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Riparian Restoration: French Creek Tree Planting
AWC-WPAC, Project Update, and Science | July 2022

Aneilia Ayotte, Science Communications Coordinator

The Athabasca watershed is made up of several smaller sub-watersheds; one of these is the Pembina River sub-watershed. The Pembina River merges with the Athabasca River northwest of Flatbush in the Municipal District of Lesser Slave River. The Athabasca Watershed Council (AWC) is actively working to promote healthy riparian areas in the Pembina watershed via their Athabasca Watershed Shorelines Initiative. A riparian area is the transitional areas that make up the shoreline beside rivers, creeks, and streams. When these areas are healthy, they are abundant with diverse flora and fauna. Trees and shrubs in these areas have roots that go deep into the soil and hold it together like a net to prevent erosion. The AWC assessed 3,708 km of shorelines in the Pembina watershed to help restore riparian areas where it is needed. 

For more information on the Pembina’s riparian areas and other riparian areas in Alberta, visit: https://www.riparianresourcesab.info/

Near the end of May, the AWC collaborated with landowners close to French Creek for a three-day riparian planting project. The planting was done in a spring runoff area, that runs into French Creek, a tributary of the Pembina River. The French Creek watershed makes up about 4.4% of the Pembina River watershed. Below are two watersheds on the map. The top is the French Creek watershed, and the bottom image is the Pembina River watershed. 

High spring runoff in previous years caused significant erosion along a section of shoreline. To try to reduce the amount of soil falling into the water, Sarah, Ashley, Petra, Lisa Card (Highway 2 Conservation), and I planted over 1000 shrubs along the creek banks. We planted pussy willow, wild rose, pinch cherry, saskatoon berry, and choke cherry. 

Seedlings waiting to be planted at our restoration site.
Some images of the erosion along the stream banks within the RV park.
Wildrose seedlings we planted.

Hopefully by next summer, these small shrubs will be thriving, and they will have roots that can bind the soil. The riparian future for French Creek looks bright, as the willow stakes that the AWC planted last year sprouted nicely. 

Overall, this tree planting experience was a ton of fun and it felt good to know we were helping one of the tributaries to the Pembina, which covers 9% of the Athabasca watershed! Not only that, but we lucked out with beautiful weather. 😊 

A photo of a sprout on one of the willow stakes planted last year.