No Mow May!
Nikki Toxopeus, Yellow Point Ecological Society
First published in Take 5 – May 2021
No Mow May is fun and a lazy way to start the summer and is a fantastic way to help the birds and the bees. It is also something we all have the skills to do and it will really help all the wildlife that depends on the creatures and plants in our gardens, meadows, and roadside ditches. If we delay mowing until after the end of May, we may be surprised how quickly Nature responds. So, is there a patch you can protect?
Spring is the season of breeding and feeding young. Birds need their nests undisturbed, and they need bugs and caterpillars to feed their young for a few weeks. Bird feeders do not cut it for the baby birds. There used to be a lot more food for the birds but insects are in decline. Remember when there were many more bugs? All over our windshields?
The Yellow Point Ecological Society supports the vision of the Canadian Wildlife Federation and Nature Conservancy of Canada to build a network of interconnected wild yards, hedgerows, fields, rights of way and roadsides that can be left undisturbed during the spring breeding season (and the fall too!).
If we can make our backyards more pollinator friendly and chat to our neighbours to get them on board with our “new look”, we can have a big impact. Citizen science done by the British organization Plantlife shows that the simple act of No Mow May can increase the number of bees in your yard tenfold. Doug Tallamy’s book Nature’s Best Hope gives wonderful advice on the native species we should plant to turn our back yards into refuges for wildlife. There is a growing body of knowledge and native plant supplies on Vancouver Island. The Nanaimo Area Land Trust has started a Pollinators Paradise project, to promote the use of native pollinator-friendly plants and other ways to support pollinators. They are launching their project web page this month – so watch this space.
The Ministry of Transportation is also part of the solution. They are responsible for keeping the vegetation within 1.8 m of the road below 25 cm high, for traffic safety. In May, the Contractors are usually busy cleaning up the gravel and controlling the dust along the roadsides and do not start mowing until June. They delay mowing so they only mow once a season (and save the taxpayers’ money). Often, they cannot mow for most of the summer due to fire hazards, so the vegetation is brushed or mowed in August or September. If rights of way were planted with low, resilient shrubs and herbaceous native plants which do not need mowing, this might also keep invasive species from dominating. The Contractor I spoke to said he had worked in areas with healthy ecosystems, where the native vegetation grew in the rights of way and kept the invasive species away. Invasive plant species do not suit native wildlife but that is a topic for another day.
For now, it would be great to grow the support for No Mow May. It is an easy way to help protect wildlife and their habitats during the sensitive breeding season. If we must mow, we should mow as high as possible. It will be better for the lawn, and the ground dwelling bees. Perhaps we can create refuges in spaces away from the lawn. In this way we can mitigate the biodiversity crisis and save our money, time, and energy.
Canadian Wildlife Federation Grow It, Don’t Mow it: https://cwf-fcf.org/en/explore/pollinators/grow-it/
Why ‘No Mow May’ could be a boon for Toronto’s bumble bee populations https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/no-mow-may-toronto-1.5568446
No Mow May – How to get ten times more bees on your lock down lawn https://www.plantlife.org.uk/uk/about-us/news/no-mow-may-how-to-get-ten-times-more-bees-on-your-lockdown-lawn
Nanaimo Area Land Trust: https://www.nalt.bc.ca/
The YES Nature Photo Contest
The Yellow Point Ecological Society is happy to announce the $250 Winner of our Nature Photo Contest:
Lynda Stevens, for her gorgeous photo of a Salmonfly Cicada resting on an Oregon Grape flower.
Lynda lives in South Nanaimo, and she got seriously into amateur photography when she moved here from Nelson five years ago, starting with her love of birds then moving onto insects.
She loves the parks and trails around Cedar and Yellow Point, and she took the photo in early spring close to the Coco Café in Cedar, at the start of the Morden Colliery Regional Trail, using an ordinary point-and-shoot camera – a Sony RX104 with a variable range lens.
Twelve Ways to Protect the Forest
Deepen Your Love
Go wandering. Find a place where you can sit and listen quietly to the poetry of the forest. Take time to look at the different trees, to observe the way they grow. Learn the names of the ferns, wildflowers, and forest birds. Find a space to lie down and gaze up, and wonder. The forest has been here for a long, long time.
Learn about the Forest Ecosystem
The forest ecosystem on Vancouver Island is 12,000 years old. Until loggers started clearcutting in the 1940s every forest was an oldgrowth forest, with trees up to a thousand years old. This is the astonishingly rich ecosystem we have lost – but it is slowly returning with each successive year that a forest is not clearcut.
The integrity of the forest is essential for the health and resilience of our watersheds and our drinking water, since the forests filter and clean the water. It is essential for all the wildlife for whom it is home. It is essential for carbon storage, making protecting the forest a key solution to the climate emergency. If you visit Wildwood you can join a workshop or a forest tour where you can learn more about the forest ecosystem.
We also suggest these books:
- The Hidden Life of Trees. What They Feel, How They Communicate: Discoveries from a Secret World, by Peter Wohlleben.
- The Hidden Life of Trees – Illustrated Version.
- The Global Forest: Forty Ways Trees Can Save Us, by Diana Beresford-Kroeger.
- To Speak for the Trees: My Life’s Journey from Ancient Celtic Wisdom to a Healing Vision of the Forest, by Diana Beresford-Kroeger.
Find Other Forest-Lovers
Working to protect the forest will be more effective if you can find friends who share your concern, and work with them to make a difference. It will also be more fun. These are some of the groups that are working to protect the forest here on Vancouver Island:
- Yellow Point Ecological Society
- Western Canada Wilderness Committee
- The Sierra Club of BC
- The Ancient Forest Alliance
- Where Do We Stand (North Cowichan)
Understand Just How Little Protection The Forest Has
When it comes to the law and regulations intended to protect the forest there are four different forest jurisdictions on Vancouver Island:
- Crown Land. 80% of the forest on the Island, including most of the oldgrowth. This is governed by the Forest and Range Practices Act, which is ecologically very weak, and currently undergoing a review.
- Private Managed Forest Land. Most of the forest on the east side of the Island up to Campbell River that was in the E&N Rail Grant. This is managed through the Private Managed Forests Program, which is also ecologically very weak, and currently undergoing review.
- Community Forests. Forested land owned by a municipality, such as North Cowichan’s Municipal Forest Reserve, the management of which is governed by the elected councillors.
- Private Forest Land. Most of the forest in developed areas along the coast is privately owned. Its management is governed by provincial laws regarding fish and water, and by Regional District bylaws. Forested land adjacent to a creek, lake or wetland gets some protection, though with weak enforcement and minimal penalties for damage done, but other private forested land has no protection at all: it has been ecologically abandoned.
Ask Your Regional District to Do More to Protect the Forest
This is an area that has not been explored much, since many people believe that governments should not interfere with a private landowner’s rights. These rights are already governed by zoning laws and bylaws, however, and by Development Permit Area rules, so there’s good reason to engage with the rules. Often, where forested land is in a Development Permit Area (DPA), there are many exclusions that make the rules irrelevant. We need to discuss ways in which DPA exclusions can be reduced, and the DPAs themselves can be widened to allow logging using ecoforestry principles, while ending clearcutting.
Ask the BC Provincial Government to Do More to Protect the Forest
Members of organizations such as the Sierra Club and the Ancient Forest Alliance have been working for years to try to influence government forest policy, but so far, it has been a slow, uphill struggle. In the 1990s we had success in protecting various areas completely, such as the Carmanah, parts of the Walbran, and the development of the 1990s Forest Practices Code. That was abandoned under successive BC Liberal governments, but we hope for more success under the current NDP/Green Party Alliance. Oldgrowth forests the size of 34 soccer fields are still being clearcut every day, and only 10% of the biggest old trees are left. You can send a letter to Minister Doug Donaldson here.
