In February, Conservancy staff and volunteers planted 166 trees and 42 shrubs in the old field at Bennett Bay. Ninety-nine trees were planted in the field and protected by individual deer protection cages including 20 arbutus and 79 Douglas fir. The remaining trees and shrubs were planted in the fenced enclosure. Each species was chosen with care and placed at the site according to their preferred habitat. For example, arbutus was planted at the top of the field where the soils are sandy and free draining, with Hooker’s willow, red-osier dogwood, black hawthorn, and other wet loving species planted at the bottom of the field where seasonal flooding occurs. Each plant received a helping of compost and a layer of mulch that will help reduce drought in the first two years.

Tools, plants, compost, and mulch assembled and ready for planting.

Lots of Challenges

The field at Bennett Bay has been a challenging site to reestablish wildlife habitat. Since there hasn’t been a forest in the field for nearly 100 years, the soils lack decomposing wood and the beneficial fungi that young plants rely upon. Compare this to Henderson Park, which was logged in 2005, but where the soils remained mostly intact. The deer browse is also very intense at Bennett Bay, and some of the invasive species such as Scotch broom, sweet-briar rose, Himalayan blackberry, and bull thistle require persistent management. The entire field experiences drought conditions each summer, but some areas of the field are seasonally flooded in the winter. The good news is that we have been successful in adapting to new challenges as they arise.

A thick layer of mulch was added around each planting to help reduce the impact of summer drought.

Voles? Are You Kidding Me!

Voles. Because, you know…. Overcoming drought, deer, and invasive plants just wasn’t enough of a challenge. Now, we have voles. These native rodents live a busy life. When they aren’t playing a less than friendly game of hide and seek with their owl friends, they’re busy eating things, such as the trees and shrubs we plant at our habitat restoration site at Bennett Bay. It turns out we’ve created some ideal conditions for these busy creatures. By excluding deer from the fenced area, the introduced grasses now grow tall in the summer, providing perfect cover from predators. We’ve even added some tasty plants for them to eat and loosened the soil in places for them to dig their shallow tunnels. This season we’ll be adding a few more maintenance tasks to our work such as cutting the grass in the fenced area to reduce cover from predators, and possibly adding protective rings around the young trees and shrubs.

Townsend’s vole. Picture taken by J. Maughn.

Contributing to National Parks

Bennett Bay is in the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve (GINPR), which was created in 2003 (the same year the Mayne Conservancy was founded). It is one of the smallest national parks in Canada and unique in many ways, including being the most significant national park in the Coastal Douglas fir ecosystem. National parks occur across Canada in different environments, and one of the beautiful things about our national parks is that they protect a diverse range of environments. The mandate of Parks Canada is in part to protect nationally significant examples of Canada’s natural and cultural heritage. Our work at Bennett Bay aims to maximize the extent to which the park can provide habitat for native plants and animals. While we do our work, we are also making sure to protect the cultural heritage at the park as well.

Deer protection, compost, and mulch will give this young Douglas fir the best possible chance of surviving. Could this be the beginning of a 250 year old tree that will feed and house countless generations of birds and other wildlife?

Cultural Heritage

The human history at Bennett Bay goes back much further than its recent status as a National Park or its use as a grazing pasture by European settlers. Like many sheltered bays around SḴŦAḴ/Mayne Island, this was an important site for Indigenous peoples. Evidence shows there was a village located there, likely used primarily for seasonal harvest of marine resources for thousands of years. Sites like this offer important information about Indigenous people’s cultural history and land use. To ensure no cultural features were damaged during our restoration work, we worked closely with archaeologists from Parks Canada and cultural monitors from the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council. Each planting spot was carefully investigated prior to planting.

Archaeologists sift through soil prior to planting.

If you are interested in helping with the Conservancy’s work to improve wildlife habitat at Bennett Bay or other locations across SḴŦAḴ/Mayne Island, please let us know and we will add you to our mailing list for Habitat Restoration Events. Email us at info@mayneconservancy.ca or by phone at 250-539-2535.

We would like to thank all the volunteers who helped with our restoration work this past year, as well as our financial supporters including private donors, the Victoria Foundation, the Province of British Columbia (Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation), and Parks Canada.


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