of small organic debris like leaves and twigs, and terrestrial insects. Terrestrial insects are an important food source for aquatic organisms, amphibians, and fish, which are, in turn, an important food source for many furbearers. Riparian vegetation also has deep roots that help maintain the structure of the bank or shoreline by holding the soil intact. This vegetation also reduces erosion, which means less sediment is transported to the water body, keeping fish spawning areas clean, clear and healthy. Riparian vegetation also reduces the amount of nutrients entering a water body. Too many nutrients results in eutrophication, unhealthy water that leads to serious problems including algal growth and low levels of oxygen dissolved in the water. This, in turn, kills fish and other aquatic creatures. Riparian vegetation also reduces water velocity during high water events. This slows down streambed erosion, which can cause a lowering of the local groundwater table. Riparian areas also provide habitats, travel and hunting corridors for all furbearing animals. The importance of riparian areas for their many values, and for human quality of life, as well as the health of both fish and wildlife cannot be overstated. The 2012 Alberta Timber Harvest Planning and Operating Ground Rules Framework is the document that lays out the rules that logging companies must abide by. Watercourse protection is based on a table of “Watercourse Classifications” and a subsequent table titled “Standards and Guidelines for Operating Beside Watercourses” within this document. Logging companies must adhere to these “Classifications” and “Guidelines” during logging operations. Within this 104-page document, the word “furbearer” is found only “one” time. And, while beaver ponds, lodges and dams are given a small level of protection, they are subsequently left off the “Watercourse Table of Classifications” and “Operating Beside Watercourses” table. The value of beaver ponds and dams to other species is well documented and is possibly the most valuable feature for wildlife to be found in any landscape, and must be protected with clearly defined and easily found buffer criteria within this document. Therefore, the Alberta Trappers’ Association believes that:
Furbearers must be given a higher level of importance in the Alberta Timber Harvest Planning and Operating Ground Rules Framework document.
The Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society currently gives Alberta’s riparian areas a “poor” rating where their health is concerned. Because of this, we believe there is considerable reason for current buffer zone distances from watercourses to be increased.
The Alberta Timber Harvest Planning and Operating Ground Rules Framework states, “Beaver ponds shall have the same classification as the watercourse flowing out of the pond, as measured at a representative width within 50 metres of the dam.” Many beaver ponds begin to narrow prior to 50 metres of the dam. We believe the classification should be given based on the widest point of the beaver pond, or a minimum 50 metres, whichever is greatest. Buffer protection of beaver ponds must be sufficient that beavers have shelter from predation and ready access to food sources, not only in the main pond, but also on ponds created to access additional food sources.
The Alberta Timber Harvest Planning and Operating Ground Rules Framework states, “Natural Springs and Beaver Ponds with no outflow channel” be provided with a buffer of “20 metres-vegetated”. We believe that 20 metres is insufficient. Many of these ponds can be small and leaving a buffer of 20 metres is not large enough to supply a sufficient year-round food source. Therefore, we believe a 50-metre buffer should be mandatory in these instances.
As logging operations and harvest plans are both long and short term, and because beaver ponds can disappear, reappear, and appear with short notice, we believe that particular attention should be paid to the presence of this species during logging planning stages, be re-examined immediately prior to cutting, and buffer protection be granted where beaver ponds are located.
The Alberta Timber Harvest Planning and Operating Ground Rules Framework states, “Roads, skid trails, landings and campsites shall be located where they avoid natural meadows, beaver dam and den locations.” No mention of distance is provided. We believe that 50-metres should be the minimum setback from natural meadows, beaver ponds, dams and lodges and be clearly stated in The Alberta Timber Harvest Planning and Operating Ground Rules Framework.
Reviewed 2022 Director’s Meeting Alberta Trappers’ Association