Restore Damaged Forest Habitat
All over the world, forests are in need of restoration. This is a big topic that people study in universities. If you know of land locally that is in need of restoration, you can plant trees, making sure to install a deer-protector for each sapling. You can also ask your friends to help you clear invasive species such as broom, using advice on how and when to cut from Broombusters.
If it’s a creek or stream that needs restoration, this is a more complex matter that needs care and skills. Dave Polster has some good advice.
Use Ecological Care when Altering Forested Land
If you want to build a home or a workshop, or clear a a spot for a tiny home, the most useful advice is Don’t Rush In. Live on your land for a year to see where the sun falls, where it floods in winter, which way the wind blows, and which species live where. If you cluster buildings together, there will be much less damage to the forest. You may have friends who say “It’s okay to clearcut the forest because it will grow back,” but in areas where the forest has been cleared such as Timberlands south of Cassidy, and along the Nanaimo River Road the temperature on the ground can be ten or twenty degrees warmer on hot days, compared to within the forest. Deer may eat any new trees that try to get established, and the ‘new normal’ of the climate crisis with its extended summer droughts may mean that the forest never grows back.
If you are thinking of working in a riparian area close to water it’s important to know that fish, frogs and salamanders breed in the water and spend much of their lives in riparian areas, as do many birds, invertebrates, including dragonflies, snails, slugs, and native pollinators like bumblebees and butterflies. For these reasons, it’s important to protect riparian areas:
- Don’t clear the vegetation. What may seem messy to us is an undisturbed paradise for fish, birds and dragonflies.
- Don’t use herbicides or pesticides near a riparian area.
- Don’t allow livestock there, since they will cause damage by trampling and grazing, releasing sediments that could degrade spawning habitat for kilometres downstream, while their wastes can be a source of harmful bacteria like E. coli, harming downstream fish and other creatures.
- Don’t dump grass clippings or pruned branches, since they can smother the native vegetation and introduce invasive species such as ivy, Japanese knotweed or flag iris.
- Don’t dredge, channel or alter the water itself.
- Don’t dig or extract soil from a riparian area.
- Don’t build a driveway in a riparian area.
- Don’t let a septic field drain into a riparian area.
In the CVRD, development is not allowed:
- within 30 metres on either side of a stream, measured from high-water mark;
- within 30 metres of the top of a ravine that’s less than 60 metres wide with a steep 3:1 slope;
- within 10 metres of the top of a ravine more than 60 metres wide with a steep 3:1 slope.
In the RDN, riparian setbacks range from 9 meters to 30 metres depending on the slope of the land and the nature of the watercourse.
If you own a parcel of forest and you manage it ecologically using ecoforestry methods you will speed its restoration to its original oldgrowth character. A good way to learn about ecoforestry is to attend a workshop at Wildwood: it’s all about retaining the canopy, preserving the strong seed trees, preserving wildlife trees and protecting the soil. Here’s a short video that can get you started.
Place a Conservation Covenant on Your Forested Land
If you own a parcel of forest and you want to protect it forever, you can work with a Land Trust to place a Conservation Covenant on it. This will bind future owners to protect it, with a heavy penalty for a breach of the covenant and a requirement for restoration. The downside is that it will cost you around $25,000: $12,000 for surveying and legal work and $12,000 for the Land Trust whose staff and volunteers will need to visit the land to monitor the covenant every year or so, for eternity. One option is to write the wish that you want your land covenanted into your will, leaving money to cover the cost. On Vancouver Island, you can discuss placing a covenant on your land with these organizations:
Take Action If You Learn that a Forest May Be Harmed
You have heard a rumour that a forest you love is threatened with being clearcut. What to do?
- First, call a friend or two, so that you can discuss the problem together. Then gather as much information as you can.
- Next, ascertain if the land is private, private managed forest land or Crown land. If it is not private, you will need to contact the Ministry of Forests and try to learn more about the rumour.
- If it is privately owned and within a municipality, contact the municipal planning department and ask what they know about the planned activity. If it is privately owned and in a rural area, contact your Regional District and ask the same. The landowner may or may not have been required to apply for a development permit. If he or she has, you can ask to see the permit and any requirements it may contain.
- If the chainsaws or feller-buncher machines are already at work, try to take a close look at their work, to ensure that they are doing what is required to protect the riparian area, and to stick to the rules (see #8 above). If they are not, call the 24-hour RAPP line (Report all Poachers and Polluters) to report a violation: 1-877-952-7277 or #7277 on the TELUS Mobility Network.
Work Towards an Ecological Democracy in which Nature’s Rights are Protected
We need to develop a vision of the future in which Nature is respected and protected. We need to hold a clear intention that forests will be valued for all that they offer, with proper protection under the law. The trees and wetlands cannot speak for themselves: we have to speak for them: that is what ecological democracy means. And they need rights.
Christopher Stone, a law professor at the University of Southern California, has written that just as we have given legal status to non-human entities such as ships and corporations, society should also give legal rights to forests, oceans, rivers and other so-called ‘natural’ objects in the environment. Corporations cannot speak either: lawyers speak for them. In 2017, New Zealand’s lawmakers granted the Whanganui River the legal rights of a human, ensuring that it will be represented by guardians in all legal matters that concern the waterway.
Yellow Point Ecological Society, November 2019
Common Yard Birds on Eastern Vancouver Island
The American Robin is the quintessential ‘Bird of Spring’ for most of North America, but we’re lucky enough to have them as year-round residents on eastern Vancouver Island. They’re common almost everywhere but are especially visible after rain (so, yeah, mostly in the winter months) chasing down worms that wriggle to the surface to avoid drowning in the soaked soil. They have a gentle call and a sociable nature, preferring to roam in flocks (almost herds at times), but will scold you if you get too close.
I first moved to the West Coast in the winter, and while exploring the Lower Mainland’s waterfront one day in January I came across a truly unbelievable sight—a hummingbird in a tree! I couldn’t believe my eyes. I figured this poor little thing had somehow gotten caught up in a storm in California and blown north, which seemed an unbelievable journey for such a small and delicate creature. But of course, we West Coasters know an even un-believabler truth; these perky creatures are year-round residents. I’ve taken photos of them in raging snowstorms, sipping perkily on the sugar blend in my feeders, and I recently found out that local birds are even choosing to BREED in the winter, presumably to reduce competition from their territorial summer humming-mates, the Rufous Hummingbirds. They originally only overwintered on the Baja California Peninsula and Southern California, but the slow and steady march of exotic ornamental plants and willing feeder-fillers northwards has allowed them to spread their incredibly small wings and capitalize on an incredible opportunity.
For more, please read Anna’s Hummingbird on Wikipedia.
The bald eagle is an iconic bird of the Canadian West Coast, although its range essentially encompasses all of Canada and the United States, outside of the Arctic tundra. Their population density is highest on the coastal Pacific, due to the incredible variety of easily accessible food, and they tend to concentrate near known salmon runs in the winter months…although they seem to be found at their highest density near the Cedar Dump. They’re not dumb. They know what’s there.
I’m about 60% certain the above owl is a Barred Owl. The only photo I have is from directly beneath an owl perched on a power line, and it’s not very flattering. The WordPress royalty free photo service’s search function for specific birds is…challenging, to say the least.
The barred owl has about the most distinctive call you could imagine—the quintessential ‘who cooks for you?!’ you’ve probably heard in the distance as the sun sets (or, more alarmingly, from directly overhead and the cats are still out).
They’re a large owl, native to eastern North America and generally considered invasive here on the West Coast. Invasiveness is a difficult thing to measure sometimes—typically if something is introduced by mankind and outcompetes the local species, it’s an easy call. But the Barred Owl is a tougher nut to crack…it came here all by itself, enabled by our unfortunate ability to wittingly and unwittingly change the landscape around us as we settle. The straw that breaks the camel’s back in this case seems to be that they also handily outcompete our local owls, such as the Burrowing Owl.
