This March, the first year cohort of MSc Ecological Restoration students joined the undergraduate ER students on a field trip up the east coast of Vancouver Island, starting in Victoria and ending up at Campbell River. As well as having a chance to explore the beautiful landscapes of the Island, we toured various restoration projects and learned about techniques and challenges from the practitioners on the ground.
We also got to try our hands at some hands-on techniques. At Cowichan River, we did live staking, a widespread technique developed in part by Dave Polster. It involves the ‘Polster Shuffle’, twisting a metal pole into the ground to make a hole for a stake to be pounded into.
Certain woody species will root from dormant stakes, and these can help to stabilize riparian zones and hill slopes that are prone to erosion. In this case, we were improving salmonid habitat value, when the water levels came up in the river.
We got to meet the man himself, in a different context. Dave Polster gave us a tour of a Garry Oak meadow restoration site. Garry Oak is the only native oak in BC, and an endangered ecosystem type (mostly on dry shallow soil on the Island). It was historically maintained by indigenous burning practices and is currently threatened by Douglas-fir encroachment (with loss of fire) and urban/agricultural development.
I really love the twisted, mossy branches of the oak trees. It was a very birdy spot, and we learned that nearby sites were used for reintroduction of extirpated Western Bluebird.
At Stoney Hill, a gorgeous escarpment with a shallow soil coastal Douglas-fir forest ecosystem along its peak, we heard about the importance of partnering with the Cowichan First Nation for restoration, to foster a sense of place and respect for the land, as well as an understanding of its history.
Introduced Canada Geese have been degrading the salt marsh vegetation at Little Qualicum River Estuary, staying around as year-long residents.
We helped the local restoration group restore salt marsh habitat by removing the old fence posts and bright orange fencing.
We then replaced these with natural wood stakes and darker fencing, for a sturdier and more aesthetically pleasing structure.
We then lifted plugs of native sedges from healthy salt marsh areas and transplanted these into goose exclosures to help vegetation re-establish.
We visited Hanman Island and viewed some current shoreline erosion problems, as well as listening to presentations on foreshore restoration projects in the area.
In addition to the more photogenic experiences, we learned about a wide range of other topics, including the Vancouver Island Marmot captive breeding program, elk translocation, eelgrass restoration, gravel loading in rivers, wetland restoration and connectivity planning. We even had a research methods seminar on location, arranged by our tireless first-year reps, discussing considerations for experimental design to draw rigorous conclusions.
Overall this trip was an amazing opportunity to meet dedicated and passionate people working in the field of Ecological Restoration. We really appreciated them taking time out of their busy schedules to speak to us about their work. We learned about a wide range of projects and ecosystems and had the chance to get our hands dirty with real ER projects. Visiting these locations, we had a chance to directly experience the beauty of our local ecosystems, and see where human activities had degraded them. This gave a deeper appreciation of their value, and the dual importance of conserving remaining natural areas and restoring damaged landscapes.