Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve
Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve flowers, British Columbia (Photo by Tim Ennis/NCC)
The Cowichan Valley is widely known as one of the last and best havens of the globally endangered Garry oak ecosystem and its associated biodiversity. Less than 10 percent of the original extent of this ecosystem remains worldwide, yet more than 100 species at risk depend on this disappearing habitat.
The Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve (CGOP) is the Nature Conservancy of Canada's flagship property in the Cowichan Valley.
Garry oak ecosystems support the highest diversity of plants in coastal British Columbia, as well as a high diversity of insects, reptiles and birds. The complex structure of these woodlands and meadows creates a variety of habitat niches. In addition, the Cowichan River that winds through the bottom of the Cowichan Valley is home to one of Vancouver Island's most important salmon runs. Other species of interest that represent the biodiversity of the Valley include Roosevelt elk, and the rare purple martin and yellow montane violet.
In Bloom Wildflower Festival (Photo by Tim Ennis/NCC)
In Bloom Wildflower Festival
Each spring we open the preserve to the public to wander through the Garry oak meadows at the height of the spring wildflower bloom. This is a once-a-year opportunity to enter into the heart of the preserve, which is normally closed to the public to protect the sensitive ecosystem.
The intact Garry oak meadows of the Cowichan Valley are found in an area where development is active and widespread. Vancouver Island's warmest climate creates an ideal location for vineyards and pastures, and attracts ongoing residential building. Introduced invasive species frequently out-compete the more fragile native plants. Human use has compromised the health of the estuary and diminished the area's wetlands.
Volunteer at the preserve
Volunteers have been instrumental in restoring the Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve, which only 10 years ago was choked by Scotch broom and other invasive plants. Today the meadows bloom with camas, shooting star and other wildflowers, and the native plant nursery, tended by volunteers, supports the ongoing stewardship of this special place. Restoring native habitat, tending nursery plants and helping with species inventories are just some of the activities that volunteers at get up to at the preserve.
A living laboratory
A growing roster of scientists from across North America are coming to CGOP to study at this “living laboratory”. Much of their work contributes to NCC and other organization’s ongoing efforts to restore Garry oak ecosystems in the Pacific northwest. With only pockets of Garry oak ecosystems remaining, many of the species that rely on them are in rapid decline as well. Scientists are scrambling to understand the intricacies of these native oak savannah and woodland ecosystems and the vast complex of plants and animals that can be found in them.
NCC thanks these committed ecologists for their dedication to the science that forms the foundation of NCC’s Garry oak stewardship and restoration efforts.