Community rallies to help restore Helliwell’s coastal bluff ecosystem
By Chris Junck, Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Recovery Project Team
Wind driven rain didn’t stop Judi Ayers’ 15 Hornby Island School students on a cold day in early November. They were determined to help restore patches of coastal bluff habitat in Helliwell Provincial Park. The grades 5-7 class worked quickly with local volunteers and BC Parks staff to plant 700 plugs of native California brome, Roemer’s fescue and field chickweed grown by the Hornby Island Natural History Centre. They also spread a custom mixture of native meadow seeds.
“Despite poor weather, the school kids and community volunteers put in an amazing effort, solidly demonstrating their commitment to this ecosystem restoration project,” said Bonnie Zand, a biologist that assisted with the event. After the students left, some of the adults planted 400 more plugs of native grass and field chickweed.
The coastal bluff ecosystem restoration project has been ongoing since 2015. The first phases focused on limbing and gradually removing Douglas-fir and shore pine that had encroached into the previously open meadows in the southwest portion of the park, and replanting with native meadow grasses and flowers. Last winter, restoration efforts expanded to include the southeast section along the trail to St. John’s Point. Dead and dying shore pine were selectively limbed or removed, piled, and burned. This work also met BC Park’s goals to reduce fuel risk hazards in this section of the park. The resulting bare patches from the burn piles were seeded with native species in the spring and planted and seeded in the fall by Hornby Island school students and Satinflower Nurseries. The goal of this fall planting and seeding was to fill any remaining gaps with native vegetation to reduce invasion by weeds.
The ecosystem restoration project is intended to help the endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies that have been released annually in the park’s meadows since 2020 by the Taylor’s Checkerspot Recovery Project Team.
“Several other at-risk and uncommon coastal bluff species also benefit from this work, such as western bumble bees, bats, dun skipper butterflies, and numerous birds and plants,” said Jennifer Heron, chair of the project team and provincial invertebrate conservation specialist with the B.C. Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship.
The project team are thankful for the assistance from the Hornby Island Community School students, teacher/vice principal Judi Ayers, parent volunteers (Ondrea Rogers, Sheryl Irvine, and Jala Klone), Hornby Island Natural History Center volunteers (Neil Wilson, Norma Wilson, Tina Wai, Bill Hamilton), BC Parks staff (Erica McClaren, Stephanie Govier, Eli Simcoe-Metcalfe, Derek Moore), Satinflower Nurseries and Bonnie Zand. There has also been a lot of local assistance for the project from Helliwell Provincial Park neighbours in High Salal Ranch Strata and local community volunteers.
BC Parks and the project team also thank the Cowichan Tribes, Halalt, Homalco, K’ómoks, Lake Cowichan, Lyackson, Penelakut, Qualicum, Snaw’Naw’As, Stz’uminus, Tla’amin, We Wai Kai, and We Wai Kum First Nations for allowing us to restore ecosystems in their traditional territories.
The Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Recovery Project Team includes biological consultants and representatives from the B.C. Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship, BC Parks, Denman Conservancy Association, Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team, Greater Vancouver Zoo, Mosaic Forest Management, Wildlife Preservation Canada, and others.
The recovery project has benefited from funding and in-kind contributions from the BC Parks Licence Plate Program, the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, the Environment Canada Habitat Stewardship Fund and the B.C. Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy (Ecosystems Branch), Hornby Island Natural History Centre and others.