Species at Risk – we’ve got your backs!
Extremely rare flowers and creatures that flutter and soar are just a few that will be helped by Islands Trust Conservancy’s newest program
Islands Trust Conservancy’s new Species at Risk Program, dedicated to protecting and caring for species at risk within the Islands Trust Area, is already making great strides after just one year. This program is made possible by a multi-year grant from Environment and Climate Change Canada (details below!) and employs specialized staff and contractors to deliver a wide array of conservation projects throughout the islands in the Salish Sea.
We will continue to report on the progress of these projects in various ways, including through the Heron newsletter. In this summer issue, we focus on habitat enhancements at two specific sites in the Salt Spring Island and Gabriola Island local trust areas.
This spring, Islands Trust Conservancy hired Devin Hentschel as its first ever co-op student in the role of Conservation Technician. Devin is a fourth-year University of Victoria student majoring in Biology with a minor in Anthropology. He has a passion for environmental and wildlife conservation and is particularly interested in citizen science projects that aim to involve, support, and collaborate with First Nations. Devin has been an invaluable member of the Islands Trust Conservancy team, with contributions to land management, communications, and community engagement projects that benefit the ecosystems in our care. Read more about Devin’s experience in the upcoming Heron Autumn issue.
Wendy comes to the Conservancy from Habitat Acquisition Trust where she worked for 14 years, originally as the Land Protection Coordinator and the past six years as the Habitat Management Program Coordinator, managing many species at risk on conservation lands, including working with landowners and community volunteers to care for species at risk habitats. Wendy holds a Bachelor of Science in Ecology and Systematic Biology. Having joined Islands Trust Conservancy in July 2021, Wendy is now positioned to lead the Species at Risk (SAR) Program through its second and third years.
Projects Underway, Actions Planned to Protect Species at Risk
The Mount Tuam Protected Area is located on southern Salt Spring Island, 600 metres above Satellite Channel, at the summit of Mount Tuam. This protected area hosts endangered Garry oak ecosystems, including thin-soiled rock outcrops, talus slopes, wildflower meadows, and open woodland, that together support an exceptional diversity of species at risk.
Mt. Tuam (Salt Spring Island) coastal Scouler’s catchfly, representing one of only four extant naturally occurring locations in Canada. Photo by Laura Matthias
Species at risk in Garry oak ecosystems account for 10% of all species listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), making Mount Tuam’s summit a protected area of national significance. Despite its protected status, overgrazing by historic domestic sheep herds and current hyper-abundant deer populations have negatively impacted the ecosystems on Mount Tuam, adding to the impacts of climate change and invasive species that affect the broader region as a whole. Faced with these cumulative pressures, native plants and pollinators at risk are unlikely to recover without enhancement efforts.
Both native plants and the pollinators that coexist with them are at risk on Mount Tuam. Wildflowers are an essential source of nectar (sugar and necessary amino acids) and pollen (protein) for many of the bees, butterflies, and other insects native to Garry oak ecosystems. It is important to protect a diversity of plants to provide the diversity in colour, shape, height, size, and bloom times of flowers that supports a diversity of pollinators. Doing so also builds resilience in species and ecosystems that may be affected by changing weather patterns resulting from climate change.
Conservation work at this site includes building a large (1-acre) fence to exclude deer, preparing the site by removing invasive species, mowing and raking to clear out thatch buildup (dried invasive grasses), planting and sowing native plants including endangered coastal Scouler’s catchfly (pictured), and monitoring.
We would like to acknowledge Betty Swift (d. January 29, 2021) and her family for their unwavering dedication to conservation in the Salish Sea. The preserve and protect mandate is enabled by people who choose to do just that.
Link Island is located directly south of Gabriola Island, southeast of Nanaimo, in the DeCourcy Group. The island hosts a mix of second-growth and old-growth woodland forest. Its shoreline includes coastal cliffs, low rock, shoals, and intricate sandstone formations that support nesting colonies of seabirds and provide eyries (nest sites) for the raptors that prey on them. The shoreline and tidal flats are also rich with marine life.
The Swift family – hailing from Seattle, USA – strived to preserve the natural features and ecosystems here from 1963 until 2019, when they formalized the protection of Link Island through a NAPTEP covenant (held jointly between Islands Trust Conservancy and the Nanaimo and Area Land Trust).
The Swift family had observed Western Screech-Owls on the island over time, and their presence was confirmed in 2019, along with a worrying scarcity of suitable nesting cavities in the mostly second-growth forest.
Overgrazing by deer has depleted the protective forest understory needed for fledgling owls, and the island’s second-growth trees still need time to self-thin, mature, decay, and form the large cavities that provide nesting habitat. Waiting for the forest to mature at its natural slow pace may mean waiting too long for the critical habitat needed for this species at risk.
This year’s habitat conservation work on Link Island includes an inventory of standing dead trees to identify suitable nesting cavities, installing nest boxes for Western Screech-Owls in suitable, safe locations (i.e., those with intact understory vegetation) to supplement natural cavities, and continued monitoring of breeding activity.
With extensive notes from the report (2020) and work plan (2021) by Ren Ferguson
Program Fast Facts
- How much funding do we have to support this work? $597,000 (awarded July 2020)
- Any updates? Amount increased to $643,000 in May 2021 (Garry Oak Ecosystems addition)
- For how long will this program run? 3 years
- How far into it are we now? 1 year completed
- What is the funding for?
- Monitoring and habitat restoration
- Land conservation costs (excluding purchase price)
- Species at Risk surveys
- Landowner contact and outreach
- Internal training for trustees and staff
- Collaboration with partners
- Species at Risk Program overview, introducing new Conservancy staff and shining a spotlight on habitat restoration at two locations (see above)
- Eye-opening stats on the Opportunity Fund and the potent power of small donations
- Protecting islands in the Salish Sea – Lisa Baile donates four hectares to expand SDȺY¸ES/North Pender Island conservation network
- Remembering extraordinary Conservation Superheroes – three gutsy women whose legacy runs deep
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