These cheerful little birds are easy to hear and difficult to spot, sharing the usual wren traits of flitting quickly and noiselessly from branch to branch while seeming to scold you from 12 directions at once. They’re fairly ordinary looking but are full of character, being especially curious in the early spring while they look for a spot to settle down and nest. I’ve come across their nests in a variety of unlikely locations, but my favourite so far has been in the eaves of my shed, nestled into the insulation. One of the reason they’re less known is that they’re obligate insectivores—you’re not going to see these at your seed feeders, unless the seed feeders happen to attract large numbers of bugs (in which case you should probably get that checked out). Nonetheless, I find their antics make them one of the most enjoyable yard birds to observe, particularly when they arrive with a beak full of spiders.
For more, read Bewick’s Wren on Wikipedia.
The bushtit commonly adheres to the Milford School’s mantra of being ‘neither seen nor heard’. On the rare occasions you do notice a flock, it’s usually little more than a bit of an extra rustle in the leaves of a nearby bush, or maybe a very quiet peeping if you’re really paying attention. They’re very plain looking and flit quickly between the branches searching for ants and other small bugs to eat. And if you’re really, REALLY paying attention, you might spot their very distinctive nests high in the trees or bushes; it resembles a pendant, built with moss and lichen, assembled with spider silk, and lined with the bird’s own feathers.
Southern BC is actually the very northernmost tip of the bushtit’s range, but they can be found all the way south to Guatemala and southern Mexico.
Read more about the American bushtit on Wikipedia (they’re the only New World bushtit, so we omit the ‘American’ part for brevity).
The California Quail is one of my favourite birds, if for no other reason than its perfectly ridiculous plume. They’re year-round residents on the Island, though their behaviour changes radically throughout the season. As I type this in the spring, the quail have paired off and can be found two-by-two while they accomplish their courtship, mating, and nesting. Typically in the early summer they’ll take a page from the bushtits and be ‘neither seen nor heard’ while they raise their chicks hidden deep in the brush, but come late summer they’ll emerge with their fully mobile chicks and join together into much larger groups, often twenty or thirty strong. They’ll remain like this through the fall and winter, staying in their large groups until the spring comes again.
I had a covey of quail who decided to settle into my lilac bushes for the winter, and it gave me great excitement to see them swing by my ground feeders (and the ground under my non-ground feeders) as part of their daily circuit. Alas, the excitement was short lived, as what started off as a group of ten seemed to dwindle by one or two birds per week, getting smaller and smaller as December ground into January. By early February, only two birds were left, and I was confused—why did the others leave? Watching from my basement window one day, my question was answered—the remaining two were flushed from their ground feeder by a very plump looking Sharp-shinned hawk. After that, one remained—and she, only for a week. So ended my winter with the quail.
As a pilot, I have a very conflicted experience with Canada geese. On the one hand, they’re loud, gather in large groups, poop everywhere, and are known to be somewhat ornery when approached. On the other hand, they fly into airplanes with somewhat alarming regularity. So that’s…well, I guess that’s not very conflicted.
Many Canadian cities struggle with large number of Canada geese—Toronto and Montreal in particular have seen an explosion of the geese in their downtown parks, with all their concomitant issues. Vancouver has a similar issue, but with snow geese, and only in the spring when they stop in for a nibble in Richmond winging their way north to the Arctic. Here on the Island, we’re just far enough off the western flyway that we have neither of these issues, for which we are mostly thankful.
That said, we do have a fairly healthy population of Canada geese resident throughout the year. I’m just now in from mowing the lawn, and one of these geese in particular took a disliking to me encroaching on his territory (read: my lawn). Hissing ensued, and then I got to mow through a large pile of goose poop. It was delightful.
The Cedar waxwing, in my eyes, is one of the most beautiful birds we have here on Vancouver Island. Despite their bright plumage, I really only notice them in late spring, when the cherry trees are bursting with fruit and large (10-12) flocks of waxwings wing out of nowhere and begin to gorge. I’ve heard they’re far less common in built up areas, but in our part of the world, if you have cherry trees, you’ve probably experienced the waxwings. (Alternatively, if you’ve noticed many of your fruit have small triangular beak-marks removed, then you’ve DEFINITELY experienced the waxwings).
My first experience with this west coast chickadee was while visiting a friend in Vancouver. Walking through Stanley Park, I found myself being followed quite closely by a bird resembling the black-capped chickadee I knew from Ontario, but not quite. It seemed very inquisitive, and on a whim I held out my hand to see what it would do. It cocked its head, seemed to think for a moment, and then flitted over and perched on my finger for a few seconds before flitting away again. Our eastern birds were MUCH ruder than that. I was instantly in love. It wouldn’t be a huge stretch to say that this one experience played an outsized role in convincing me to move here. And I’m happy to report that Vancouver Island’s chickadees more than rise to the level of their mainland counterparts—if you’re out for a hike, visiting a friend’s house, or even just see one near you feeder, try holding out your hand—you might be in for a delightful experience.
The common raven is simply one of the most impressive birds you could ever hope to meet. I can’t even hope to describe it myself, so I’ll just defer to the Wikipedia description.
The common raven (Corvus corax), also known as the northern raven, is a large all-black passerinebird. Found across the Northern Hemisphere, it is the most widely distributed of all corvids. There are at least eight subspecies with little variation in appearance, although recent research has demonstrated significant genetic differences among populations from various regions. It is one of the two largest corvids, alongside the thick-billed raven, and is possibly the heaviest passerine bird; at maturity, the common raven averages 63 centimetres (25 inches) in length and 1.2 kilograms (2.6 pounds) in mass. Common ravens can live up to 21 years in the wild, a lifespan surpassed among passerines by only a few Australasianspecies such as the satin bowerbird and probably the lyrebirds. Young birds may travel in flocks but later mate for life, with each mated pair defending a territory.
Common ravens have coexisted with humans for thousands of years and in some areas have been so numerous that people have regarded them as pests. Part of their success as a species is due to their omnivorous diet; they are extremely versatile and opportunistic in finding sources of nutrition, feeding on carrion, insects, cereal grains, berries, fruit, small animals, and food waste.
Some notable feats of problem-solving provide evidence that the common raven is unusually intelligent.Over the centuries, it has been the subject of mythology, folklore, art, and literature. In many cultures, including the indigenous cultures of Scandinavia, ancient Ireland and Wales, Bhutan, the northwest coast of North America, and Siberia and northeast Asia, the common raven has been revered as a spiritual figure or godlike creature.
In conclusion, big, smart, fast, widespread, long lived, godlike. Questions?
These beautiful little birds are commonly heard near ponds and lakes, living and collecting small bugs and flies among the reeds and grasses. They’re far less common in dry areas. You’ll probably recognize their ‘wickety-wickety-wickety’ call if you’re spent any time hiking near a marsh, but they’re fairly retiring and will leave quickly if they sense you nearby. I set up a small viewing platform with a lawn chair in a tree overlooking our small beaver pond and was rewarded for sitting still for long periods of time with the above shots, which I considered a win. My wife considered it all ridiculous.
Read more about the common yellowthroat on Wikipedia.
The Dark-eyed juncos took a while to grow on me when I first moved here—they’re pretty plain looking birds, and seem entirely too abundant in the fall and winter to really leap to the eye. But they’re surprisingly complex little birds—their plumage varies wildly across the species, ranging from dominantly black to containing little to no black at all. I’ve often seen strange looking birds at my feeders in the winter and have spent many minutes excitedly searching for my binoculars only to realize “it’s just another junco” once I get close up. They also have a very nice little song, being known within the birding set as an excellent bird through which to study ‘bird language’. I’m not QUITE at that level yet, but, you know…good to know.
Eurasian Collared Dove
The Eurasian collared dove is, as you might guess, invasive in North America, and pretty much everywhere else on the planet too (but not Iceland, which says more about Iceland than it does about the Eurasian collared dove). Evidence suggests that they’re not overly damaging to their environment, nor do they tend to outcompete the local mourning doves, so their presence here merely…is. They’re fairly unremarkable, but they do tend to make some unexpected noises that’ll have you reaching for your binoculars and then disappointedly realizing “oh, it’s just a dove”.
