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Cowichan Shoreline Restoration Project

Partnering with BCCF we have worked with more than 40 shoreline lake and river property owners; removing invasive species and planting native plants in their place; employing a Project Manager and crew of four secondary students every summer for six years; carrying out over 300 volunteer interviews with shoreline property owners educating them on riparian issues. We are well on our way to meeting our project goals: To promote a "stewardship first" culture by protecting and enhancing riparian areas.

Information Resources for You

We have produced a short video on the program with support from the Pacific Salmon Foundation and BCCF produced an excellent Slide Show called Saving Salmon: One Meter of Shoreline at a Time  a great primer on shoreline restoration.

Download our Riparian Care & Maintenance Manual or our brochure CLRSS Riparian Insights 


For detailed reporting on both Phases of the CSSP project see the next two sections and take a look at this excellent Slide Show documenting our process.

To access the 2021 Report on activities click here.

CSSP Phase 2 - 2017-2020


The Cowichan Shoreline Stewardship Project was a project to engage community and change attitudes regarding the value of riparian areas. We are attempting to promote a cultural shift from cutting and clearing to protection and restoration of shoreline riparian areas. The project will not discourage development nor recreation usage but will demonstrate how natural ecological functions and human activities can co-exist.

Experience in the Cowichan Valley has demonstrated that regulation and enforcement of riparian areas is expensive and understaffed. Our non-confrontational approach will lead to a cultural shift toward responsible environmental behaviours that will be self-sustaining by the time the project is completed.

By engaging all age groups in a collaborative effort we hope to change attitudes. Change can occur quickly when youth begin questioning parental behaviours.

We hope this project will do for shoreline stewardship what the blue-box did for recycling. The project will provide a high profile example of shoreline stewardship and restoration.

The Problem

Shoreline habitat is seriously threatened by recreation, residential development, and upland land use practices.   The data clearly shows that we are continuously losing this critical habitat as it experiences serious degradation due to cumulative impacts.

Lake shores, stream shores & wetlands form transitional ecological boundaries between aquatic and terrestrial habitats. These transitional areas are important for fish and wildlife species, since they provide the benefits of ecologically diverse habitats in close proximity to each other. They are important for reproduction, feeding, resting and protection from the elements and predators. Vegetated foreshores also help to protect water quality and reduce erosion arising from heavy rainfall and wave action.

Our Goal

CLRSS joined forces with the BC Conservation Foundation (BCCF), the Cowichan Watershed Board, First Nations and local stakeholders to develop a plan and set targets to reverse the current trend of shoreline destruction. Here are our annual objectives for the 3 years (ending March 2020):

Restoration, we will ...

  • complete 10 (minimum) riparian restoration projects on public & private properties

  • restore 2,500 - 3,000 square meters of riparian habitat area

Education, we will ...

  • conduct at least 75 shoreline visits with lake and river property owners to demonstrate how maintaining shoreline/wetland ecological integrity & diversity is compatible with enhanced property values, lifestyle satisfaction and owner land use practices

  • with each visit, have each resident complete a survey intended to measure their knowledge of riparian protection legislation and to gauge their personal preferences for natural shoreline vegetation

Community Engagement, we will ...

  • engage youth and the broader community in hands-on stewardship activities to promote the cultural & behavioural shifts necessary to ensure long-term shoreline and wetland integrity

Co-Operative Partnership, we will ...

  • continue to work closely with the Cowichan Watershed Board, First Nations, all levels of government and land owners (including privately owned forest land) to more fully protect riparian & wetland habitats throughout the watershed

How We Will Do It

Our collaborative, grassroots, stewardship approach will engage resource professionals, youth, volunteers, private land owners and the community at large in ecological restoration and riparian education. This program will provide exponential growth of stewardship activities to protect and restore critical habitat without huge expenditures for enforcement and property acquisition. CLRSS and BCCF will work closely with supportive landowners to restore lake and river shoreline properties and use these as practical demonstrations of enhanced stewardship of valuable riparian habitats.

A team of restoration and fisheries experts will develop site-specific prescriptions for restoring aquatic/ riparian habitats on each candidate property. This will be followed by a planting team of local secondary students that will implement the plan under direct supervision of a VIU Natural Resource Protection graduate.

