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Ecological Survey of the 60 Acre Property


PRELIMINARY ECOLOGICAL SURVEY OF THE 60 ACRES PROPERTY January 30 and January 31, 2017

Sharon Hartwell B.Sc. Hons

PRELIMINARY ECOLOGICAL SURVEY OF THE “SIXTY ACRES” PROPERTY

These notes are the result of a very rapid and incomplete survey of the “Sixty Acres” property that occurred on Monday, January 30 and Tuesday, January 31, 2017. A total of 7 hours were spent on the property, with three main objectives:

  • To gain a general impression of the terrain and forested and non-forested plant communities

  • To examine wetland areas and exposed ridge tops, where Red and Blue listed plant and animal species that have been recorded in similar habitats within a 10 kilometre radius might be expected to occur (B.C. Conservation Data Centre: CDC iMap [web application]. 2017. Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Available: http://maps.gov.bc.ca/ess/sv/cdc/ (accessed January 29, 2017))

  • To make observations on the potential effects of and barriers to timber extraction

  • GENERAL DESCRIPTION

The property consists of a series of glaciated rock ridges oriented in a northwest- southeast direction, with palustrine (rain fed) wetlands and watercourses lying in the depressions between adjacent ridges. It occurs in the Coastal Douglas-fir (CDF) Biogeoclimatic Zone, moist maritime (mm) variant.

Soils appear to be generally shallow, and derived from the underlying bedrock, augmented by the deposition of organic material generated by decaying vegetation. Soil on the moss covered ridges is very thin. Slumping has resulted in somewhat thicker colluvial type deposits on the lower flanks of some ridges, but in some areas has also caused the exposure of bare rocks and boulders. The wetlands in depressions between the ridges have mucky soils enriched with decomposed vegetation.

The property is forested, except for exposed ridge tops, small, open meadow bluffs, and the complex of sloughs, marshes, fens and ponds occupying the inter ridge depressions. There is evidence of past beaver activity in the creation of the larger ponds.

The property lies in an area of south-eastern Vancouver Island that was once dominated by mature Douglas-fir/Dull Oregon-grape forest. This ecological community is now extremely rare, and on the provincial Red List (B.C. Conservation Data Centre. 2017. Ecological Community Summary: Pseudotsuga menziesii / Mahonia nervosa. B.C. Ministry of Environment. Available: http://a100.gov.bc.ca/pub/eswp/ (accessed Jan 29, 2017).

There is evidence of fire scarring on veteran Douglas-fir trees, and the existence of large Douglas-fir and western redcedar (Thuja plicata) stumps with

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springboard holes indicates that the area was logged in the previous century. This may have occurred when adjacent areas were logged approximately 80 years ago (Yellow Point Bog Ecological Reserve Detailed Description, BC Parks website: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/eco_reserve/yellowPointBog.html).

UPLAND FOREST COMMUNITIES OBSERVED

On the ridges examined, forests are second-growth dry Douglas-fir, developing post fire and logging. The shrub understory is dominated by small shrubs including Dull Oregon-grape in drier areas, and salal (Gaultheria shallon) in moister areas near the bases the ridges, in proximity to the wetlands. Ocean spray (Holodiscus discolour) and baldhip rose (Rosa gymnocarpa) are present on south-facing slopes; western trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera ciliosa) and trailing snowberry (Symphoricarpos hesperis) were also frequently observed. The herb layer was often sparse, with trailing blackberry (Rubus ursinus) and sword fern (Polystichum munitum) as frequent components in the dry and moister areas, respectively. The moss layer varies from moderately well-developed to much richer on moister sites. Dominant species include Oregon beaked-moss (Eurhynchium oreganum), step moss (Hylocomium splendens) and electrified cats-tail moss (Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus).

On moist north-facing slopes, and areas where residual trees were left after logging, western redcedar, bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum), and the occasional grand fir (Abies grandis), western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) and Pacific crab apple (Malus fusca) occur. Sword fern is a frequent component of the herb layer.

Veteran trees that had survived logging included two western redcedars with a diameter at breast height (Dbh) of 0.954m and 1.34m, respectively, and moss- covered bigleaf maples with Dbh of 0.5m to 0.8m.