Golden Crowned Sparrow
I was actually thinking to myself, “You know, there’s not really much to say about the golden crowned sparrow—wait, I’ll check Wikipedia to see what interesting facts I can dig up to seem knowledgeable!” And Wikipedia in one line tells me…
The golden-crowned sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla) is a large American sparrow found in the western part of North America.
I feel less bad about my ignorance now. There is one small note, which is that the golden crowned sparrow is very similar to the White-crowned sparrow, which has (you guessed it) a white crown instead of a gold one. Apparently the lineage split very recently. My entry on the white crowned sparrow, it seems, will be equally short.
Great Blue Heron
You know how it’s a thing now that birds are modern day dinosaurs? Maybe you’d find that difficult to believe, up until you heard two Great blue herons yelling at one another. I KNOW what they sound like, and to this day hearing one nearby makes me nearly jump out of my skin and run for cover. They’re quite beautiful, beyond the noises they produce.
Southern Florida boasts a sub-population which is coloured entirely white, and is known as the Great white heron, which is kind of neat. Beyond that, Wikipedia tells me that we grow ’em large here in BC—our average heron is almost half a pound heavier than those found further east.
Try not to think about that next time one yells at you from a nearby tree or bush.
The House finch seemed all too common and unremarkable to me to be worth much attention. Coming from out east, I had a variety of experiences with the similar but smaller purple finch, and kind of assumed the House finch was a large, duller, and less interesting version of my beloved Purple finch.
But MAN can these guys sing. The audio file doesn’t really do them justice (notwithstanding the bonus raven)—they have one of the most varied and interesting songs of any of the common feeder birds here on the Island. Wikipedia further tells me
Originally only a resident of Mexico and the southwestern United States, they were introduced to eastern North America in the 1940s. The birds were sold illegally in New York City as “Hollywood Finches”, a marketing artifice. To avoid prosecution under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, vendors and owners released the birds. They have since become naturalized; in largely unforested land across the eastern U.S., they have displaced the native purple finch and even the non-native house sparrow.
So that’s kind of interesting. Honestly, any bird that can outcompete a house sparrow is ok in my books.
It’s a Mallard.
And here’s some video of mallards, by Mark from www.avibirds.com
The Marsh wren is another very common summer bird in local marshes and wetlands—chances are you’ve heard its distinctive chitter from afar as you hike nearby. Our very small beaver pond hosts three or four of them in our reeds, and it’s about as small as wetland habitats get. Like most wrens, they’re very entertaining to watch, and generally quite curious about interlopers, but I’ve never managed to get as close to one as I have to the Bewick’s. Also like the Bewick’s, their nests can be quite easy to find—you just have to watch the bird with binoculars for a few minutes and see where it concentrates its time.
Read more about the Marsh wren on Wikipedia—and be sure to check out the range map. I find it oddly beautiful.
The Northern flicker is another of those local birds that I would describe as ‘weirdly beautiful’, not that my photo does it much justice (and searching the WordPress royalty-free image gallery for ‘Northern flicker’ returns three pages of aurora borealis and (for whatever reason) two blue-footed boobies, so that’s not much help). They live here year-round, although I’ve come to associate their screeching cries with the onset of fall. They’re virtually silent the rest of the year, but when the rain starts to fall—boy-o, that’s their time to shine.
Flickers are woodpeckers, as you’d come to know if you ever had one take a sudden interest in your eaves. Putting aside the somewhat alarming fact that they’re only there because you have tasty bugs in your walls, they can be fairly difficult to dislodge once they’re there—and they can do damage ranging from ‘why won’t he leave the chimney alone?!’ to ‘screw it, I’m just going to replace the entire wall’. Our friend in the BC interior had difficulty tracking down an odd knocking in her furnace, incurred two separate repair callouts, and finally had the guy come in while the noise was still occurring—he knew exactly what it was. She then invested in a slingshot and proudly told us later that it took her a while but she’d ‘gotten some feather’ and thought the episode at an end.
Our fingers are crossed.
Also, simply because it’s delightful—from Wikipedia:
Over 100 common names for the northern flicker are known, including yellowhammer (not to be confused with the Eurasian yellowhammer), clape, gaffer woodpecker, harry-wicket, heigh-ho, wake-up, walk-up, wick-up, yarrup, and gawker bird.
The Northwestern crow is a slightly smaller analogue of the American crow, which is why they are known to defend themselves with knives.
I’ve only ever seen the Pacific wren in coniferous forests, and then only incidentally—they’re tiny, virtually noiseless, and about as flit-ty as they come. Wikipedia really says it best:
Its movements as it creeps or climbs are incessant rather than rapid; its short flights swift and direct but not sustained, its tiny round wings whirring as it flies from bush to bush.
The Pileated Woodpecker is the second-largest woodpecker in North America, or even the largest if you (like most experts) consider the Ivory-billed woodpecker to be extinct. ‘Pileated’ refers to its bright red chapeau, but in far fancier terms, which is unfortunate when you think about it. Wouldn’t a black-pileated chickadee seem much more exotic?
Based on my personal experience, the best spot by far on the Island to spot a Pileated Woodpecker is on the telephone pole in front of my house. I’m assuming this means it’s full of tasty, tasty grubs, which I try not to think about whenever the wind is blowing.
The red-breasted nuthatch is given entirely short shrift by Wikipedia.
Its call, which has been likened to a tin trumpet, is high-pitched and nasal. It breeds in coniferous forests across Canada, Alaska and the northeastern and western United States. Though often a permanent resident, it regularly irrupts further south if its food supply fails. There are records of vagrants occurring as far south as the Gulf Coast and northern Mexico. It forages on the trunks and large branches of trees, often descending head first, sometimes catching insects in flight. It eats mainly insects and seeds, especially from conifers. It excavates its nest in dead wood, often close to the ground, smearing the entrance with pitch.
High-pitched and nasal?! I find the ‘meep meep’ of the nuthatch to be among the more calming of the songbird calls. It doesn’t hurt that the bird is just bursting with character, full of curiosity about its surroundings, poking pretty much every hidey-hole it finds for morsels of food, and seemingly defying gravity by hopping up and down vertical tree trunks facing whichever direction it likes. As for calling it a vagrant, well…I guess that’s fair. Vagrant in this sense just means that it shows up where it shouldn’t, which is a little judge-y, but you’d think the people on the Gulf Coast and northern Mexico would be delighted.
Anyways, count this among my favourite birds (there’s more than a few of them in this list I’ve called my favourite, I know, but I have a big heart).
Red Breasted Sapsucker
Have you ever been out walking and come across a tree riddled from root to canopy with lines of little horizontal dots? That’s this guy at work, drilling out the wounds in the tree to get sap flowing to the surface. Akin to a beaver, the sapsucker actually creates food and habitats for other creatures while going about its day.
A sapsucker’s tongue is adapted with stiff hairs for collecting the sap. Red-breasted sapsuckers visit the same tree multiple times, drilling holes in neat horizontal rows. A bird will leave and come back later, when the sap has started flowing from the holes. Repeated visits over an extended period of time can actually kill the tree. The insects attracted to the sap are also consumed, and not only by sapsuckers. Rufous hummingbirds, for example, have been observed to follow the movements of sapsuckers and take advantage of this food source.
