Chances are, most people know what a Garry oak is. They’ve walked under them in parks and on shaded streets. What some might not know is the important role they play in the local ecosystem.
When Victoria’s early governor, James Douglas, arrived in Victoria, he declared it to be “a perfect Eden” as compared to the rest of the dreary Pacific Northwest. In contrast to the towering, dense evergreen forests this region is known for, Victoria was host to open meadows filled with wildflowers. The reason for the dissimilarity was Victoria’s native Garry oak forests.
Widely spaced, sprawling Garry oak trees allow a greater biodiversity than is found in the dark, thick forests of the mainland. These ecosystems host numerous species, some of them very rare, that are found nowhere else in the world. Many of the creatures that inhabit Garry oaks rely on them for survival and have a hard time existing in other ecosystems. Unfortunately, undisturbed Garry oak forests are quite rare in Victoria today. Victims of development and fragmentation, Garry oak ecosystems are predominantly found only in small patches scattered throughout the capital region.
However, there are groups like the Garry Oak Restoration Project (GORP) working to ensure that Victoria does not lose what is remaining. An initiative of the Saanich municipal government, GORP strives to care for and restore the endangered Garry oak forests that remain. Since 1999, they have actively promoted community involvement on the issue of Garry oak preservation. They work to encourage the recovery of Garry oaks, through hands-on initiatives, such as the removal of invasive species. The changes they have wrought are seen around Mount Douglas (P’KOLS), Chatterton Hill, Feltham Park, and other regions throughout Saanich. Visitors to these and GORP’s other sites will notice a great number of native plants, and maybe even some native animals enjoying the results of GORP’s hard work.
Although there have been many achievements, GORP and its volunteers are not about to rest on their laurels. Education is central to their restoration efforts. For this reason, they will hold “restoration walks” in Playfair Park. Located a little west of UVic, Playfair Park is one of Victoria’s most intact tracts of Garry oak forest.
Two restoration walks, scheduled for Feb. 13, will educate participants on Garry oak ecosystems and the work being done to protect them. UVic’s own Dr. Val Schaefer, the administrator of the Restoration of Natural Systems Program in the School of Environmental Studies, will lead the walks. The focus of the walks is on urban forests and the crucial role trees play in sustainable development. The walks offer opportunity to explore a piece of Victoria’s natural history in the company of one of the foremost experts on urban ecology and to learn more about what can be done to preserve an important part of our local ecosystems.