Small arbutus stands (Arbutus menziesii) occur on the driest, most exposed ridge tops.

All of these forest types are consistent with earlier seral stages of the rare Douglas-fir/Dull Oregon-grape forest community, mature examples of which still occur to the southeast of the property, on the upland areas of Yellow Point Bog Ecological Reserve (ER), and to the west of the property, in Woodley Ranges ER (B.C. Conservation Data Centre: CDC iMap [web application]. 2017. Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Available: http://maps.gov.bc.ca/ess/sv/cdc/ (accessed January 29, 2017)).

A stand with much larger Douglas-fir was glimpsed in the south-east corner of the property from a ridge top. It appeared to be a more mature seral stage of the predominant Douglas-fir/Dull Oregon-grape community.

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WETLAND FOREST COMMUNITIES OBSERVED

Very narrow fringes of small forest occurred around the three wetlands visited. These generally consisted of very mature, often decaying red alder (Alnus rubra), with salal, redosier dogwood (Cornus stolonifera) and salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) in the shrub layer, and herb layers dominated by sword fern (Polystichum munitum) and slough sedge (Carex obnupta). Western redcedar and western hemlock (Thuja plicata) were occasionally seen. It is possible that these forests may be remnants of the rare red alder/slough sedge [black cottonwood] ecological community (B.C. Conservation Data Centre. www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/environment/plants-animals-ecosystems/species- ecosystems-at-risk/conservation-data-centre Web. (January 29, 2017)).

DIRECTED SURVEYS OF SENSITIVE AREAS: WETLANDS

Three wetlands were visited. The first, which appears on the RDN map, is the northernmost on the property. It is a J-shaped complex, consisting of a small slough/marsh, draining into a much larger pond, which flows into Whiting Lake, which then empties into the Yellow Point Bog complex.

The shallow marsh area was surrounded by very mature red alder on the outer shore, with a thick understory of salal. Emergent plants included slough sedge (Carex obnupta), other sedge species (Carex spp), rushes (Juncus spp), and skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus). There were numerous submerged plants, including white water-buttercup (Ranunculus aquatilis), mare’s-tail (Hippuris sp) and bladderwort (Utricularia sp).

Frog spawn was discovered attached to vegetation in the marsh. Pacific Chorus Frogs (Pseudacris regilla) were heard calling, and the spawn masses were quite small, but the early date and extremely cold water (ice was still present) are more consistent with the rare Northern Red-Legged Frog (Rana aurora). A further visit later in the spring to search for the Northern Red-legged Frog would be warranted, since it has been observed in Yellow Point Bog ER and at other nearby sites.

The marsh flowed around the northern end of a ridge through a channel thickly vegetated with shrubs, and then into a large, elongate pond with extensive deep, open water. Past beaver activity was evident on the shores of the pond. Very mature red alder lined portions of the shore, with Douglas-fir snags occurring at the southern end of the pond. Red-osier dogwood (Cornus stolonifera) filled the shallow end adjacent to the snags. Duckweed (Lemna sp) and yellow pond lily (Nuphar variegata) were frequent on the surface of the water. Emergents included slough sedge, other sedges (Carex spp) and rushes.

Submerged aquatics were numerous in the shallow water and included the same species seen in the marsh.

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A second wetland, further toward the centre of the property, does not appear on the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) map. It follows an old skid road, and is flanked by red alder, sword fern and salal. Sedges (Carex spp) are just beginning to colonize the edges of the road. The water flows toward Yellow Point Bog ER, but may not empty directly into Long Lake.

A third large, marshy wetland on the south-western edge of the property was observed. This wetland drains via a skid road, directly into Long Lake. It is flanked by western redcedar, with a few very old red alder. Floating plants are common, with fewer emergents than at the first wetland visited. There are some large healthy western redcedar on the slopes above this wetland, one measuring 0.954m Dbh.