That’s actually a pretty nice segue to the
…which is, unsurprisingly, one of my favourite birds on the Island! I know, I know. I promise this one is the last one. The rufous is noticeably smaller than the Anna’s, but makes up for its small size by packing in three times as much personality. These birds are astounding migrants, making a circuit up to 3600 km long throughout the year. They show up here surprisingly early in the spring, often in late February or early March, and almost immediately begin their very distinctive aerial mating display. I’ve tried to describe it to friends and family in the east using a combination of hand motions and enthusiastic noises, but I always feel like I’m giving them short shrift—there’s only so much you can do with your hand to make it seem like a hummingbird’s rear waggling in mid air while you say ‘buh-buh-buh-BEW!’ over and over. I’ve tried to get a video of the tiny hummingbird moving at high speed from a hundred feet in the air in an parabolic arc curving towards wherever you are not, but that turns out largely as you might expect…so hand waggling and weird noises it shall have to be.
Once they’ve fledged their chicks, the whole kit and caboodle take off for the upland wildflowers as the summer wears on, meaning they’ve often left our little corner of the Island by mid July. They’ll follow these alpine wildflower blooms all the way back down to their overwintering grounds in the Mexican state of Guerrero (think Acapulco—not so different from the average Canadian).
I highly encourage you to check out Wikipedia for more on this incredible bird.
I have a bit of a conflicted relationship with the Red-winged blackbird. They’re beautiful, yes, but we live near a small beaver pond that boasts a THRIVING population of these birds. It turns out there IS such a thing as too much of a good thing—I found that I was having to fill up my bird feeders once a day because the blackbirds were happily popping over from the bullrushes to feast. They will happily eat anything that is accessible, and they have a voracious appetite. I finally achieved a semblance of balance when I figured out what size chicken wire was enough to keep the blackbirds out, but let the towhees in (they’re pretty close in size). Notwithstanding the fact that my feeders all look like tiny little bird prisons now, and the smaller females and young birds are able to get in, I’m happy with the status quo.
The Song sparrow is a very plain looking bird with two wonderful features—they like to eat spiders and bugs, and they have a beautiful song. That, as they say, is good enough for me.
Singing itself consists of a combination of repeated notes, quickly passing isolated notes, and trills. The songs are very crisp, clear, and precise, making them easily distinguishable by human ears. A particular song is determined not only by pitch and rhythm but also by the timbre of the trills. Although one bird will know many songs—as many as 20 different tunes with as many as 1000 improvised variations on the basic theme,—unlike thrushes, the song sparrow usually repeats the same song many times before switching to a different song.
Song sparrows typically learn their songs from a handful of other birds that have neighboring territories. They are most likely to learn songs that are shared between these neighbors. Ultimately, they will choose a territory close to or replacing the birds that they have learned from. This allows the song sparrows to address their neighbors with songs shared with those neighbors. It has been demonstrated that song sparrows are able to distinguish neighbors from strangers on the basis of song, and also that females are able to distinguish (and prefer) their mate’s songs from those of other neighboring birds, and they prefer songs of neighboring birds to those of strangers.
These swans are welcome visitors to our island in the fall, winter, and spring, migrating much further north in the summer for their breeding season. They, along with many ducks and other waterfowl, call the often-unfrozen waters of Vancouver Island home at the southern terminus of their migration, which is a wonderful feature of life on the island—there are often just as many migrant species here in the winter as in the summer, compared to the quiet winter forests and lakes of the rest of the country. My favourite part of hosting these birds on my pond in the winter is their tendency to keep together in large groups and ‘dance’ with one another—heads bopping along to a beat only they can hear.
The trumpeter swan (Cygnus buccinator) is a species of swan found in North America. The heaviest living bird native to North America, it is also the largest extant species of waterfowl with a wingspan that may exceed 10 ft (3.0 m). It is the American counterpart and a close relative of the whooper swan (Cygnus cygnus) of Eurasia, and even has been considered the same species by some authorities. By 1933, fewer than 70 wild trumpeters were known to exist, and extinction seemed imminent, until aerial surveys discovered a Pacific population of several thousand trumpeters around Alaska’s Copper River. Careful reintroductions by wildlife agencies and the Trumpeter Swan Society gradually restored the North American wild population to over 46,000 birds by 2010.
The Spotted towhee is most notable for its bright red eyes, but the rest of it is almost as striking. They’re a very common feeder species in our neck of the woods—in the winter months to only birds more common than the towhee at my sunflower seed feeders are the house finches. They have a very inquisitive sounding call that almost sounds like they’re asking a question.
The spotted towhee is a large New World sparrow, roughly the same size as a Robin. It has a long, dark fan shaped tail with white corners on the end. They have a round body (similar to New World sparrows) with bright red eyes and dull pink legs. The spotted towhee is between 17 cm (6.7 in) and 21 cm (8.3 in) long, and weighs in at between 33 g (1.2 oz) and 49 g (1.7 oz).
Adult males have a generally darker head, upper body and tail with a white belly, rufoussides and white spots on the their back and white wing bars. Females look similar but are dark brown and grey instead of black. The spotted towhee has white spots on its primary and secondary feathers, the Eastern towhee is the same bird in terms of its size and structure but does not have white spots.
These birds are characters of the first order—like many jays, they’re curious and entertaining to watch. They tend to summer high in the mountains, which means that we tend to see them in the fall and winter, when they drop to the lower elevations seeking food. If it’s a good year for pinecones in the montane areas, though, they might not show up at all.
The Steller’s jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) is a jay native to western North America, closely related to the blue jay found in the rest of the continent, but with a black head and upper body. It is also known as the long-crested jay, mountain jay, and pine jay. It is the only crested jay west of the Rocky Mountains.
Steller’s jay shows a great deal of regional variation throughout its range.Blackish-brown-headed birds from the north gradually become bluer-headed farther south. The Steller’s jay has a more slender bill and longer legs than the blue jay and has a much more pronounced crest. It is also somewhat larger.
The head is blackish-brown, black, or dark blue, depending on the latitude of the bird, with lighter streaks on the forehead. This dark coloring gives way from the shoulders and lower breast to silvery blue. The primaries and tail are a rich blue with darker barring. Birds in the eastern part of its range along the Great Divide have white markings on the head, especially over the eyes; birds further west have light blue markers and birds in the far west along the Pacific Coast have small, very faint, or no white or light markings at all.
The Swainson’s thrush makes one of my favourite calls, commonly heard in late spring and early summer as the sun is setting and the air is cooling (although you do hear the same call during the day, it’s competing with far more bird calls for your attention—at dusk, they stand alone). I’ve spent long periods of time seeking to photograph a bird I hear calling in a nearby tree or bush, only to give up in frustration when this reclusive thrush keeps deep in its hiding place. They’re fairly common in our area, though, as you can tell from the preponderance of its calls as the sun sets.
The breeding habitat of Swainson’s thrush is coniferous woods with dense undergrowth across Canada, Alaska, and the northern United States; also, deciduous wooded areas on the Pacific coast of North America.
These birds migrate to southern Mexico and as far south as Argentina. The coastal subspecies migrate down the Pacific coast of North America and winter from Mexico to Costa Rica, whereas the continental birds migrate eastwards within North America (a substantial detour) and then travel southwards via Florida to winter from Panama to Bolivia.
The varied thrust is largely a forest bird, and I’ve only ever seen them out in the open in our winter months. They’re absolutely beautiful birds, though, about the same size as the American robin. With their distinct orange colours, there’s no mistaking one when you see it.
“The varied thrush breeds in western North America from Alaska to northern California. It is migratory, with northern breeders moving south within or somewhat beyond the breeding range. Other populations may only move altitudinally. This species is an improbable transatlantic vagrant, but there is an accepted western Europeanrecord in Great Britain in 1982.
Nests in Alaska, Yukon Territory, and mountains in British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon. Prefers moist conifer forest. Most common in dense, older conifer forests in high elevations. Moves to lower elevations during the winter where it is often seen in towns and orchards and thickets, or migrates to California. Seen in flocks during winter of up to 20 birds. It is well known for individual birds to fly eastward in winter, showing up in just about any state, then returning to the west coast for breeding.”
