Our new restoration guide, Restoring British Columbia's Garry Oak Ecosystems: Principles and Practices, is now available!
Restoring a Garry oak or associated ecosystem is a great way to bring back the historic landscape and natural aesthetic of your community for all to enjoy. As well, it often requires getting your neighbours involved, and can therefore be an excellent way to strengthen a sense of community in your neighbourhood. Further, it brings the principles of conservation down to a personal and interactive level and can be an ongoing learning experience.
To ensure your restoration project is both effective and enjoyable, consult with a professional early on in your planning. A restoration specialist can help you achieve your goals.
Become familiar with your neighbourhood’s natural and cultural history. If you can, find out about:
Think about how the site has changed and whether it is realistic to re-create all of the past site conditions. For example, will you be able to use fire to re-create an open meadow?
Assessing your site characteristics will also help you put your project in perspective. Your site assessment might include:
In order for your hard work to bring some lasting changes, you should be prepared to take on a long-term commitment. Do not let this discourage you, however, for after the initial few seasons, you will find that less effort is required to maintain your site.
Most restoration projects begin with removal of exotic, invasive species. However, before you start ‘bashing broom’ (or any other invasive plant on your site), there are a few things to consider. For example, will control efforts surrounding invasive plants pose a risk to native or "at risk" species on your site? Also, different species have different ideal times for removal. To help you with this assessment, as well as with any issue surrounding species identification or removal techniques, GOERT has a number of resources at your disposal:
For more information about invasive species and ways to remove them from your property, see the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture website.
The following are some (suggested) standard items used by restoration workers in the field. All should be easy to find at garden or hardware stores.
Restoration plans and invasive plant management prescriptions often recommend mulching. But what is mulch, and how should it be used in Garry Oak and associated ecosystems? Follow the link for guidelines that answer these questions and provide references for more information: Guidelines for Mulching in Garry Oak and Associated Ecosystems.
Many of our webpages such as Quick Guide to Native Plant Gardening and Buying Native Plants, and Planting and Caring for Garry Oak Trees will be useful to you if you have the time and financial resources to carry out planting activities on your site.
Planting native species is highly recommended in areas where intensive invasive species removal has led to highly-disturbed or exposed soils. Bare mineral soil is susceptible to colonization by many exotic, weedy plant species. As well, disturbed soils may be subject to increased erosion, especially with the arrival of winter precipitation (something that might not be evident if restoration work is carried out during the dry summer months). By planting seedlings or scattering seeds, you are effectively speeding up the establishment of native plants. This can greatly reduce the likelihood of invasion by weedy, colonizing invasive plants. Further, planting certain species can mitigate erosion if the roots have good soil-retention abilities. However, before you proceed, there are many questions to consider, for example:
In areas where soil disturbance is minimal following the removal of invasive plants, it is often worthwhile to wait until the following spring prior to planting. You may be surprised by what is already there. Native bulbs can lie dormant for many years, and if you open up the site, wildflowers such as camas and fawn lilies may emerge.
If there is a high abundance of deer in your area, it may be advisable to install a fence around part of your site. This is especially recommended if you have planted green-house grown plants that have not had the opportunity to adapt to pressure from herbivores. Alternatively, individual trees and shrubs can be covered with stiff plastic netting. This helps to reduce browsing but does not eliminate it.
For more information see Dealing with Deer.
Recording occurrences/densities of species and taking photographs is very important to the restoration process. While removal of large invasive plants may produce an immediate, observable result, many of the natural processes occurring on your site proceed slowly and may not be immediately recognizable. The data you gather will help you to adapt your management approach so that it is effective and long-lasting. As well, it will help you assess your achievements if you return to a site after a long period of absence.
Some examples of questions you might want to ask yourself as you go over data and photographs are:
Positive results will bring encouragement to you and those that are involved in the project. As well, it may be easier to secure financial donations if you can ‘show off’ your success.
When it comes to restoration, you will likely come to realize that there are no hard and fast rules. Each site (and each plant, for that matter) is unique in the processes that govern it. Further, the factors that are altering these ecosystems, for better or for worse, often occur very slowly and are quite complex. Therefore, it can be challenging to study and draw conclusions about these systems. Ongoing research in this area is providing support for ‘best practices’ to be carried out during restoration, however, nothing compares to personal site-specific experience. Professionals will be able to offer advice based on their own experience and expert opinion, but, with time, the intimate knowledge that you gain about your site will be the best guide for how to proceed into the future. Your knowledge will also be invaluable to others who wish to take over the project if you decide to leave.
Above all, have fun! The rewards of restoration await you.