Two-foot-tall Garry oaks meander in patches across a small Oak Bay island.
They could be 20 years old, or 100, it’s hard to know since they were dwarfed by the domineering broom that covered the island, said Wylie Thomas.
Thomas has worked as a conservation biologist for Oak Bay since 2014 and this year, he has a team tackling the invasive species on Kohweechela/Mary Tod Island.
“It’s incredible biodiversity here. We’ve got about less than one per cent of this habitat remaining in the Greater Victoria area and a lot of it’s been degraded … but this one is somewhat protected because you have to get to it by boat,” Thomas explained.
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During the first week of July, a crew of six cut, dragged and bagged 52 cubic yards of broom. All that remained were dozens of hefty stalks spiking up from the ground. Those will die, Thomas said. But that won’t stop other batches of broom from sprouting, and it will be an annual process in a bid to eradicate and then encourage the growth of local plants.
Volunteers with Oak Bay Sea Rescue Society used it as a training opportunity, spending six hours on a Saturday transporting the heavy bags from the island to the shore near Queen’s Park.
The municipality manages 40 hectares of parkland that support Garry Oak and associated ecosystems and 25 listed species at risk. The main source of funding for the near-decade of tackling invasive species to allow native plants to thrive has been the federal Habitat Stewardship Fund (HSP) with matching cash and in-kind contributions from the District of Oak Bay and volunteers through Friends of Uplands Park. In 2019 volunteers contributed more than 4,328 hours towards restoration and educational programming.
In May, Oak Bay received funding through the new federal Priority Places Program for additional work in Uplands Park and to expand the work to other areas of the municipality.
That allowed the hiring of crews to protect the three listed species on Kohweechela/Mary Tod Island, three in Trafalgar Park and 20 in Uplands Park.
“We started the Priority Places crew at Mary Tod because we wanted to get all that broom out before it released its seeds. We have now cleared the island of broom and are now working on the ivy. I think this may be the first time the island has been cleared of broom,” Thomas said.
The crew is funded to work through Labour Day. A crew funded through HSP is set to start work in Uplands in the fall.
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