DIRECTED SURVEYS OF SENSITIVE AREAS: RIDGE TOPS

Several water-filled depressions were discovered during a traverse of the ridge top closest to Whiting Lake. These small vernal pools supported populations of the uncommon plant, tiny mousetail (Myosurus minimus), and the Blue Listed Nuttall’s quillwort (Isoetes nuttallii). Nuttall’s quillwort has been mapped by the BC Conservation Data Centre (BC CDC) in Yellow Point Bog ER, and has also been observed on the western shoreline of Long Lake (A Ceska, pers comm., Feb 3, 2017). There is reason to expect it might be found in vernal pools on other ridge tops in the 60 Acres property.

Stands of twisted and somewhat stunted arbutus were observed surrounding the more open ridge tops.

POTENTIAL RARE SPECIES SITE - EXPOSED BLUFF WITH SPRING WILD FLOWER MEADOW On the southeast border, above Long Lake road, lies an exposed bluff with shallow, dry soils, below a stand of arbutus trees and the occasional Garry oak. The moss and grass-covered bluff supports an impressive assemblage of spring wildflowers, including sea blush (Plectritis congesta), various wild onions (Allium spp), spring gold and other Lomatium species, blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia spp), chocolate lily (Fritillaria sp), camas (Camassia sp), death camas (Toxicoscordion sp) and western buttercup (Ranunculus occidentalis). The bluff was not visited during this survey, but had been frequently observed in prior years (pers. obs., 1985-2001). A detailed survey of the bluff later in the spring might reveal rare species such as slimleaf onion (Allium amplectens), or white-top aster (Sericocarpus rigidus)

RECORD FOR RARE FORESTED ECOLOGICAL COMMUNITY CONFIRMED

Subsequent to this field trip, the record in the BC CDC database for the Red Listed Douglas-fir/Dull Oregon grape ecological community occurring in Yellow Point Bog ER was examined more closely in the online iMap application (B.C.

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Conservation Data Centre: CDC iMap [web application]. 2017. Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. http://maps.gov.bc.ca/ess/sv/cdc/ (Feb 11, 2017). The community as mapped does actually extend into the south-eastern side of the 60 Acres property, confirming the sighting of much larger Douglas-fir forest during the field trip. See Figure 1.

This rare ecological community does not appear on the Regional District of Nanaimo’s Map No.1: Environmentally Sensitive Features and Natural Hazard Areas (http://www.rdn.bc.ca/cms/wpattachments/wpID402atID4296.pdf.). This is probably because the RDN map uses the much coarser filter of the seven sensitive ecosystem types identified by the Sensitive Ecosystem Inventory (SEI) for East Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, rather than the more detailed and sophisticated BC CDC Element Occurrence Records for rare ecological communities (http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/sei/van_gulf/ecosystems.html).

TABLE 1: RARE SPECIES AND ECOLOGICAL COMMUNITIES OCCURRING NEAR THE 60 ACRES PROPERTY A search of the BC CDC database for records of rare species and ecosystems recorded within a 5 km radius of the 60 Acres property produced the following list. The existence of appropriate habitat and/or shared drainage systems on the 60 acres property suggests they might also be found there if a more thorough survey were conducted.

Animals Northern Red-Legged Frog (Rana aurora) Townsend’s Big-eared Bat (Corynorhinus townsendii) Keen’s Myotis (Myotis keenii)

Vascular Plants slimleaf onion (Allium amplectens) green-sheathed sedge (Carex feta) seaside bird’s foot lotus, aka bog bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus formosissimus) Nuttall’s quillwort (Isoetes nuttallii) * discovered during current survey white-top aster (Sericocarpus rigidus) humped bladderwort (Utricularia gibba) water marigold (Bidens beckii) Vancouver Island beggarticks (Bidens amplissima)

Ecological Communities Douglas-fir/ Dull Oregon-grape (Pseudotsuga mensiesii/ Mahonia nervosa) * exists on south-east edge of property, according to CDC iMap

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FIGURE 1: Rare species and ecosystems mapped on or near 60 Acres property. Author collections represented by yellow dots. Conservation Data Centre records as per legend.

NOTE: Douglas-fir/Dull Oregon-grape rare ecosystem record #52651 extends into the southeast corner of 60 Acres property.

