Carolyn at Beacon Hill, photographed by Rocketday
“I want others to know about this landscape we live in — how rare and unique it is. This is the only place in the world that these beautiful and diverse ecosystems exist.”
beauty at risk
Carolyn Masson is part of the Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team, an organization dedicated to the recovery of Garry oak ecosystems and their associated species at risk. Carolyn oversees the organization’s communications and outreach, and we at Rocketday have been working with her for seven years, constructing and maintaining the website, and supporting other communications material. We asked our friend Carolyn some questions about her work.
What are Garry oak ecosystems?
Garry oak ecosystems are enchantingly beautiful and high in biodiversity, and they are unique to this part of the world. They contain Garry oak trees, the only native oak in western Canada, and a rich mosaic of plant and animal species. They occur only in a few small patches of southwest Canada and northwest US, and nowhere else.
In contrast to nearby dense forests, Garry oak ecosystems tend to be more open and spacious, with meadows, grasslands, and rock outcrops. Sometimes the ecosystems don’t have trees at all, but are associated because they share ecological characteristics with Garry oak ecosystems.
And these ecosystems are threatened?
Collectively, Garry oak and associated ecosystems are among the most endangered in Canada. They were once more common in coastal areas of southwest BC, but now less than 5% of these ecosystems remain in near-natural condition. Because so much habitat has been lost or degraded, more than 100 species of plants, mammals, reptiles, birds, butterflies and other insects in these ecosystems are officially listed as “at risk.”
What is the role of the Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team?
We are a hub for all things related to these ecosystems and their species at risk. We are a comprehensive partnership of experts affiliated with all levels of government, non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, First Nations, and volunteers and consultants. There are about 100 people involved in seven different areas of the recovery work. Some are scientists who specialize in the endangered plants and animals associated with Garry oak ecosystems, some are ecologists, some work in their community land trusts, and some work for government agencies.
One project that illustrates what we do is our Bring Back the Bluebirds project. Western Bluebirds were once common in Garry oak ecosystems, but are now locally extinct. Through a nestbox program, habitat restoration, and by translocating birds from a healthy population in the US, we are working to restore the local population. We hope that interest in this charismatic species will engage the community in habitat restoration and in an overall appreciation for our rare ecosystems.
Personally, what compels you to do this work?
I like to imagine what it must have been like to walk through expansive knee-high fields of camas and buttercup when Garry oak ecosystems dominated southeast Vancouver Island’s landscape. I picture vast open landscapes dotted with oak trees, bunch grasses and a stunning mix of wildflowers, moss-and-lichen-covered rock outcrops.
I hope that as people volunteer, participate in habitat restoration or native plant gardening, and visit our website to learn more, community knowledge of threatened ecosystems and habitat protection will increase. More and more people will realize what a unique landscape we inhabit — and that it’s worth protecting.
VISIT the Gary Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team website
under the oaks
The following is an except from Gardens Aflame, a recent book about Garry oak ecosystems written by Rocketday’s Maleea Acker, published last year by New Star Books. Find the book from Amazon or the publisher, with cover design by Rocketday’s Clint Hutzulak and cover photos by Rocketday’s Emrys Miller.
During a visit to Mount Tzouhalem last spring, I asked Dave Polster what the impetus was behind people’s desire to save the meadows. We were standing in late morning sun, in the transition zone between oak glade and Douglas fir and arbutus woodland. Last year’s leaves lay on the ground, many pierced by the new, green leaves of satin flower and nodding onion. He glanced at me sideways. “Do you want to hear what I think is the real reason, or the answer scientists usually give?” “Both,” I smiled.
Officially, he told me, reserves serve as a benchmark for disappearing ecosystems. This answer concerns protection of listed species, halting the decline of nesting rates of endangered birds, preventing the disappearance of species and maintaining reserves as a repository, a sanctuary to show us what our world used to look like. This reason encompasses all the facts that ecologists, botanists, biologists and conservationists know by heart. But, Polster told me, that’s not the whole story. “People get a spiritual lift when they enter this ecosystem,” continued Polster.
“This is critically important to our being able to connect with the land, but too often, this connection isn’t given any credence. People feel lost and empty and think that if they buy a bigger TV they’re going to find happiness. I don’t think so. I think it has to do with caretaking and reconnection and appreciation of beauty.
“Certainly Garry oak ecosystems are stunningly beautiful. In their pristine condition, you don’t have to have much imagination to truly see this.”
VIEW more photos at Rocketday’s Among Nature project
a video with Karin Bodtker, describing the project
It’s complete. A comprehensive, digital collection of over 290 maps in more than 20 different categories, illustrating both ecological and human use marine features of the Canadian Pacific.
The BC Marine Conservation Analysis project is a collaborative endeavour, with participants from Coastal First Nations, the Province of BC, the Nature Conservancy of Canada, Living Oceans Society, Fisheries & Oceans Canada, BC Seafood Alliance, Parks Canada, just to name just a few.
The project gathers mapped information about both marine biodiversity and human activity in Canada’s Pacific, and analyzes it. The goal is to provide a clearer understanding of which marine areas are the most important for human use, and which are the most important ecologically for us to conserve and protect. These maps and analyses help decision makers make more informed plans.
You too can browse the maps in the online database, viewing maps for everything from rare algae to the Canadian Goose habitat, to commercial prawn fisheries and offshore oil and gas exploration. Rocketday enjoyed working with the team over the past five years, designing and producing the website to host the maps, data and analysis.
the final frontier
To close this episode of WHERE WE GO FROM HERE, we leave you with with some space images by our long-term friend and collaborator Dushan Milic. Dushan has won several awards, and his illustrations can be found in The New York Times and The Globe & Mail, as well as projects at Rocketday including Humanist Perspectives magazine, Ascent magazine and Transmit Now magazine. He teaches at OCAD University in Toronto and Sheridan College.