The rail is a bird commonly heard, but not seen. I’ve gotten lucky twice—both times while occupying the lawn chair I set up on a platform I built on a tree overhanging our pond, and reading quietly for tens of minutes and then noticing subtle motion incidentally out of the corner of my eye. They’re secretive, but their loud chuckles as the sun sets are pretty distinct.
The Virginia rail (Rallus limicola) is a small waterbird, of the family Rallidae. These birds remain fairly common despite continuing loss of habitat, but are secretive by nature and more often heard than seen. They are also considered a game species in some provinces and states, though rarely hunted. The Ecuadorian rail is often considered a subspecies, but some taxonomic authorities consider it distinct.
As promised above, I have very little to add to Wikipedia‘s short description:
The white-crowned sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys) is a species of passerine bird native to North America. A medium-sized member of the American sparrow family, this species is marked by a grey face and black and white streaking on the upper head. It breeds in brushy areas in the taiga and tundra of the northernmost parts of the continent and in the Rocky Mountains and Pacific coast. While southerly populations in the Rocky Mountains and coast are largely resident, the breeding populations of the northerly part of its range are migratory and can be found as wintering or passage visitors through most of North America south to central Mexico.
The Audubon’s warbler (Setophaga auduboni or Setophaga coronata auduboni) is a small New World warbler.
This passerine bird was long known to be closely related to its eastern counterpart, the myrtle warbler, and at various times the two forms have been classed as separate species or grouped as the yellow-rumped warbler, Setophaga coronata. The two forms probably diverged when the eastern and western populations were separated in the last ice age.
In North America, the discovery of a hybrid zone between the two forms in western Canada led the American Ornithologists’ Union in 1973 to recognize them as a single species.
Audubon’s warbler has a westerly distribution. It breeds in much of western Canada, the western United States, and into Mexico. It is migratory, wintering from the southern parts of the breeding range into western Central America.
The summer male Audubon’s warbler has a slate blue back, and yellow crown, rump and flank patch. It has white tail patches, and the breast is streaked black. The female has a similar pattern, but the back is brown, as are the breast streaks.
This form is distinguished from the myrtle warbler by its lack of a whitish eyestripe, its yellow throat, and concolorous cheek patch.
The breeding habitat is a variety of coniferous and mixed woodland. Audubon’s warblers nest in a tree, laying four or five eggs in a cup nest.
These birds are insectivorous, but will readily take berries in winter, when they form small flocks.
The song is a simple trill. The call is a hard check.
Lübeck: Another Way of Logging
By Guy Dauncey
There is a forest in Germany that people are talking about. While most of Germany’s forests are in a sorry state, losing their magic, losing nature and lacking older trees, this forest is gaining magic and supporting nature while providing its foresters with a steady income.
The forest belongs to the city of Lübeck, a beautiful Hanseatic port north-east of Hamburg, close to Denmark, whose tourist officers have labelled it ‘The Venice of the North’ because of its many canals, just as ours have labelled the Cowichan Valley ‘The New Provence’. Its community forest, some 5,000 hectares in size, is mostly beech and oak, mixed with ash, maple, hornbeam, elm, birch and alder, with some coniferous spruce, pine, larch and Douglas fir.
The land has been covered by forest for more than two hundred and fifty years, but in 1994 Lübeck’s chief forester proposed a change in the way it was managed. Instead of the conventional method of logging with heavy machinery followed by replanting he wanted to try a new approach called ‘close to nature’, or ‘near-natural forest use’, which was developed in cooperation with scientists and nature conservationists. The city approved the change to “use wood and preserve the forest”, the citizens endorsed the change by referendum, and the forest has been managed this way ever since.
The city manages its forest with four objectives in mind. First, to be a natural forest for the people of Lübeck to enjoy, where nature can teach the residents of Lübeck and visitors about the natural functions of a forest and how a healthy forest can help sustain life on the planet. Second, to meet the commercial needs of the forest industry through sustainable management, with a focus on felling large trees on a needs basis, with buyers going into the forest to select the trees they want. Third, to contribute to the conservation of nature, enhancing biodiversity through the preservation of natural habitats. And fourth, to be a store of carbon, contributing to efforts to slow the climate crisis.
The chief forester, Knut Sturm, says their primary rule is to allow the forest to follow its own ecological nature. He uses the phrases ‘close to nature’ and ‘near-natural forest use’ to describe their guiding principles. Over the long-term, he seeks a forest management path that will yield the lowest risk and the most productive development. To achieve this, he and his team of thirty district foresters and forest workers harvest mature trees while working to improve the closeness of the forests to nature and to raise the quality of the remaining trees.
In practical terms, this means no clearcuts; no use of toxins or fertilizers, ensuring that forest-walkers can breathe pure air; no drainage of wetlands; no surface clearing or slash-burning of brush piles; no work during ecologically sensitive seasons (spring and summer); and no use of large machines that would damage and compact the soil. Large trees are felled individually or in groups of two or three. They are dragged out of the forest by horses, which slalom their way between the trees, having minimal impact on the soil, and brought to assembly areas where they are winched onto trucks and taken to a local sawmill.
Soil impact is a big consideration for Knut Sturm and his team. They are inspired by the findings in the book The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World by the German forester Peter Wohlleben, who has worked alongside Suzanne Simard, a professor of forest ecology at UBC. The trees have an underground network of canals and pores that aerate the soil, ensuring water absorption and the conveyance of nutrients. The roots are connected by fungi, enabling them to exchange information about water and nutrients. When soil is loose, the trees root more deeply, giving them better protection against storms. When the soil is compacted by heavy machinery their roots have to grow closer to the surface, making them more susceptible to blow-down.
471 hectares are left entirely untouched to serve as reference areas for nature’s ways; the goal is that the managed areas should look almost identical to the reference areas. They never plant any trees, but leave that to nature, and the millions of seeds that fall each October. In doing so, they have learnt that trees germinated naturally grow better than sown or planted trees, the same lesson that our local ecoforester Merv Wilkinson learnt in his forest at Wildwood, Cedar, just north of Ladysmith.
They protect wildlife trees and dead trees for birds, bats, insects and fungi, and are proud that their forests support otters, the endangered black stork, and 180 pairs of breeding middle-spotted woodpeckers, whose numbers have increased significantly in recent years.
On good beech tree sites, where trees are competing, thinning is done two or three times until the trees reach 40 cm diameter at breast height, after which no further thinning is needed to improve the quality of the beeches. The target diameters for commercial felling are 45 cm for spruce, 50 cm for pine, 75 cm for beech and 80 cm for oak.
So what of their timber data? I know this will be of interest to those who want to consider different ways to manage North Cowichan’s Municipal Forest, which is a similar size. Lubeck’s goal is deliberately not to maximize the forest yield; they want to balance social, ecological and economic needs, while growing the forest as a whole. In the timber-managed area of 4,670 hectares, in 1996 the forest held 315 cubic metres of timber per hectare (m3/ha). By 2004 this had increased to 340 m3/ha and by 2018 to 429 m3/ha. In 1994 the annual incremental growth was 8-10 m3/ha; now it is 10-12 m3/ha. Their goal is to reach a total forest inventory of 600 to 800 m3/ha, both as a store of carbon and as the forest recovers its old-growth characteristics. For a comparative table, see below.
In 2016 they cut 14,500 m3 at a rate of 3.2 m3/ha, including 800 m3 of high-quality oak, which sells for around 430 euros per cubic metre (Can $609). They also provided 2,500 cubic metres of timber for firewood and other wood products for the people of Lubeck. On average, the trees felled are 10-20 cm wider than those felled in conventional forests. The older a beech tree, the firmer its wood, and the more it sells for. Their rule of thumb is that wood from deciduous trees should sell for three times the harvesting cost, while coniferous wood should sell for 1.5 times. Of the 14,500 cubic metres felled, 3,500 m3 was left in the forest for soil improvement and as dead wood, and 11,000 m3 were sold:
- 3,500 m3 high-quality deciduous: 75% value-added products, 25 % firewood
- 1,000 m3 low-quality deciduous: 20% value-added products, 70% building timber, 15% firewood
- 6,500 m3 coniferous: 20% value-added products, 65% building timber, 10% pulp
By following their ‘close to nature’ methods their costs have been reduced drastically, and their timber, since it has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, sells for a premium. The Otto Group, which has pledged itself to offer exclusively FSC certified furniture until 2025, has shown a great interest in the Lübeck forest. On average, the sale of timber generates $1.9 million a year.
