When it comes to gauging the health of the environment, Niagara’s canary in the coal mine is the brook trout in Upper Twelve Mile Creek.
Brookies, as their champions call them, thrive in clean, cold water, like that in Niagara’s only remaining such habitat, the Twelve Mile Creek watershed above the Niagara Escarpment. When the brookie population is healthy, that means the creek is thriving, too.
Thanks to an $8,000 Environmental Grant from the Niagara Community Foundation, the Niagara chapter of Trout Unlimited Canada was able to give both the Twelve and the brookies within it a fin up last year. The group, dedicated to protecting freshwater ecosystems, did it through their Healthy Twelve Mile Creek and Bring Back the Brookies initiatives, which focus on reforestation to mitigate flooding and erosion in critical habitat, and on education.
Both climate change and urbanization have made the former significant issues in the Upper Twelve headwaters, located in Fonthill. That means when it rains, it pours for brook trout because surface water runoff and sediment can flow unfiltered into the creek, warming water temperatures and even smothering spawning beds.
“They’ve gone from being absolutely abundant to dwindling,” Project Co-ordinator Kerry Kennedy said about local brook trout populations.
The community foundation grant enabled Trout Unlimited to orchestrate 18 events with 280 volunteers who planted 6,000 trees, shrubs, grasses, and flowers that will slow runoff after rainfalls, keeping it out of the creek and channelling water back into the ground. The plants also create shade to keep water temperatures hospitably cool for brook trout.
Even better, the reforestation effort got people outside and working together for a common and critical goal at the height of the pandemic.
“It was so much fun to get our hands dirty and get plants into the ground,” Kennedy said. “We’re very grateful to the Niagara Community Foundation for the funds. Everyone is asking when we can do it again.”