Chaffen Creek Watershed Group
Mission: "to become aware of how our creek utilization affects those downstream and practice pro-active responsible creek management to ensure sustainability."
Location: Chaffen Creek originates primarily in the Livingstone Range – between Chaffen Ridge (7200’) and Horseshoe Ridge (7000’) and the Porcupine Hills – Honey Coulee (5500’) and Minor Coulee (4800’). From the West, Riley Creek, Owl Creek, Hunter Creek and Beagle Creek flow into Chaffen Creek. The East side issues Ward and Raspberry Creeks with Hawkeye Creek joining Nelson Creek further south which ultimately flows into Chaffen Creek. Several un-named creeks/springs feed this watershed – seasonally adjusted. This meandering creek follows Chimney Rock Road eastward to Highway #22 where it crosses and joins with South Fork Willow Creek.
History: Chaffen Creek was once known as the South Fork Willow Creek. Whaleback Ridge was originally known as Porter Ridge and Breeding Valley is named after the homesteader, William Patterson Breeding. It was common practice for creeks and coulees to be named after the homesteaders and some liberties have been taken with spellings over the years as in Chaffin (Chaffen) and Rosbury (Raspberry), while other names have come through reasonably unscathed: Nelson, Riley, Honey, etc. or were just eliminated altogether: Porter.
Historically: Chaffen Creek does experience flood and drought conditions – anecdotal records since 1946 show 1988 was completely dry with severe drought periods averaging cyclically every 3 to 4 years and floods in 1953, 1954, 1963, 1964, 1973, early 1980’s, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998 (3X), 2005. These floods typically exhibit a rise in excess of 10’ (the Webster Bridge having been replaced over 4 times). The most severe damage has been created as bridges are replaced by larger culverts – the sudden rise in water levels generate so much energy that the creek banks downstream were severely eroded or the culvert is literally “sucked out” of the ground as was the Webster crossing in 1995! During the flood of 2005, bridges replaced by culverts (these streams are considered “navigable”) caused several types of damages; driving water washing out a residential bridge downstream, others limiting water flow to such an extent that the water flowed along roadways until reaching an intersection or obstruction and washing over-top taking soil, gravel and/or pavement with it and yet another couldn’t handle the volume of water that was to be directed under a road, ultimately eroding the road completely.
Fish: Fishing population continues to thrive with recent efforts to manage cattle access by skim grazing areas along the creek showing benefit to the creek bank which in turn contributes to strengthening bird and wildlife habitat conditions.
Wildlife and Livestock: We have controlled access of our cattle/horses with off-site watering systems at dugouts. Beaver dams are prolific, coyote, weasel, gophers, deer, (whitetail/mule deer), elk, bear (black/grizzly), wolf, cougar are examples of the game using this watershed system with birds (ducks, geese, swans) utilizing the creeks for drinking, as a food source and to cool-down during periods of extreme heat (this includes general frolicking of both the 2 and 4 legged varieties).
Users: There are 4 full-time residents along West Chaffen Creek with 2 other families living south along Nelson Creek. The land along this system provides grazing for 13 ranching operations and miscellaneous grazing leases on Crown Land with limited farming use. Other influences impacting this segment of the creek system – White Creek Trail, which follows a portion of Chaffen Creek, the North end of the Whaleback Ridge (hikers must cross the creek to access the Whaleback) and a variety of other recreationalists (Random Campers, hikers, OHVer’s, etc.) in the Porcupine Hills.
Watershed Activities: Off-site watering systems are provided on the Webster Ranch for their cattle – windmill and solar powered pumps are utilized at the dugouts. A section of our creek has been fenced and operates as a riparian pasture (+/- 80 acres) to provide grazing later in the fall after the banks have hardened and the livestock traffic cannot cause excessive injury to the shoreline. During a drought, this method offers another option for watering as we are able to visually monitor the area for signs of distress. These locations are available as Demonstration Sites and have been included on various agricultural Tours. We have seen increased interest in our riparian and grazing methods by the guests visiting our B&B and they often tour these sites. Many of our visitors come to reconnect with the land and are usually surprised at the pro-active approach we take to monitor, maintain and appreciate our environment. We participate with the Alberta Water Quality Awareness Day, Interpretive Creek Walks through Dames on the Range and offer ranch tours to share our interest in this eco-system. We try to take advantage of any workshops offered to strengthen our own riparian and grazing management skills. The Municipal District of Ranchland is supportive in our efforts to manage weeds and has provided assistance with education, identification of non-native/invasive plants and makes recommendations to the preferred method of control or elimination.