Their employees do not just work at their forestry jobs. Theirs is a municipal forest pursuing multiple objectives, so they are also responsible for the maintenance and care of the nature reserves, and 250 kilometres of hiking, equestrian and cycling trails. The trails are well-used, with more than 120 events including many educational school trips a year, as well as daily enjoyment by Lübeck’s citizens.
Germany’s environmental and business communities have sat up and paid attention to what’s happening in Lübeck. They have been supported by large organizations such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Robin Wood, and have received awards from the European Paper Industry and Germany’s Federal Ministry of Environment. In 2018, Dr. Lutz Fähser (Chief Forester from 1994-2009) and Knut Sturm were awarded the renowned B.A.U.M. Environmental Prize for their role in making Stadtwald Lübeck an internationally recognized role model for near-natural forest-use and sustainable forest management. The B.A.U.M. award is one of the best-known and most coveted sustainability awards among German companies.
Dr. Lutz Fähser and Knut Sturm
Lübeck’s public is happy too. In 2017, two-thirds of respondents to a survey said they preferred the wilder forest look and feel to more orderly conventional forests. Social acceptance by environmental organizations and by the citizens of Lübeck is important, providing an important foundation for successful forestry. Their methods of ecoforestry have recently been adopted by other German cities, including Berlin, Munich, Bonn, Saarbrucken, Wiesbaden, Hannover, Uelzen, Mühlheim an der Ruhr and Göttingen.
Our Coastal Douglas fir forests on Vancouver Island are a world away from Germany’s forests of beech and oak, but forests follow nature’s rules all over the world. The parallels between Lübeck’s experience and ours in North Cowichan are fascinating, and I hope they receive further exploration. Merv Wilkinson operated his much smaller Wildwood forest on these principles for seventy years in Cedar, south of Nanaimo. He harvested the annual growth without any clearcutting, and after sixty years his forest had more timber in it than when he started, showing that the ‘close to nature’ method of managing a forest can happen here too, on Vancouver Island.
Coastal Douglas fir forest at Wildwood, managed on the same principles as Lübeck
To learn more about Lübeck’s experience, find yourself a German speaker and settle down to enjoy these videos, which take you into the forest itself.
|Size of harvestable forest (hectares)||5,000||4,670|
|Size of no-harvest reference forest (hectares)||0||471|
|Total timber volume per hectare (cubic metres)||486||429|
|Average annual allowable cut (cubic metres)||20,000||14,500|
|Actual cut in 2017 (cubic metres)||10,585||14,500|
|Replanting (seedlings in 2017)||49,000||0|
|Average clearcut block size (hectares)||7||0|
|Jobs created (2017)||8.5||30|
*Average income, 2015-2018.
Many thanks to Knut Sturm and Torsten Welle and the Naturwald Akadamie in Lübeck for their assistance. More Lübeck photos below.
Published in Valley Voice, February 2019.
Hyla Woods, Oregon. Another great example of ‘close to nature’ forestry on 1,000 acres: http://hylawoods.com/about/video
Guy Dauncey is President of the Yellow Point Ecological Society and the author of Journey to the Future: A Better World is Possible. www.journeytothefuture.ca
Where Do We Stand? Sign the Petition to North Cowichan Council
Save our North Cowichan Community Forests – Watch the video
March 5th, Community Assembly in Duncan
On Tuesday March 5th: The Secret of the Six Forests: A Community Assembly for Public Forests, in the Performing Arts Centre, Duncan. Speakers include Icel Dobell, Andy McKinnon, Erik Piikkila and Guy Dauncey.
The Forest Covenant
It sounds like a movie – perhaps a sequel to Lord of the Rings.
Remember the characters? The Hobbits, who are simple and worldly, live in Middle Earth. The Elves, who are kind-hearted, strong and wise, live on an altogether higher plane of existence. The Orcs are brutal monsters. The Dwarves are obsessed with gold. The Ents are the trees themselves, willing to battle to protect justice, goodness and nature. So let’s start.
The Hobbits’ beloved forest in Middle Yellow Point is threatened by an army of Orcs armed with horrible tree-destroying machines. The Elves show the Hobbits how they can protect the forest by using The Forest Covenant, but the Hobbits must first overcome the Dwarves, who have transferred their love of gold to a new love of legalese, with its deep impenetrable prose. As Guardians of the Obscure it is their task to ensure that the Hobbits dot every eye and cross every tee before they are permitted use of the Covenants that can save their forest. Meanwhile, the Orcs move closer every day. Can the ancient tree-people, the Ents, help the Hobbits as they struggle to reach agreement among themselves and win the Dwarves’ support before the Orcs arrive?
We Seek Advice from a Fellow Hobbit
To aid them in their quest the Hobbits sought the advice of Keith Erickson, a fellow Hobbit from the Galiano Conservancy Association who has lived among the Dwarves and knows their ways. Gathered around a cozy woodstove one winter morning in November, he told us about the eyes and the tees.
A Conservation Covenant, he explained, is a legal document stemming from Section 219 of BC’s Land Titles Act that specifies which parcel of land is to be protected, and by what means. The Covenant is registered on title, and it runs with the land in perpetuity – for a thousand years or more.
The land in question must be surveyed. A Covenant can restrict the types of activities that can occur on the land, including whether it can be subdivided or developed. If you want you can prohibit the use of pesticides, alterations to the hydrology or the removal of vegetation. You can allow activities that achieve ecological restoration, or recreational activities such as hiking on designated trails, and you can allow for the carefully defined management of the land, such as ecoforestry-based logging, or cutting a limited amount of firewood and felling danger trees.
The Dwarves Love Land Trusts
The Covenant must be held by two recognized Land Trusts, such as the Nanaimo Area Land Trust to provide additional security and stability. The organizations must be committed to monitor the land consistently with inspections every one to three years, to ensure that the landowner is upholding the terms of the Covenant. They can also be held by government entities such as the CVRD, RDN or Ministry of Forests.
A typical inspection of a small parcel of 10 to 20 acres might take a day, including a meeting with the owner and the related administrative work, which is done by trained staff or volunteers from the Land Trust, overseen by the dwarves. It is standard practice for the Land Trust to seek an endowment from the land-owner to cover these inspection and administrative costs over the long-term, ensuring their ongoing capacity to monitor and enforce the Covenant. Endowment amounts vary depending on the size and location of the land, the complexity of the monitoring and the circumstances surrounding each agreement. It is not uncommon for a land-owner to be asked to give an endowment in the range of $10-$20,000, the interest income from which, at an assumed 3 to 4% a year, covers the cost of inspections.
Saving Money by Saving the Forest
In the Gulf Islands, a Natural Area Protection Tax Exemption Program provides a 65% property tax exemption of the assessed value of land covenanted under the program, so the tax-savings from the first year could cover the cost of the survey. The Land Trusts Alliance of British Columbia, with 36-member trusts, is promoting the establishment of a province-wide Conservation Tax Incentive Program.
Property tax incentives also apply on lands classified as Private Managed Forest by BC Assessment to encourage private landowners to manage their lands for long term forest production. A minimum of 25 hectares is required, but the property may consist of more than one parcel if they are contiguous. The program requires a signed Management Commitment that is filed with the governing Council, along with yearly declarations and reporting on harvesting and other forest management activities. This does not provide protection to the forest, but simply encourages forest management. There are no provisions within this program for ecoforestry, and clearcutting is considered an acceptable method of harvesting. Owners of land with this classification are assured of the right to harvest trees, unrestricted by local government bylaws. While it does not promote ecoforestry values, the Private Managed Forest Act could be used by ecoforesters to reduce property taxes on their land.
