On July 20th TLC staff Torrey, Andrew and summer student Karen met with Nanaimo & Area Land Trust (NALT) staff Paul, Vancouver Island University (VIU) Geography Chair Hannah, VIU professor Wendy and her Environmental Science students at the Witchcraft Lake parking lot to warm up for the daunting hike up Mount Benson which stands 1023 meters tall.
The plan was to climb approximately 600m elevation to a site NALT monitors to introduce the students to ecological data collection and repeat photography, filling out inspection forms and collecting photo data to compare to an ecological report completed in 2006. The site at that time had recently been logged so didn’t boast a huge diversity of species. TLC and NALT were curious to see how the landscape had changed over the years and thought this would be an excellent opportunity to educate students on natural forest succession.
The weather was cool and cloudy; perfect for hiking up a steep hill! Within the first 15 minutes of climbing, it was evident this would be a slow going traverse, not because of the steep terrain but because of the amazing flora found along the trail! On the route we identified several saprophytic plants such as Pinesap (Hypopitys monotropa), Pinedrop (Pterospora andromedea) and the rare Gnome-plant (Hemitomes congestum). The Gnome-plant is the only plant in its genus and is only found on Vancouver Island. There has been one sighting of it in the Olympic Peninsula and another sighting in Oregon. Due to this, it was a very special treat to see this strange but beautiful plant essentially in our backyard!
For lunch we headed towards Cougar Bluffs. Along the trail we cautiously walked along side a huge population of Reindeer Lichen (Cladonia rangiferina)! This lichen grows mere millimeters a year and has become an endangered species due to habitat loss. It was incredible to see them flourishing along this trail. Cougar Bluffs spoiled us with a panoramic view of Nanaimo and the Coast Mountains.
Finally it was time to do a short bushwhack to the NALT monitoring site near Cougar Bluffs. We sat down, opened our books and got to work. We learned the monitoring site was logged about 12 years ago, yet the forest appears to be making a comeback. Dense groups of young Douglas-firs and Western redcedars were present, as well as shrubs like salal and even a few red huckleberry shrubs. These are good signs. The students were enthusiastic about learning to identify plant species and mosses!
Our descent down the mountain was great, with students pointing out plants along the trail with the names they had learned on the way up. We completed the day with a group photo at Witchcraft Lake and high fives all around for a job well done. Thank you VIU and NALT for partnering with TLC and giving such a great opportunity for students to learn experientially.
You can help support the education and training of students in the protection and monitoring of conservation covenants by donating to TLC’s Covenant Program. In celebration of TLC’s 20th year of conservation, Board Chair Frances Sloan Sainas is matching gifts towards the program up to $20,000. Donate online today!