By combining the extensive experience of experts with volunteer and student workers this project will:

  • contribute to species diversity

  • help prevent or minimize erosion

  • maintain water quality

  • preserve ecological integrity

By March 2020, the Cowichan Lake Stewarship Project will:

  • conduct 225 shoreline property visits and interviews to explain the benefits of intact riparian areas and to encourage their protection and restoration

  • restore approximately 1 km (or 7,500 square meters) of shoreline to reverse the current trend of riparian habitat degradation and provide much needed stewardship demonstration sites

  • encourage and form partnerships with private lake and river shoreline owners to provide permanent protection for up to 15 km of sensitive shoreline habitat

  • engage youth and the broader community in our stewardship efforts to foster the cultural shift that is required to protect shoreline ecological values on a long term basis

Who Will Lead the Project

In this second 3-year phase of the CSSP, work continued as before under the Pilot Phase with one major exception. The BC Conservation Foundation (BCCF) who supported the Pilot Phase with funding and advice, took over management of the Riparian Restoration segment of the project. This included hiring of a Project Manager and local secondary school students as workers.  Importantly, BCCF managed applications for funding grants and the reporting that must be done for these grants.  BCCF will continue ongoing monitoring of sites restored under the Pilot Phase while the CLRSS managed all other aspects of the CSSP, including riparian visits and identification of suitable participants for riparian restoration.  The CLRSS and BCCF continued as essential partners in the CSSP with the goal of permanently protecting the foreshore.

The project team consisted of the following dedicated people:

Diana Gunderson (B. Ed) CLRSS Board Member

(email: )

Experience: 3 years leadership of the CSSP Pilot Phase. 30+ years experience in higher education.

Organization: CLRSS

Role: provided leadership on Landowner Education, Community Engagement & Riparian Protection; liaison with BCCF on Riparian Restoration.

Jean Atkinson (B.Sc., M.Sc.) - CLRSS 

(email: )

Experience: 3 years leadership of the CSSP Pilot Phase, 30+ years experience in higher education.

Organization: CLRSS

Role: provide co-leadership on Landowner Education, Community Engagement & Riparian Protection.

Craig Wightman (B.Sc., R.P. Bio.) - Restoration Consultant

(email: )

Experience: 46 years experience in fish biology and environmental management

Organization: B.C. Conservation Foundation (BCCF)

Role: Technical Advisor & BCCF's CSSP Coordinator (funding, reporting, QA/QC). Project review & consultation; writing and managing funding applications/grants; inter-agency liaison.

Christine Brophy (Dip. Resource Management Officer of Technology, Bachelor of Natural Resource Protection)

(email: )

Experience: 3 years Project Manager of the CSSP Pilot Phase.

Organization: BCCF

Role: CSSP Field Manager. Planning, implementing and monitoring restoration work by student crew; media and public relations.

Peter Law (B.Sc., Habitat Biologist - retired), Project Consultant

(email: )

Experience: 30+ years experience with the B.C. Ministry of the Environment, responsible for Riparian Area Regulation (RAR) assessment on Vancouver Island.

Organization: BCCF

Role: Riparian area regulation consultation; assisting and advising the CSSP Field Manager; inter-agency liaison.

Dave Polster (M.Sc., R.P. Bio.)

(email: )

Experience: Bioengineering expert. 2013 recipient of the John Reiger Achievement Award for excellence in environmental restoration. 30+ years of restoration experience.

Organization: Polster Environmental Services Ltd., Duncan, BC

Role: Technical Advisor. Planning, advising and QA/QC of all riparian restoration activities.

How Was the Project Funded

Project work was funded primarily by grants, but also by owners of restored properties. For a list of Project funders click here.

Project Progress & Reports

We are now into our second year of the post-pilot project.  For a report on what we have accomplished in our first year, please see . . .

2017 CSSP Project Report

2018 CSSP Report

The Roots of the Project

In the spring of 2013 the Cowichan Lake Shoreline Workshop generated the following ideal vision of what the social, ecological and industrial environment of the Lake could look like by 2023:

  • collaborative government that supports local watershed management

  • healthy watershed ecosystems that support a healthy community with a vibrant economy

  • an informed community that understands and cares about and for its watershed

  • a regulatory and financial framework that ensure compliance and watershed integrity

  • decision-making and public education that are fuelled by best-available science, community knowledge and traditional ecological knowledge

This two day workshop was the impetus for the creation of the Cowichan Shoreline Stewardship Project.  Members of our group attended along with forty-five others representing a broad spectrum of stakeholders, including:

  • government (civic, provincial, federal)

  • environmental groups

  • recreational groups

  • industry

  • real estate

  • academia 

A 3 year pilot project was begun and subsequently completed in the fall of 2016.  For details of what the pilot project accomplished please see below.

CSSP Pilot Project

The first phase of the CSSP, completed in the fall of 2016,  was a 3 year pilot project to engage community and to change attitudes regarding the value of riparian areas and to involve shoreline owners who wished to return their riparian zones to a healthy state.

