Comox Valley Nature is asking for help from the City of Courtenay to restore Garry oaks in the Vanier Forest as part of a pilot project.
Bill Henderson of CVN was part of a delegation that presented to council at the July 19 meeting to ask for assistance for the restoration of the trees, along with invasive species removal and an educational partnership with School District 71.
The Vanier Forest Garry Oaks Restoration and Stewardship Pilot Project is a small scale, dual-purpose proposal to conserve and restore a now rare example of wetlands Garry oak ecosystem and in the process provide environmental education and experience to SD71 students in the stewardship of Vanier Nature Park.
“The Vanier Nature Park was created to serve as an outdoor natural science lab for students and to protect Garry oak,” said Henderson. “The environmental education is one of the benefits of the park in the Parks and Recreation Master Plan.”
He told council the CVN’s plan was submitted to city administration, however, for some councillors, this was the first time hearing about the strategy.
“Did you think this would be supported by staff and staff would brief council on it?” inquired Coun. David Frisch.
Henderson explained the CVN received strong support from staff at the city’s parks department, but he believes their project was redirected to the parks master plan review process in the fall of 2022.
“If we wait another two years, we will lose certainly another 20 per cent (of the Garry oaks) if not more. We’ve waited eight years for this. We’re really at a point where we have to do something to save the Garry oaks – we can’t wait forever … we’re dealing with a crisis of an environmental nature.”
In its report to council CVN explained the goal of the proposal is to assess and gradually restore the Vanier Forest principal Garry oak grove through the creation of a student stewardship program and the development of a site-specific environmental restoration plan.
This includes a three-year plan to remove the majority of invasive species around the oaks and to selectively reduce or mitigate the overtopping Douglas firs within this principal Garry oak grove. This will open up the tree canopy to allow growth opportunities and more sunlight exposure for the shorter and slower-growing Garry oaks and their native ground cover.
The other major goal of the proposal is to utilize the conservation and remediation of the Garry oaks as an outdoor educational laboratory for secondary school populations and the science staff of SD71.
The scope of the Garry oak conservation and restoration project and the student environmental educational workshop program will be conducted over a three-year period.
Henderson told council following some questions on the support from the school district is that CVN is facing a “chicken and egg” situation.
“Before we can secure the final approval of education staff within SD71 … we need city council’s approval or that of administration to access Vanier Nature Park for this purpose. We have gone through extensive consultation with the education staff at SD71 and both sides are in agreement that this is a project that should proceed.”
Mayor Bob Wells said council will continue the conversation with staff as they come forward with information.