Covenants are most effective when they are based on a standard legal template. The addition of ecoforestry clauses makes things more complicated, because the Dwarves want legal clarity down to the minutiae (a legal word they love), and ecoforestry – well, forests don’t work that way. Hard rules are easy to follow. Ecoforestry rules can potentially make things more difficult to monitor and enforce.
A Sustainable Forestry Covenant
Keith told us that they have created a sustainable forestry covenant on Galiano that allows logging using sustainable methods and an annual allowable cut of four cubic metres per hectare per year – roughly the equivalent of four telephone poles. If an increased cut is desired, a ten-year management plan acceptable to the Land Trust must be prepared by a Registered Forest Professional. Such a situation has not arisen yet, so they have no experience to go on. The BC Truck Loggers Association estimates that a typical second growth forest contains 400-600 cubic metres of timber per hectare. In a covenanted ecoforest, if harvesting was allowed at an assumed annual growth rate of 4% a year or less, this might yield 16 to 24 cubic metres per hectare per year, which would be represented in the management plan.
The advantage of ecoforestry is that it delivers a continuous timber supply from a cohesive managed forest, feeding local mills and contributing to a circular economy in which the whole landscape functions, growing wood and offering local value-added potential. The challenge is to define such harvesting in tight legal language. One possibility might be to define it negatively, allowing no harvesting that would create a clearcut larger than (for instance) 400 square metres. This is unknown territory, but the Covenant must be written in a way that will keep the Dwarves happy.
What Happens if the Orks Seize Control?
What happens if a future landowner sides with the Orks and says “I want the timber – screw the Covenant”? This is where the penmanship of the Dwarves comes in, for the Land Trust that holds the Covenant can enforce the regulations through charges (known as rent charges) or penalties that comes into effect if the covenant is in breach. The charges can be fixed or can vary according to the damage that has occurred. In the case of overharvesting, a common method is to levy a penalty of 200% of the market value of timber removed. If necessary, a covenant includes provisions that allow the holders to take the landowner to court. The covenant also can require him or her to restore the damage and restock the ecosystem, or enable the Land Trust to complete the work at the owner’s expense. Hard rules and photographs of a breach make it is easier for a Land Trust to enforce the breach, or if necessary, for the court to make its judgment.
What size parcel is best suited to a covenant? Keith replied that in most instances larger is better. A land trust with limited capacity and resources must be able to justify the expense and commitment of a covenant through the resulting ecological benefits. On the other hand, if a group of landowners with smaller parcels live close to each other and make a cooperative arrangement, the inspections could be cheaper, with a single visit to the properties and a shared meeting – a celebratory occasion that people would look forward to each year when they would share forest wisdoms.
Another possible way to protect the forest, Keith explained, is through a partnership with the local or regional government, a Land Trust, and a forest management group such as the Ecoforestry Institute Society. It would be based around the use of Section 99(a) of the Land Title Act, which allows a parcel to be subdivided creating one lot that would be transferred to the government body and a remainder lot that would stay with the landowner, with no road dedication or other typical requirements.
The notion here is that landowners wishing to protect their forest who consider ecoforestry management to be more important than private ownership could give ownership of the subdivided lot to the government body, to be protected and managed accordingly. The government would:
- subdivide the parcel(s) to be protected under Section 99(a),
- zone them for ecoforestry,
- potentially place a single ecoforestry covenant on them, and
- sign a forest management contract with an organization such as the Ecoforestry Institute Society that would manage the land in such a way that old growth composition, structure and function were gradually restored.
The landowners would surrender their ownership, but the forest would remain in their backyard forever and be managed as an ecoforest, a status which would hopefully be valued by future owners. If adjacent landowners felt the same way they could work together to create a single protected parcel of ecoforest that would be owned and managed by a single entity. It would be a complex project involving multiple partners, but it would provide a lasting guarantee of forest protection.
We Forest-Loving Hobbits Need to Gather!
What comes next? There are many forest land-owners in the Cedar-Yellow Point area, and some of us may be interested to place ecoforestry covenants on our land, or to pursue the Section 99 route. We Hobbits need to gather, and mull things over, over a mug of mulled ale.
If you would like to join us for such a gathering, at a time and place to be determined, please email us at email@example.com
Guy Dauncey 250-924-1445
An Opportunity to Build Homes in the Forest – with UPDATE
This parcel of land has been sold in a way that makes us very happy. A German couple who have roots on the Island have bought the 21 Acres for the sole purpose of preserving the forest, and creating a partnership with Wildwood to practice ecoforestry on the land..
There’s a 21-acre parcel of forested land on the market in Yellow Point, at the end of Roper Road. Yellow Point is a jewel of a rural area that’s like a Gulf Island without the ferries, 20 minutes north of Ladysmith, 25 minutes south of Nanaimo.
The land has not been logged for years, and fifty years ago it was managed by Merv Wilkinson, of Wildwood fame. As Yellow Point residents, we would love to welcome new people to the area who share our appreciation and respect for the forest.
Protecting the Forest for the Future
These are our seven proposed solutions to protect the Coastal Douglas fir forest in our area:
1. The voluntary use of conservation and ecoforestry covenants
protecting the forest for future generations while allowing logging using the ecosystem-based single-tree selection method practiced at Wildwood by the Ecoforestry Institute Society, enabling the forest to recover its old growth character over the next 100 years.
2. The use of a property tax incentive
to reward landowners who are already practising sustainable forest management, or who have placed a conservation covenant on their land.
3. The development of a regional conservation fund,
financed by a small increase in taxes to fund conservation projects on private lands, and to purchase private properties for conservation purposes. The CVRD has such a fund; the RDN does not.
4. A requirement for clustered or carefully-place home-site development
on lots of ten acres or more. Thus, a landowner who owns twenty acres, allowing four 5-acre lots, could develop four homes on four small lots, the rest of the forest being shared by the owners and protected by an ecoforestry covenant.
5. The use of a density transfer
allowing a landowner whose zoning allows for subdivision into two or more lots to sell the development potential to a landowner in an area where density transfer units can be received for an approved development. For example, if you own 20 acres zoned to allow four 5-acre lots, you could sell some or all of the density units, the remaining forest being protected by an ecoforestry covenant. This is currently allowed in the RDN, with density transfers to RDN Area H.
6. Amending the provincial development permit area (DPA) rules:
- classifying all Coastal Douglas fir forest as an endangered ecosystem, enabling environmentally sensitive DPAs to be established by local governments;
- requiring a permit for any subdivision, not just for four lots or more; and
- strengthening the rules to require the clustering or careful placement of development, with the remaining forest being protected by an ecoforestry covenant.
7. The creation by the provincial government of a Coastal Douglas Fir Land Reserve
- in which logging would be allowed provided it followed ecoforestry principles,
- landowners’ development rights would remain, but be adjusted to require that any proposed development is clustered or carefully placed, and
- requiring that the remaining forest be protected by an ecoforestry covenant.
Protecting the Coastal Douglas Fir Forest: Seven Practical Solutions
It cools us in the summer, it warms our hearts all year,
It provides a home for owls and flowers, for herons, cedars, fir.
It shapes the landscape, painting peace, away from the urban rush,
It protects our water all year round, surrendering it clear and fresh.
In Japanese, the word shinrin means forest and yoku means bath, so shinrin-yoku means ‘forest bath’: being immersed in the forest with all our senses. Listening to its quietness, seeing the variety of trees, mosses, lichens and rocks, tasting the air as you breathe in deeply, touching the rough Douglas fir and the smooth red arbutus, going barefoot across the earth, dipping your feet in a forest stream, lying down to gaze up at its beauty. Such bathing brings healing to the body, heart, mind and soul.
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