Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve

Cowichan Community Land Trust Society and the Nature Conservancy of Canada Celebrates Success!

A History of Degradation and Loss

During the last 150 years, agricultural and urban development have overtaken most Garry Oak ecosystems.  Construction has damaged roots, causing tree fatalities.  Fire suppression has opened Garry oak regions to invading species.  Overgrazing by domestic and feral livestock has impaired Garry oak regeneration and enabled non-native plant species such as Scotch broom and orchard grass to take over.  As a consequence, unaltered Garry oak meadow is difficult to find in British Columbia today.  Much of what remains has been strongly modified or corrupted by invasive species.

Estimates are that only 1-5% of original Garry oak ecosystems are left in British Columbia.  A conservative estimate is that only 0.5% of original habitat is currently protected.  And as oak meadows disappear, we lose essential habitat for plants, birds, invertebrates, and other creatures that enhance our lives and world.

Against this backdrop, the Nature Conservancy of Canada is committed to finding and preserving the best remaining Garry oak habitats in BC before it is too late.

The Best of the Last

Prior to its' protection, the BC Conservation Data Centre expertly described the 30-acre family estate of Cowichan pioneer Gerald Erlam Elkington, located at Maple Bay, as being the number one unprotected Garry oak site in the province. Nowhere is there a finer remaining example of an intact Garry oak ecosystem.  Its the best of the last.

Rarest of the Rare

Of all the ecosystems in British Columbia, Garry oak (Quercus garryana) is among the most rare and endangered.  A mosaic of woodlands, meadows, grasslands, and open rocky areas, biologically rich Garry oak ecosystems are the most threatened component of BC’s precious Coastal Douglas fir region.  Garry oak habitats now occupy much less than 1% of the land base of BC, yet are still under relentless siege from urban development and agriculture.

Garry oak landscapes reflect the climate and topography of south-eastern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands where the moderating ocean and mountain rain shadows produce near Mediterranean conditions.  Here we find blue Camas, white Easter lily, shooting star, Hooker’s onion and chocolate lily.  Rare species include Howell’s triteleia, yellow montane violet, deltoid balsamroot, and dozens of others.

Sadly, Garry oak ecosystems are in steady decline largely as a consequence of their attractiveness for human habitation.  They are red-listed by the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, indicating they are considered endangered and greatly at risk of extirpation from BC.

Working to Save Garry Oak Habitat

To forestall the inevitable loss of a remarkable natural habitat The Nature Conservancy of Canada concluded a purchase agreement with the Elkington family, and worked with the Cowichan Community Land Trust Society, the Cowichan Valley Naturalists’ Society and community residents, to raise the funds needed to complete the purchase by June 1999. The community was very supportive and all came through - the Elkington property was purchased and is now protected.

You are invited to join the Cowichan Community Land Trust Society, The Nature Conservancy of Canada, and our community partners in our effort to protect and manage the Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve.  Your financial support is continually needed to help maintain this special area.