By the time the Columbia River flows from source to Trail, it’s travelled through three dams. Having grown up in Trail, Al Mallette has always had a strong interest in the Upper Columbia’s flow management — its relationship to the environment in general and the river’s blue-ribbon rainbow trout fishery in particular.
“We always spent a lot of time on river and in the local creeks ever since we were kids,” Al said.
As the fisheries rep for Trail Wildlife Association (TWA), Al helps manage the Murphy Creek Rainbow Trout Spawning Channel. He also sits on the management committee for the Fort Shepherd Conservancy Area that TWA manages for The Land Conservancy, which purchased the area from Teck in 2007, and has volunteered at Critter Day for the last three years on behalf of the TWA.
Al’s involvement with TWA dates back to the early 1990s when he and his brother Greg did some volunteer work helping to establish the spawning channel. Their uncle Vic was an avid outdoorsman and long-term TWA member, and their cousin Grace, along with TWA stalwart Harry Connell, spearheaded fundraising and the construction of the channel, which was built in two stages in 1993 and 1994.
Murphy Creek is historically an important rainbow trout spawning stream in the Columbia River system located approximately seven kilometres north of Trail, and the spawning channel provides 200 metres of additional spawning and rearing habitat. The channel was constructed as compensation for the impacts associated with the replacement of a highway bridge by a culvert in the 1970s when it was determined that rainbow trout could not pass through the culvert to access the upper reaches of Murphy Creek.
“From the beginning, the development and maintenance of the channel has been a collaboration between local volunteer organizations, government, students, local business, private landowners and First Nations,” said Al.
His involvement in TWA became more concerted in 2013 when, under the leadership of TWA member Rob Frew, the group collaborated with Environment Canada, the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, the Okanagan Nation Alliance and local businesses to update the water intake system at the spawning channel. In late fall 2016, Al coordinated a maintenance project intended to improve the productivity of the channel through the introduction of additional spawning gravel, the removal of accumulated debris and the placing of new check dams, designed to deepen spawning pools. At present, TWA is working with the Okanagan Nation Alliance and the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program to provide ongoing maintenance and monitoring at the spawning channel. Al has also volunteered at Critter Day for the last three years on behalf of the TWA.
“From Mica Creek Dam down, the Columbia River is controlled and has been modified by dam operations. You don’t have a wild river anymore and that has significant knock-on effects in terms of what happens to the ecosystem,” Al said.
Changing the river’s management scheme to make it more supportive of wildlife, particularly fish, has long been his vision. He is also collaborating to explore the possibility of enhancing spawning and rearing opportunities for rainbow trout in other tributary streams along the Upper Columbia.
“We do have landscapes here that we don’t have in other parts of the Basin,” he said. “They’re very rare and certainly worth preserving.”