Posted by: Anne Murray | January 21, 2011

UN International Year of Forests: news of nibblers

Active Pass from Galiano Island

2011 is the UN International Year of Forests, so my first blog of the year features this photo of a Douglas-fir overlooking the shores of Active Pass in southwestern British Columbia. Galiano Island and its neighbouring Gulf Islands of Mayne, Salt Spring, North and South Pender and Saturna, are characterised by a drier ecosystem than most of the Pacific Northwest coast (although this photo doesn’t show that, as it was a wet day in June!)  Douglas-fir, arbutus (madrone) and Garry oak flourish on  warm sunny slopes. In spring, carpets of wild flowers grow where there are not too many deer browsing.

Tara Martin and Peter Arcese, from University of BC’s forest faculty, found that deer cause extensive ecological damage on the islands, where they have no natural predators. Trees and shrubs get nibbled to the ground before they have a chance to grow, and this decreases song bird habitat and shelter for all sorts of other small creatures.  The problem is highlighted in Mark Hume’s article in the Globe and Mail this week.

Columbian Black-tailed Deer on Saturna Island

Also this week, University of Victoria announced they are going to institute a zero tolerance policy on bunnies: any found on the campus after March will be euthanized. Sadly, many people buy rabbits when they are small and cute, and when they get too big, they dump them at the nearest park, university campus or municipal garden. Rabbits are nibblers and munchers, so vegetation gets short shrift.

These are human problems as much as wildlife ones. Bunnies are a European animal that pet shops sell too readily to casual buyers. Any predators of deer, such as cougars, that manage to reach the Gulf Islands are killed. Can these problems be put right? Trees, shrubs, and flowers must be able to flourish for a healthy ecosystem.

Red-flowering Currant

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