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OBSERVATIONS AND CONCERNS RELATING TO TIMBER EXTRACTION

  • This is a complex terrain of rock ridges and intervening palustrine wetlands, with shallow soils. This type of landscape is “extremely ecologically sensitive to disturbance” (H. Hammond, Silva Forest Foundation, pers. comm. to J. Alcock-White, Jan. 29, 2017).

  • The wetlands on the property all appear to drain into Yellow Point Bog Ecological Reserve; either directly into Long Lake, in the case of the southernmost wetland, or via Whiting Lake, in the case of the northernmost wetland. This ER was established in 1996 “to protect a highly diverse mosaic of ecosystem types from aquatic, peat bog and forest to dry-site ecosystems” (Yellow Point Bog Ecological Reserve Detailed Description, BC Parks website: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/eco_reserve/yellowPointBog.html). Logging in the complex terrain of the property in question would be likely to trigger sedimentation and pose a threat to the ER wetlands, and the rare species found there. In addition to being part of the ER, Long Lake is a fish bearing lake, harbouring Cutthroat Trout.

  • The potential effect of logging on both Yellow Point Bog ER and the smaller wetlands within the 60 Acre property should be viewed seriously given the effects of climate change. Wetlands are one of the most at-risk ecosystems in a warmer climate due to increased evaporation and changing precipitation patterns (Yellow Point Bog Ecological Reserve Detailed Description, BC Parks website: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/eco_reserve/yellowPointBog.html )

  • Contamination, depletion or disruption of the Yellow Point aquifer is a legitimate concern for local residents.

  • A significant area of the property lies within 30m of wetlands and watercourses, although some of these do not yet appear on the Regional District of Nanaimo’s Map No.1: Environmentally Sensitive Features and Natural Hazard Areas. (http://www.rdn.bc.ca/cms/wpattachments/wpID402atID4296.pdf.). These wetlands will trigger Development Permit Areas. Subsequent ground survey by a Qualified Environmental Professional will result in the identification of additional wetland areas. This will further limit areas available for logging, and/or result in the stipulation of significant mitigation procedures.

  • A ground survey by a Qualified Environmental Professional will also likely result in the identification of rare species, in addition to the Nuttall’s quillwort discovered during this field trip. Potential rare species are listed in Table 1.

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The dominant forest appears to be a mid-seral stage in the re-development of the Red Listed Douglas-fir/Dull Oregon-grape ecological community, subsequent to logging of the mature forest. This ecosystem, which historically persisted for centuries, now has a greatly reduced area in mature and late seral stages. The BC Conservation Data Centre ecology program has stated that in such circumstances, occurrences of forest stands of lower ecological integrity (earlier seral stage) may be recommended for protection in order to achieve development of late-seral stages over time (B.C. Conservation Data Centre. www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/environment/plants-animals- ecosystems/species-ecosystems-at-risk/conservation-data-centre Web. (February 11, 2017). Incorporation of this property in a park or other protected area would accomplish this goal.

Protection of the property would also create important landscape connectivity with existing parks and protected areas such as Yellow Point Bog ER, Whiting Park, Wildwood Ecoforest and Woodley Range ER.

REFERENCES

A Ceska, pers comm., Feb 3, 2017.

B.C. Conservation Data Centre: CDC iMap [web application]. 2017. Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Available: http://maps.gov.bc.ca/ess/sv/cdc/ (January 29, 2017).

B.C. Conservation Data Centre. www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/environment/plants-animals-ecosystems/species- ecosystems-at-risk/conservation-data-centre Web. (February 11, 2017)

H. Hammond, Silva Forest Foundation, pers. comm. to J. Alcock- White, Jan. 29, 2017.

Regional District of Nanaimo’s Map No. 1: Environmentally Sensitive Features and Natural Hazard Areas. http://www.rdn.bc.ca/cms/wpattachments/wpID402atID4296.pdf.

Sensitive Ecosystem Inventory (SEI) for East Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/sei/van_gulf/ecosystems.html

Woodley Range Ecological Reserve Detailed Description, BC Parks website, http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/eco_reserve/woodley_er.html

Yellow Point Bog Ecological Reserve Detailed Description, BC Parks website: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/eco_reserve/yellowPointBog.html

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