Based upon conversations with waterfront property owners during visits with them, there has been a positive change of attitudes and behaviour with respect to natural riparian areas due to our activities.   This is reflected in the interest shown in riparian restoration by property owners.  In the beginning of the project,  we sought out property owners who might be interested in riparian restoration of their property.  By the end of the project we were finding that the roles had changed, now property owners were seeking us in order to have their properties restored.

Pilot Project Summary Report

Here is a summary of what we have accomplished under the Pilot Project:

Riparian Restoration

  • restored 8,167 square metres of habitat by

  • planting 4,570 plants on

  • 22 properties on Cowichan Lake and Cowichan River

Each property now has a “Shoreline Steward” driveway sign that calls attention to their participation in the program.

We have produced a Riparian Care & Maintenance Manual, a valuable resource regarding the identification, care and maintenance of all riparian plants.  Click here to see it. 

Landowner Education

Participants were identified through the landowner education component of CSSP where CLRSS volunteers knocked on doors and talked to individual owners about the benefits of natural vegetation on their foreshores.  To date, we have completed 282 of these “riparian visits”.

We also administered 227 surveys that measure owners’ knowledge of riparian protection bylaws and their personal preferences for balancing their recreational needs with the ecological value of retaining natural shoreline vegetation on their properties.

Community Engagement

Restored sites were used as demonstrations for riparian tours led by the Project’s Manager.  The 7 tours conducted have proven successful in engaging a wider audience including: media, politicians, individual property owners, and members of other watershed groups.

Community engagement was also realized through the CLRSS website and Facebook page as well as articles in the local newspaper.  We also featured CSSP when participating in community events.

Intangible Results

Besides the aforementioned results which are easily measureable, another achievement is the affect the project had upon the young adults who have worked with us doing riparian restoration.  Each has turned into a riparian ambassador, spreading the word about the value of the riparian zone and some have even gone on to pursue higher education in environmental studies.


Project work was funded primarily by grants, but also by property owner donations. We would like to thank and acknowledge the following

Funders & In-kind Supporters

Cowichan Valley Regional District

BC Conservation Foundation

Department of Fisheries and Oceans (Recreational Fisheries Conservation Partnership Program)

Cowichan Valley Naturalists

Environment and Climate Change Canada (EcoAction Community Funding Program)

 Lake Cowichan First Nation
First West Foundation (Island Savings Community Endowment)

 McGrade Enterprises

Habitat Conservation Trust Fund Meyers, Norris, Penny
Polster Environmental
Pacific Salmon Foundation

And of course . . .

the many CLRSS volunteers

Participating Project Property Owners

Sidney Anglers

Project Detailed Yearly Reports

CSSP Summer 2016 Report

  Here is the concluding report for the Pilot Phase:

CSSP 2016 Final Report

CSSP Summer 2015 Report

For complete details of what we have accomplished in 2015 click on the following:

CSSP 2015 Detailed Report

CSSP Summer 2014 Report

In the  first year of the project we completed many important things including

  • making door to door visits of approximately 100 lakeshore residences to talk about the health of the Lake

  • completion of surveys to determine concerns of Lake residents

  • and most importantly, working to repair and restore riparian habitat around the Lake

CSSP 2014 Summary Report

CSSP 2014 Detailed Report

Our CLRSS 5 person summer work crew, consisting of a VIU student supervisor & 4 Lake Cowichan high school students, worked diligently to complete riparian restoration work on seven properties around the Lake.

Activities included:

  • consultation with property owners on developing a planting plan to restore their riparian zone to its native state

  • invasive plant removal & planting preparation

  • planting of 2500+ native plants

  • watering

  • erection of deer fencing

Communal Sites

We completed two projects on communal sites.  One in Honeymoon Bay at the Paradise RV Park and the other on Lake Cowichan First Nations property on North Shore Road.

Paradise RV Park July 5th

The CLRSS work crew led 34 volunteers from the RV Park and CLRSS to restore a 640 square meter area of foreshore, planting 527 native plants.   After the hard work, a hamburger and hot dog BBQ, provided by the Paradise RV folks, was enjoyed by all.  On August 26th the CLRSS work crew returned to weed the whole area.

Lake Cowichan First Nations July 26th

At the Lake Cowichan First Nation's site on North Shore road the CLRSS work crew led 33 volunteers from Lake Cowichan First Nations, the CLRSS & other stewardship organizations in the replanting of 853 native plants in a 1,500 square meter foreshore area.

Individual Owner Sites

The CLRSS summer work crew worked on five properties around the Lake.  Working together with the property owners 1,154 native plants were planted.  Some of the plantings addressed beach erosion problems as well as riparian issues.

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