The Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve meadows are some of the last of their kind in Canada. (submitted)

Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve featured on national podcast

The Preserve protects one of the few remaining deep soil Garry oak meadows in Canada.

The Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve on southern Vancouver Island holds the secret to one of Canada’s best restoration success stories. It’s a story being profiled by the Nature Conservancy of Canada, on a new national podcast series entitled NatureTalks.

The Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve, near Duncan, protects one of the few remaining deep soil Garry oak meadows in Canada. Most have been lost to development, and what remains is often overrun by invasive non-native species. Twenty years ago the 57-acre (23-hectare) preserve faced both of these threats: it was being surveyed for subdivision and it was overwhelmed by Scotch broom, blackberry, agricultural grasses and other invaders.

With the support of the local community, NCC purchased the property in 1999 and established the Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve. Since then the organization, along with many volunteers and restoration experts, has beaten back the invasives and breathed new life in the Garry oak meadows that many different plants and animals depend on.

Using techniques such as prescribed burns to clear the meadows of encroaching bushes and agricultural grasses, NCC has restored the preserve to a condition closer to what it would have been hundreds of years ago, when the Coast Salish similarly used controlled fires to prevent fir trees and shrubs from taking over Garry oak meadows.

The preserve is located in the traditional territory of Cowichan Tribes. Members of the community and an archeologist with the Royal BC Museum are helping NCC understand, and learn from, the history of human use on the land.

NatureTalks will give listeners a behind-the-scenes look at why this conservation and restoration effort is vital. These ecosystems and the plants and animals they support are threatened and becoming increasingly rare. Less than five per cent of the original Garry oak meadows in the world remain. Garry oak habitats have been overtaken by invasive species or lost to the development of towns, subdivisions and farmland. This unique ecosystem is only found in Canada on southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, along with a few sites in the Lower Mainland.

The NatureTalks Podcast will take listeners on a journey through time, from archaeological discoveries to the decades-long transformation of the preserve back into a thriving hub of nature. Hear the perspectives of Irvin Banman, a restoration expert with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, who has dedicated more than 17 years to rehabilitating the preserve; Dr. Genevieve Hill, Anthropology Collections manager and researcher, the Royal British Columbia Museum; Jocelyn Wood, Nature Conservancy of Canada stewardship coordinator; and Sheila Kitson, a community leader in the effort to save the preserve from development who has volunteered at the site for 20 years.

The NCC NatureTalks Podcast begins with seven episodes from locations across the country aimed at bringing Canadians closer to nature. These highlight special areas and passionate people with the vision of conserving nature, and explores why we need nature in our lives. Each episode offers an in-depth look at the challenges facing some our most fragile areas and the reasons why conservation action and partnership is needed. Episode two is the one on the Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve.

Listeners can subscribe to the NatureTalks Podcast by visiting the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s website: www.natureconservancy.ca/podcast. They can also download and subscribe on iTunes, find it on Stitcher or their favorite podcast app. People can also support the podcast and our conservation work by visiting www.natureconservancy.ca/podcast and donate on that page. They can also contribute to the discussion on Twitter by using the hashag #NatureTalksPodcast.

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