Lesson Plan - Coho salmon and habitat loss

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Prescribed learning outcomes and curriculum organizers

Science 4

Life science (habitats and communities):

  • determine how personal choices and actions have environmental consequences

Science 5

Earth and space science (renewable and non-renewable resources):

  • analyse how BC's living and non-living resources are used
  • describe potential environmental impacts of using BC's living and nonliving resources

Science 7

Life science (ecosystems):

  • analyse the roles of organisms as part of interconnected food webs, populations, communities, and ecosystems 
  • assess the requirements for sustaining healthy local ecosystems
  • evaluate human impacts on local ecosystems

English language arts 4

Comprehend and respond (comprehension):

  • organize information or ideas they have read, heard or viewed in the form of simple charts, webs, or illustration

Communicate ideas and information (knowledge of language):

  • write legibly, using personal styles of cursive script that are consistent in alignment, shape, slant, and spacing

Communicate ideas and information (composing and creating):

  • manage and organize information by grouping and sorting it into charts, webs, subtopics, or logical sequences 

Self and society (building community):

  • demonstrate a willingness to work with others toward a common goal

Support may be available

Contact your local Stream to Sea Education Coordinator or Community Advisor or phone 604-666-6614 to find out if an Education Coordinator in your area assists with this activity.

Lesson overview

Overview of activity

The purpose of this activity is to make students aware that some human activities can have environmental consequences and that a BC salmon species, (Fraser Interior coho) has been put on the endangered species list. In this activity, the "loss of habitat" human activities of forestry, mining, agriculture, linear development, urban and rural development and water use are examined as causes to loss of habitat. If teachers are using the "Probe" science texts, this activity would be best done after Chapter 10, Section 2.

Estimate of time required

Other required material:

Suggested assessment activities

The "Definition Matching Worksheet" and "Finding Solutions to Coho Salmon Habitat Loss" chart may be used as assessment tools

Recommended additional resources and optional enrichment activities

(E.g. Web-sites, Teaching Guides, Student Reading, Videos/Audio-tapes, Posters and Brochures, Field Trips)

Activity description

Overview - The purpose of this activity is to make students aware that the Interior Fraser River coho salmon have been established as "endangered", and how human activities can have environmental consequences that directly affect the coho's habitat. Forestry, mining, agriculture, linear development, urban and rural development, and water extraction (use) are considered as causes of loss of habitat for Fraser Interior coho. If teachers are using the "Science Probe" textbook, this activity is best done after Chapter 10, Section 2.


Syllable cards

Copy each syllable onto a separate index card or sheet of paper; there are 31 syllables. Provide one card to each student. These cards will be used in a syllable-combining exercise. [Option: to make the syllable-grouping exercise easier, include capital letters at the beginning of each word, or colour code the syllable cards.]


Put the following clues on large chart paper or photocopy and attach to the back of each syllable card. Three to five minutes into the syllable-combining game, suggest that these clues could help lead them to their habitat loss team-mates.


The teacher should review the Background material and Definition Matching Worksheet provided and prepare overheads for the map of the Fraser River and the Definition Matching Worksheet (if required).


  1. Inform the students that this activity that deals with how human actions have affected the habitat of coho salmon in the Interior Fraser River watershed of British Columbia, and that cumulatively, these actions have put coho on the endangered species list
  2. Review the concept and definition of habitat with the class and have students share several habitat examples (encourage local examples)
  3. Review with students the life cycle stages of coho salmon, writing each stage on the board as they are named (refer to background information for basic lifecycle details). Point out the life cycle stages in fresh water and salt water, then let the students know that the lesson will focus on habitat challenges that coho salmon face in fresh water. At a minimum, discuss the habitat required at the egg and spawner stages which take place in the fresh water of the Fraser River
  4. Review the key ideas of Chapter 10 from the Science Probe text book: human actions have an impact on habitats; changes in a habitat can affect the survival of a population; people can conserve habitats; and personal choices can have positive or negative effects on habitats
  5. Move to an open area indoors or out. Provide each student with a syllable card. Give students five minutes to find fellow students with the syllables that are required to complete a word or pair of words. Each word or pair of words defines a type of human activity that can cause the loss of coho habitat: forestry, agriculture, water use, linear development, urban development, rural development, and mining. Groups of students that can form one of the "habitat threat" words or pairs of words form a team
  6. Once the students have found their "habitat threat" team members, have students form a large circle, sitting near their team members. Ask teams to share their combined syllables with the rest of the class. Write the habitat threat words on a board or chart paper. Lead a discussion about the human activities listed and how they could create loss of habitat; provide information or ask leading questions to enhance the understanding of habitat loss for coho salmon
  7. Using an overhead projector or a large map of BC, identify the Fraser River, the Fraser River watershed and the Interior Fraser River watershed (upstream of Hell's Gate). Syllable cards can be collected or pasted as words on the large map or chalkboard
  8. Have students return to their seats and individually complete the Definition Matching Worksheet. Depending on the reading ability of the students, this worksheet may look overwhelming; however, clues are provided in the first line of each paragraph. [Option: the worksheet could be made into an overhead and be read orally to the students while they complete it.] 
  9. Inform students that these threats are very real today for coho salmon in the Interior of British Columbia. There is a team of scientists (the Interior Fraser Coho Recovery Team) that has written a report with suggestions to improve coho habitat, and to get Interior Fraser coho off the endangered list. Discuss the personal choices that students may make that would lessen their impacts on coho habitat


Teachers may make use of the "Finding Solutions to Coho Salmon Habitat Loss" chart as an evaluation tool in several ways. First, assign or have students choose one or two threats to coho habitat in the Interior Fraser River Watershed.

