On June 4th TLC staff member Torrey, summer intern Karen and volunteer Mitch monitored two covenants: the Thetis-Mount Work Connector and an upstream portion of Ayum Creek in Sooke. The trio strolled though the Thetis-Mount Work Connector and noticed clusters of dead Western red cedars along the trail. In recent years Victoria has experienced significant consecutive summer droughts, which are thought to be the cause for many Western red cedar die-offs. Although native trees in the area are accustomed to these climate swings and have developed thick bark (no pun intended) , the lack of water over a period of time stresses trees out and they become susceptible to disease, insect or fungus infestations. For example, the Douglas-fir tree can withstand fires and store water during dry times due to its thick bark, whereas Western red cedars across the Greater Victoria Area are succumbing to stresses and invaders due to the overly dry summers. Monitoring the number and location of these trees provides insight into how climate change may affect our forests. This being said, dead and decaying trees still provide a profound function in forests. Some trees such as the Western red cedar will still stand up to 100 years after death, providing habitat for many animals and insects during that time. Even after the trunk finally crashes into the forest floor, it becomes a nurse log for other animals and returns nutrients back to the soil.
The trio continued to Ayum Creek Regional Park Reserve to monitor the beautiful riparian zone on the north side of the park. There are no public trails to this section of the covenant so the monitors carefully walked along the creek to check on the health of this system. To Karen’s delightful surprise, the creek was incredibly full of caddisfly larva! Ayum Creek has had many wonderful restoration projects over the years to revive the salmonid spawning habitat; these beautiful caddisfly larvae are an important health indicator species for streams. Caddisfly are sensitive to pollution and are the first to disappear when the health of a stream degrades. Karen estimated there were hundreds of larvae in a square meter area. Caddisfly larva is not the easiest critter to see as they camouflage themselves in a shell made by small pebbles, leaves or twigs. Among these critters many Coho salmon fry were also observed. All good news for Ayum Creek! Torrey and Mitch discovered some salmonid bones near the creek which is a good sign that mature fish are traveling up the stream, and also a good sign that bears are busy in the area getting a tasty salmon meal. Along the way, the group came upon the largest artist’s conk mushroom (Ganoderma applanatum) that Torrey had ever seen! These beautiful perennial fruiting bodies will stain a dark brown/blue colour on their creamy white underside when touched, enabling artists to create stunning pieces of work that remain once the mushroom dries out. Interestingly, Dian Fossey, the famous researcher who studied mountain gorillas in Rwanda, had this to say about the artist’s conk:
“Still another special food (for the gorillas) is bracket fungus (Ganoderma applanatum)… The shelflike projection is difficult to break free, so younger animals often have to wrap their arms and legs awkwardly around a trunk and content themselves by only gnawing at the delicacy. Older animals who succeed in breaking the fungus loose have been observed carrying it several hundred feet from its source, all the while guarding it possessively from more dominant individuals attempts to take it away. Both the scarcity of the fungus and the gorillas’ liking of it cause many intragroup squabbles, a number of which are settled by the silverback, who simply takes the item of contention for himself.”
Ganoderma applanatum has been used in Japan and China as medicine with studies showing it containing compounds with potent anti-tumor, antibacterial and anti-fibrotic properties. While it is unknown why the gorillas prized the conk, Torrey theorizes that they may have been self-medicating.
Ayum Creek is wonderfully lush and abundant with many riparian zone-loving flora such as Western red cedar, big leaf maple, salmonberry, thimbleberry, salal, ocean spray, vanilla leaf, lady fern, deer fern, maiden hair fern, sword fern and miners lettuce. On the walk back the group noticed that very familiar sweet scent that wafts in the summer air and finally discovered the source is the bark and needles of the Douglas-fir tree! The day wasn’t complete without a good sniff of that delectable scent before hiking back to the car.
You can help support the protection and monitoring of the Thetis-Mount Work Connector and Ayum Creek 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!