Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society (Cows and Fish)

We foster a better understanding of how improvements in grazing, recreation, residential and other management of riparian areas can enhance landscape health and productivity, for the benefit of landowners, agricultural producers, communities and others who use and value riparian areas.

Riparian assessment field day at a local lakeOur Story Why We Exist

It’s a bright-blue, warm spring day in early June. Forty grim faced people are squeezed into a community hall to talk about the state of their lake. Comments ricochet around the room: “I used to swim here as a child, but wouldn’t chance it now”; “it’s a long walk to the water”; and, “the lake stinks”. The realization of all the incremental and insidious changes of the past decades now cascades upon them.

They chafe at the unfairness of it, that they are stuck in a community hall faced with these changes, instead of being out, enjoying their little piece of paradise. “We’ve got to fix it”, “we want our children to play here”, and the equally as telling comment, “the value of my property is dropping” embody the worried comments of the crowd. In the transition from awareness to action, we’re still a ways from an understanding that this is no small repair job, a circumstance that won’t be turned around tomorrow. “We just want it back to the pretty little spot it was.” That may be wishful thinking, given the rapid escalation in the ageing process of the lake, exacerbated by shoreline development and nutrients delivered from the watershed.

It may well be that the lake never was quite the “pretty little spot”, given the tendency of most central Alberta lakes to be high in nutrients, naturally. Their lake was probably always subject to some algae blooms, but now they are happening most years. An old-timer in the group quietly confirms this with me, privately, during the coffee break. His observations are that the magnitude of problems has grown with lakeshore development and expansion of agriculture and acreages in the surrounding watershed.

Others would like to reach into their blame holsters and, like the gunfighters of old, point their .45 calibre fingers at someone else. Between the farmers present and the lakefront residents, there is a heated exchange over who did what and when to the lake. It is a natural human tendency to see the collective impacts of others, but harder to see your own personal role in the issues that result from a series of long, slow, cumulative changes. This group will take a while to realize the ownership of the issues includes all of them.

They listen politely, if albeit somewhat sceptically, to the words and images of our Riparian 101 presentation. This description of the ecological functions of their lake begins to help them unravel some of the mystery of the watershed, lakeshore and landscape under their tenure. Not all are instant believers, but it sets up a bit of uncertainty which can only be assuaged through more information.

Cows and Fish never sets out to educate people about their watershed in one blinding flash of knowledge. Rather, it is a process of building a cumulative body of knowledge, over time that creates, within individuals and the community, the capacity to make better or more appropriate decisions. The world we live in is a complex one, but some elemental knowledge is required to allow us to fit into it, in a way that doesn’t preclude options for the future.

- story written by Lorne Fitch, P. Biol., Provincial Riparian Specialist - Cows and Fish, with edits by Norine Ambrose

Riparian areas are lands adjacent to streams, rivers, lakes and wetlandsOur Impact What We Do

Think of us in terms of partnerships, communities, stewardship, water quality and quantity, watersheds, biodiversity, and sustainability.  We foster awareness about riparian areas and watersheds, and how improvements in management can enhance landscape health and productivity, for the benefit of landowners, communities and others who use and value these green zones.

What is a Riparian Area? Riparian areas are lands adjacent to streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands, where the vegetation and soils are strongly influenced by the presence of water. Although they make up only a small fraction of the land, they are among the most productive and valuable of all landscape types and have been a focus of conflicts between resource users.

Riparian areas need to be healthy to function properly. Some of those functions include trapping sediments, recharging ground water, providing primary productivity, and supporting biodiversity. We help cattle producers, lakefront residents, landowners, and their communities understand how healthy their riparian areas are, both on their individual operations and in their local watersheds. Understanding riparian health, or function, allows entire communities and individual producers to identify concerns and to proactively address specific land use issues. 

Our Mission: 

To promote the improvement of riparian areas, their ecological processes and functions, through a collaborative partnership and voluntary, proactive community-based action that uses education and awareness about management options for producers, other landowners and their communities.

Our Objectives:

  • to promote an understanding of riparian health and function
  • to communicate the benefits of good riparian management
  • to promote proactive voluntary solutions to riparian area conflicts
  • to demonstrate value of cooperative, interdisciplinary and community efforts in resolving resource conflicts and addressing management challenges
  • to improve the overall productivity and health of Alberta's landscapes and communities

Riparian health assessment relies on visual observation, a little practice and fine-tuning your 'eye' to accurately interpret the health or function of a riparian area. Riparian health assessment helps you address the questions "Where am I?", "Where do I want to go?", and "Did I make it?" in terms of riparian health. Both vegetative and physical parameters are examined to provide information about the function and condition of that riparian area. Riparian health assessment and inventory also:

  • CREATES AWARENESS among producers, other landowners and their communities about riparian management issues in their local watersheds;
  • HELPS LANDOWNERS AND COMMUNITIES TAKE VOLUNTARY ACTION by assisting local decision-makers develop strategies to find solutions to address local riparian issues;
  • HELPS COMMUNITIES AND INDIVIDUALS MONITOR THEIR PROGRESS in improving, maintaining and protecting riparian health in their watershed or operation;
  • ASSISTS CATTLE PRODUCERS TO IDENTIFY ENVIRONMENTAL RISK AND INTEGRATE THAT INFORMATION INTO FARM AND RANCH PLANNING, taking stock of current conditions and identifying management options for improvement if required.

Awards Received:

  • Alberta Emerald Award 2005 - Education: Organization  For recognizing organizations within the non-formal education system that have gone beyond the normal practices and shown leadership in educating students about environmental matters. 
  • Canadian Environmental Award - Environmental Learning Gold Winner 2003  For our commitment to environmental learning and our community-based approach. 
  • Society for Range Management Awards  Awarded for our promotion and enhancement of the stewardship of rangelands to meet human needs based on science and sound policy.