  1. By individually filling out the chart, students will:
    • Describe what causes the problem
    • Evaluate how it affects coho salmon
    • Consider various solutions to fix the loss of habitat problem

    The teacher can decide whether or not to use the information from the "Definition Matching Worksheet" to help the students complete the assignment.

  2. Students can individually describe the selected habitat problems and their effects on coho salmon. Then, as take home work, students can interview several people (include adults/parents/friends, etc.) and record their suggestions of possible solutions. Teachers may also make use of the Definition Matching Worksheet as an evaluation tool.

Student handout

Write the number of the "human activity" word next to its description.

Human activity words

  1. Forestry
  2. Mining
  3. Linear Development
  4. Urban Development
  5. Rural Development
  6. Water Extraction
  7. Agriculture
Number Description
People who live in the countryside may clear land, put up buildings, or drain or fill in watersheds to make a place where they can live. These changes to the landscape reduce the amount of land available for water to drain into. Residents' sewage disposal, use of lake or stream water and removal or alteration of stream-side vegetation can all cause damage to coho salmon habitat.
If many trees are harvested in a watershed, this can change water flows and increase erosion and sedimentation. Poorly-built roads for tree-harvesting vehicles can cause landslides, change the stream channel or increase sedimentation downstream. All of these changes can harm coho salmon spawning and rearing habitat.
Land for crops or cattle is generally cleared of trees and shrubs and buildings are constructed. Stream-side plants are often removed by machines or grazing animals. Where there are no plants along a stream, the water temperature can rise, sediment can wash into the creek, the stream can change shape, and animals have less places to find cover. These changes can all harm coho salmon spawning and rearing habitats and migration routes.
In many areas of the Interior Fraser watershed, there are high demands for water use and storage for crop irrigation and hydro-electricity. When water is removed from its natural sources, there is less water for fish, and habitat and migration routes are harmed. When there is a drought, coho cannot afford to lose water from their rivers, streams and lakes.
Looking for gold often means using lots of water, moving stream channels, suction dredging (digging up stream beds), and discharging (dumping) sifted rocks and dirt back into waterways. Heavy machinery may also operate near streams. In the past, gold-hunting activities were responsible for much damage to coho habitat.
In the city, buildings and roads cover natural surfaces, creating storm drain runoff that flows into nearby waterways. Waterfront landscaping and construction may remove or alter plants growing on the stream bank. The people who live in cities use nearby water in their homes for cooking, cleaning, and bathing, and then return the polluted water to local waterways.
Some industries such as oil and gas pipelines, railways, roads and highways and electrical lines follow alongside a river. Their construction and buildings can damage fish habitat. Bridges and culverts can create barriers to salmon migration, which may limit coho salmon access to rearing and spawning habitats.

Background information


Habitat loss

Interior Fraser coho

Salmon lifecycles

Status of Interior Fraser coho (COSEWIC)

Status of Interior Fraser coho (SARA)

The Species at Risk Act (SARA)

Working together to Protect Aquatic Species

The Species at Risk Act (SARA) was created to protect wildlife species from becoming extinct in two ways:

The Act became law in June 2003. It includes prohibitions against killing, harming, harassing, capturing or taking species at risk.

A collaborative effort

Three government departments are directly involved in protecting species at risk: Environment Canada, Parks Canada, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Fisheries and Oceans is responsible for all aquatic species, freshwater and saltwater alike.  From the beginning, it was recognized that no single government, industry or community could protect Canadian species at risk on its own. Governments and stakeholder groups across Canada must all work together. In fact, SARA was designed to encourage such cooperation. The good news is that everyone can help in some way: by knowing the species at risk and understanding why they're threatened (for example), or by taking steps to care for their habitat.

How does a species get on the list?

Species are designated "at risk" by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), an independent body of experts that assesses wildlife according to a broad range of scientific data. The federal Cabinet then decides whether those species should get legal protection under the Act. These decisions are made after consultations with affected stakeholders and other groups.

Species can be listed as:

Extinct: no longer found anywhere on the planet.

Extirpated: no longer in the wild in Canada, but existing in the wild elsewhere.

Endangered: a wildlife species facing imminent extirpation or extinction (the species could soon become extirpated or extinct). 

Threatened: likely to become endangered if nothing is done to reverse the factors leading to its extirpation or extinction.

Special concern: a wildlife species that may become a threatened or endangered species because of a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats.

More information about Species at Risk can be found at www.speciesatrisk.gc.ca

Map of the Fraser River watershed

Map of the Fraser River Watershed

Evaluation/assessment tools

Finding solutions to the coho salmon habitat loss in the Fraser river

Help identify the problems coho face and imagine some solutions to their habitat loss problems. Answer in point form. Try to include solutions that begin with "I could... 

Habitat loss problem:

What causes this habitat loss problem?

How does this problem affect coho salmon?

What solutions would help restore or prevent further loss of habitat?

Lesson Plan Written by Joanne Day, edited by Karen E. Morley and Anne Jenkins