When confronted with slow-moving, large-scale problems, humans generally have a track record of failing to take reasonable and timely action. This is partly an issue of perception, a failure to recognize the negative changes that have happened or are happening around us. The slower these changes happen, the harder it is for us to detect them. When we do take a moment to look around and assess the scale of a problem, we often base our judgement on what we see in front of us, not on what we once had. This phenomenon is called a shifting baseline. A baseline is a set of information that provides a standard or “normal” against which future observations are compared.

When we move to a new place, we encounter this issue of perception more acutely. We arrive, look around, and base our assessment of all future changes on the state of things at our time of arrival. This pattern of observation and evaluation is normal human behaviour, but commonly results in environmental degradation occurring unnoticed. There are some examples of this here on Mayne Island, where humans have caused big changes in the environment over the past 150 years, but where most people who live here today were not present to see those changes happening. Recognizing the changed state of our island is an important step in taking actions to heal it, and in finding light ways of living within these natural environments.

Native wildflowers as seen at Oak Haven Park in Central Saanich. Wildflower displays are notably absent from Mayne Island because of deer overpopulation. Photo taken by Rob Underhill.

Forest Age and Structure

Nearly all of Mayne Island has been logged in the past 100 years, and most areas have been logged two or three times. The result of that logging are forests that are younger and contain more numerous small trees of the same age than we see in mature forests. In most areas, our forests also have fewer standing dead and dying trees. Although dead and dying trees are a very important part of healthy ecosystems, they are often cut down and removed from the forest because they don’t fit an image of a neat and orderly (human managed) landscape. Healthy forests also require fallen, decaying branches and logs to provide nutrients and energy to plants and insects, and to provide structural habitat for plants and animals.

Over time, the diversity of habitats naturally present in mature and old growth forests can return to Mayne Island. All private landholders have a role to play in stewarding the recovery of our local forests. The Conservancy offers a popular, free Landholder Consultation service to help landholders figure out the best way to manage natural areas in balance with other land uses.

Deer Browse and Forest Understory

A spring visit to one of the many parks in the Greater Victoria area such as Oak Haven Park in Central Saanich or Mt. Tolmie Park in the City of Victoria will likely produce a shocking realization for any Mayne Islander unfamiliar with natural wildflower displays. The lack of spring wildflowers in our island’s habitats may be the most obvious impact of deer overpopulation, but the loss of native shrubs and associated wildlife that would normally occur in the forest understory is a similarly noticeable impact. The diversity of plants and animals we currently observe on Mayne Island is very different than what we would have seen 50 or 100 years ago. These are just two reasons why the Conservancy is advocating for the Province of British Columbia to fulfill their responsibility for wildlife management on Mayne Island.

Native wildflowers in Gore Park, Central Saanich. Photo taken by Central Saanich,

Healthy Oceans

Shifting baselines in the marine environment are difficult to detect and are especially difficult for people to sympathize with. After all, we live on land and rarely experience oceanic changes directly. While little data is available to detect historical changes in marine habitats, the information we do have about changes in eelgrass extent is not positive. Natasha Nahirnick from the University of Victoria studied historic air photos and detected a 41% average decline in area covered by eelgrass in three bays (Village Bay, Horton Bay, and Lyall Harbour) between 1932 and 2016. Data collected by the Mayne Island Conservancy via free diving describes an average decline of 26% in eelgrass cover around Mayne Island between 2009 and 2021. The Conservancy will continue to monitor these important marine habitats and communicate our observations to governments, industry, First Nations, academics, and the public to limit the effects of a shifting baseline.

The Conservancy coordinates a long-term regional bull kelp monitoring program to accurately detect changes in this important marine species. Photo taken by Charlotte Matthews.

What you Can Do

Solving these problems may be beyond the capacity of any one organization, but together we can make a positive difference. Here are some of the ways you as an individual can help care for the land and waters around Mayne Island:

  1. Be an active and informed land steward. Your contribution to conservation of natural areas on Mayne Island is valuable. There are a LOT of great land stewards on Mayne Island. If you’d like to learn more about the history and current state of your property, and how you can best manage and heal the land, participate in our Landholder Consultation Program.
  2. Volunteer. We need your help to make the existing public parks on Mayne Island fulfill their ability to provide natural habitat and ecosystem services. Volunteering with our habitat restoration team is a rewarding experience that directly contributes to improving ecosystem health. Volunteering opportunities with our organization are varied and include hands on invasive species management, native tree planting, marine monitoring, event planning, and background support roles.
  3. Donate. Our capacity to contribute to habitat restoration, engage and motivate land stewards, and monitor our environment relies on donations from the community.
Volunteers and staff plant trees on Mayne Island as part of habitat restoration projects. Photo taken by Rob Underhill.


Peter Askin · April 1, 2022 at 1:12 pm

A most interesting (and sobering article), and I agree a deer cull (not a hunting season) is the answer. With the increased population on the island, this would be more of a challenge. There was no mention in the article of fallow deer (unless I missed it), who are 10 times more destructive to the understory than the native deer who are browsers. (Check the wooded area around the former deer farm to see dramatic evidence of that). Also, the fallow deer eat plants that the native deer wouldn’t touch. All in all, a good article.

    Rob Underhill · June 6, 2022 at 11:36 am

    Thanks for the comment Peter. I don’t believe a specific method for deer management was discussed in this article (cull vs hunting season). Specific species of deer were not mentioned in this article because both species contribute significantly to the ecological impacts associated with overgrazing. Yes the invasive fallow deer eat a broader range of plants than the blacktail deer, but blacktail deer overpopulation is also a significant concern, and one that is evident on surrounding islands. Thanks for reading.

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