Riparian assessment field day by the riverOur Programs How We Do It

“I can’t say enough good about Cows and Fish, from the excellent training, the hands-on training, monitoring, good facilitation skills, the incredible knowledge you people have, and the way you are able to bring it down to the farmer level, and to the colleague level.  An excellent grass-roots program.” – Northern Alberta Municipal Staff Member

The Cows and Fish Program is based on a set of five elements or phases which collectively make up the "Cows and Fish Process" and you can learn more about this process by clicking here: Cows and Fish process.

  1. Awareness:  Being informed helps people make good decisions!
  2. Team Building:  Communication and trust are key to good relationships.
  3. Tool Building:  Provide opportunities to learn a variety of riparian management alternatives.
  4. Community-Based Action:  Agricultural  producers, landowners and communities drive the process.
  5. Monitor and Evaluate:  Did we make it?

We are available to help landowners, communities and local stewardship groups:

  • Understand riparian area functions and values
  • Access technical advice and educational materials
  • Examine and monitor the health of their riparian areas
  • Evaluate and suggest management strategies

We work at the invitation of landowners and local communities to deliver our program:

Whether urban or rural, we encourage you to invite us to work with your community!  Whether it is educational presentations, bringing together a team of technical experts to work with residents, hands-on learning to increase management skills, tours of nearby areas to share lessons learned, or helping your community move beyond finger-pointing to stewardship ethic and action, we can help with riparian and watershed management.

One key area we use to engage, motivate and inform is the riparian health assessment.  The purpose of riparian health assessment and inventory is to provide better information on riparian health or function to assist landowners and land managers make the best decisions to manage their riparian resources effectively. Combined with practical knowledge and wisdom about their own ranch, farm, land or watershed, riparian health information will help landowners and managers find better land management solutions. 

Here are several ways in which riparian health assessment and inventory are delivered:

  • AS PART OF A COMMUNITY-BASED PROCESS OR INITIATIVE, usually on a local watershed, involving awareness and education, team building, tool and information building, and monitoring (see Cows and Fish Process for more information). 
  • AFTER AN INVITATION FROM A COMMUNITY OR PRODUCER GROUP, we meet with local municipal staff, Agricultural Service Board representatives, agricultural fieldmen, producer or community group leaders, and other local individuals to discuss potential riparian management tools the group can implement as part of their local voluntary plan to address land use issues in their local watershed.
  • WHEN THE PRODUCER OR COMMUNITY GROUP DECIDES TO IMPLEMENT RIPARIAN HEALTH ASSESSMENT, they determine which stream systems or watersheds to target as part of their community-based initiative. At their invitation, we provide information on riparian areas and health at a local meeting, and ask the community to decide if they would like to proceed with riparian health assessment and inventory. If they want to proceed, they secure funding to help cover part of the cost of the riparian health inventories.
  • WE ALSO HOST FIELD DAYS FOR LOCAL PARTICIPANTS to learn more about riparian health assessment hands-on, provide riparian and grazing management information, and examine sites for demonstration or profile potential, depending on requests from the group or community. We encourage communities to monitor their progress at meeting their goals for healthy, sustainable operations and watersheds.

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“As a farmer, I don’t know what I can do, but I know I can do something.”                                 - Northern Alberta Landowner

"Lot’s of people give us things to think about, Cows and Fish gives us thinks to think with.”    - Central Alberta Landowner

Instruction received during riparian health assessmentOur Requests What You Can Do

“If we can do stewardship on our farm and make a difference, there’s a lot of other farms out there that can do it too.  This is something I believe average Albertans can do, and we’re average Albertans.”  - Watershed Group Member

Your gift can sustain and nourish environmental stewardship in Alberta.

You can enable us to further enhance environmental learning, aid communities in moving from environmental awareness to action and helps to sustain landscapes, communities, and riparian areas. If you're looking to support positive change in Alberta’s environment, donating to Cows and Fish is a great choice. Numerous methods are available to make a gift to Cows and Fish. Please note that we accept both financial and in-kind (non-financial) support. 

Want to make on online, credit card donation?  Our first choice is ATB Cares, because they do not take an administrative fee plus they add 15% to your donations!  Go to atbcares.com/donate

Or:  Download, print and submit our Make a Gift to Cows and Fish form. Our mailing address is:

  • 2nd Floor, YPM Place, 530 – 8th Street South, Lethbridge, AB, T1J 2J8
  • If you have any questions, our phone number is:  (403) 381-5538

Emission Reduction Team - Goal:  $50,000 annually or donation of specific items. 

We are seeking sponsors, donors and contributors for our Emission Reduction Team.  If you, your company or organization is interested in becoming part of our Emission Reduction Team, please contact our Executive Director at (403) 381-5538 or riparian@cowsandfish.org.  Your contribution to Cows and Fish will also be an investment in a cleaner Alberta.

Technology Team - Goal: $15,000 annually or donation of specific items.

We pride ourselves on making our technological items last, but to be honest, some of our old computers, printers, cameras and other gizmos are slowing us down!  Our Executive Director’s office chair is from the 1990s!  Our staff numbers may be small, but keeping up with technology is expensive. 

You can help us to deliver bold presentations in vivid colour, and capture digital imagery with impact.  You will enable us to work faster, more efficiently and allow us more time to spend influencing positive change on Alberta’s landscapes and riparian areas.  We know you want healthy fish and wildlife populations, clean water and a stable water supply – the right tools in our hands will help us reach those goals.  

Calgary