Cowichan’s Garry Oak Preserve will be one of two sensitive ecosystems intentionally set on fire sometime this month or next according to the BC Wildfire Service.
Both the Cowichan site and Rocky Point in Metchosin on the Canadian Armed Forces base will be burned.
While Rocky Point is a much larger area at 20 hectares, the unique 1.5-hectare ecosystem that is Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve will also be burned in three stages.
For Cowichan, it’ll be in three groups of half of a hectare at a time and only when the site and weather conditions are favourable.
The goal is “to reduce wildfire risks, manage flammable vegetation on the landscape and help restore Garry oak ecosystems,” according to a press release issued by the BC Wildfire Service. “Reintroducing fire into these areas is an effective way to promote natural regenerative processes, control invasive species and slow the encroachment of conifer trees into these specialized ecosystems,” said the release.
It may seem counter-intuitive to set something one is trying to preserve on fire, but the Wildfire Service notes it’s actually the traditional way to manage sites like this.
“Historically, First Nation communities maintained the grassy plains at these sites by burning off dry grasses, shrubs and young trees that are less tolerant of fire than Garry oak,” said the release. “These ecosystems relied on regular, low-intensity ground fires to limit the spread of competing tree species, remove accumulations of dead wood and other vegetation, and promote new growth. Fire-resistant Garry oak and mature Douglas fir trees would have survived such fires and herbaceous plants would have vigorously re-sprouted after the fire had passed through.”
Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve is located along Maple Bay Road, with a viewing area near the foot of MacKenzie Drive. It’s home to the largest Garry oak in Canada.