This will not be the first time officials have used controlled burns to manage the Cowichan Garry oak preserve. (Citizen file)

Precious Vancouver Island Garry oak eco-systems being put to the torch

Cowichan, Mechosin will see planned burns in order to maintain ecologically rare habitat

They are some of the most unique and ecologically precious eco-systems on Vancoouver Island.

And some time in the next month or so, officials will be be deliberately setting them on fire.

Cowichan’s Garry Oak Preserve and Rocky Point on the Canadian Armed Forces base in Metchosin will be one of two sensitive ecosystems intentionally torched in the coming weeks, according to the BC Wildfire Service, in a cleanse designed to improve their health.

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The goal is “to reduce wildfire risks, manage flammable vegetation on the landscape and help restore Garry oak ecosystems,” according to a press release issued by the BC Wildfire Service. “Reintroducing fire into these areas is an effective way to promote natural regenerative processes, control invasive species and slow the encroachment of conifer trees into these specialized ecosystems,” said the release.

It may seem counter-intuitive to set something one is trying to preserve on fire, but the Wildfire Service notes it’s actually the traditional way to manage sites like this.

“Historically, First Nation communities maintained the grassy plains at these sites by burning off dry grasses, shrubs and young trees that are less tolerant of fire than Garry oak,” said the release. “These ecosystems relied on regular, low-intensity ground fires to limit the spread of competing tree species, remove accumulations of dead wood and other vegetation, and promote new growth. Fire-resistant Garry oak and mature Douglas fir trees would have survived such fires and herbaceous plants would have vigorously re-sprouted after the fire had passed through.”

Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve is located along Maple Bay Road, with a viewing area near the foot of MacKenzie Drive. It’s home to the largest Garry oak in Canada.

While Rocky Point is a much larger area at 20 hectares, the 1.5-hectare Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve will also be burned in three stages, when the site and weather conditions are favourable.



sarah.simpson@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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