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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Mount Tolmie Park, Victoria, BC, Canada

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Mount Tolmie Park, Victoria, BC, Canada
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Registered: December 2018
City/Town/Province: Victoria
Posts: 1
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Artfully twisted oaks pierce the grey sky. Their roots cling to life in the harsh, rocky landscape. In the wells between the stony outcrops, vast beds of silken purple flowers fight for space amongst the invasive tendrils of Himalayan blackberry and Scotch broom. This tiny remnant of the Garry Oak ecosystem has been the focus of my last three years of research and volunteering, and has led me to dedicate hundreds of hours to its preservation and protection.
I first learned about the endangered Garry Oak ecosystem in grade 10, upon joining my school's Environmental Leadership club. Though I initially took part in the invasive removals and guest presentations out of a sense of obligation, I soon became enthralled with the history and significance of this ecosystem. For centuries, the Garry Oak ecosystem stretched the coastline of North America. Meadows of Common and Great Camas (Camassia leichtlinii, Camassia quamash), Barestem Desert Parsley (Lomatium nudicaule), and Chocolate Lily (Fritillaria lanceolata) flourished amongst the oaks, serving as an essential part of coastal First Nations' diets, heritage, and culture. The Camas bulb in particular was an invaluable staple in trading and for sustenance, and great families would gather for days to harvest and cook this priceless root in great pit roasts. However, the events of the past century have decimated this ecosystem. The well-tended meadows that were routinely burned to ensure a fruitful harvest in subsequent years were fragmented and paved over. Invasive species from Europe and Asia were introduced and began choking out the oaks and ravaging the soil. Currently, less than 5% of all Garry Oak ecosystems remain.
Through Environmental Leadership, I have performed numerous removals of invasive English Ivy, Daphne, and Blackberry, and have helped to re-seed cleared areas with indigenous species. Two years ago, as we slowly but surely reclaimed the area (our local Mount Tolmie park), we began a new project to research the best way to restore the most fragile sections of the mountain, while encouraging the growth of the few native plants that remained. This culminated in a year-long intensive research project in which I studied the effects of mulching, smothering, solarizing and transplanting on a sample plot of land. As the lead on the project, I became intimately acquainted with these plants through weekly surveys and analysis of our data. At the end of the year, I completed a thirty-page report of my team's process and findings, and was subsequently invited to attend the 2017 Stewards of the Future Conference, hosted by the Lieutenant Governor of BC. As a presenter at this conference, I shared my experience and my passion for the restoration of this ecosystem with a number of other students from British Columbia. In return, I learned about many of the other environmental initiatives taking place all over the province, from restoring streams to creating new habitats for bees.
In addition to presenting this project directly to the former Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon, I gave presentations within my school and at the 2017 University of Victoria Ethnobotany Conference. I have also become a mentor to younger Environmental Leadership students to share my experience as they begin their own projects. Subsequent years of students have continued the restoration of Mount Tolmie and have used our research to initiate, enhance, and inform their own projects. Earlier this year, I was also invited to attend a traditional First Nations Camas pit roast. It was a unique and humbling experience to witness such a culturally significant event, and it has reinforced my desire to protect what is left of this heritage.
This year, I decided to apply the knowledge and experience I have gained by starting my own initiative and creating a school garden. The primary goal of the garden is to raise awareness about the Garry Oak ecosystem within our school community, and to transform unproductive school land into a vibrant green space for students and teachers alike. The project began small, as I brought together a dedicated group of students. I led six months of extensive research into gardening practices, permaculture, soil composition, and garden design, and drafted numerous blueprints incorporating thoughts and feedback from my team. Through leading this project, I have been responsible for transforming the garden from theoretical musings to a school-recognized initiative. I have given regular presentations and updates at staff meetings, and have met with school administration and groundskeepers to promote the project and gain the necessary support, funds, and recognition. I have collaborated with other environmental groups including The Youth Food Action Team and Saanich Pulling Together Volunteer Program to share our project and learn from their experiences. This process is still ongoing. I am currently working with teachers and administrators to incorporate elements of the garden (specifically those relating to indigenous culture) into biology, chemistry, and social studies curriculums, and am collaborating with parents and school neighbours. I am also applying for grant money from the school district and local companies, and am in the process of purchasing fencing and preparing soil.
In order to promote recognition of the role of the Garry Oak ecosystem in First Nations culture and perpetuate the restoration of Mount Tolmie, the garden will include a native plant nursery and a small Camas meadow. The seedlings grown in the nursery will be transplanted to restoration sites, and the meadow will serve a beautiful springtime reminder of the value of this ecosystem, and will hopefully inspire future generations to continue its preservation and restoration.
This process has been quite personally rewarding, as I have not only expanded my understanding of biodiversity and indigenous heritage, bus also learned to persevere through obstacles and setbacks and benefit from failures and criticisms. I'm also pleased to see the influence my work and the work of others has had on our local ecosystem. Great swaths of ivy and blackberry have been cut back to make way for Camas and Lomatium, and our research plot is thriving with patches of vernal grasses and Pacific Sanicle. Life in this ecosystem in incredibly resilient, and each flower and shrub carries with it centuries of history and tradition. Each organism works in a fragile symbiosis with the other flora and fauna, and it is our responsibility to maintain this balance and ensure that the Garry Oak ecosystem and others like it endure for future generations. I'm proud to have effected change in my community and to have inspired others to preserve this rich indigenous history and restore ecosystems to their former, vibrant glory, and I hope to continue to expand the potential, understanding, and compassion of myself and others in the future.
Date: December 31, 2018 Views: 4428 File size: 19.6kb, 7903.9kb : 4160 x 2340
Hours Volunteered: 300
Volunteers: 15
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 17 & 14 to 18
Area Restored for Native Wildlife (hectares): 2
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