Download our guide: Restoring BC’s Garry Oak Ecosystems: Principles & Practices (2011)
This collaborative project, led by experts on restoration and Garry Oak ecosystems, pulls information together into an easy to read, technically accurate and definitive guide. The chapters cover all aspects of restoration, including how to assess and monitor a site, create a restoration plan, involve community, restore when species at risk are present, and manage invasive species.
A Short Guide to Ecosystem Restoration
Restoring a Garry oak or associated ecosystem is a great way to bring back the historic landscape and natural aesthetic of your community for all to enjoy. As well, it often requires getting your neighbours involved, and can therefore be an excellent way to strengthen a sense of community in your neighbourhood. Further, it brings the principles of conservation down to a personal and interactive level and can be an ongoing learning experience.
To ensure your restoration project is both effective and enjoyable, consult with a professional early on in your planning. A restoration specialist can help you achieve your goals.
“Ecological restoration is an intentional activity that initiates or accelerates the recovery of an ecosystem with respect to its health, integrity and sustainability. Frequently, the ecosystem that requires restoration has been degraded, damaged, transformed or entirely destroyed as the direct or indirect result of human activities.”
Become familiar with your neighbourhood’s natural and cultural history. If you can, find out about:
- the different ecosystem types that would have been on your site (e.g. wildflower meadows, rock outcrops, seasonal pools, deep-soil or shallow-soil woodlands);
- native flora and fauna;
- physical processes that have influenced the site, such as fire or agriculture; and
- the site hydrology (flows of water over the land and through the soils).
Think about how the site has changed and whether it is realistic to re-create all of the past site conditions. For example, will you be able to use fire to re-create an open meadow?
Assessing your site characteristics will also help you put your project in perspective. Your site assessment might include:
- soils, which will tell you what kinds of habitat and plants your land can support;
- natural features, such as streams, wetlands and cliffs;
- land use (present and past);
- trees (species, size, condition);
- vegetation under your trees (shrubs and groundcovers);
- wildlife observations;
- cultural and historical features, including artefacts; and
- occurrence of Species at Risk or endangered species.
Before You Begin
- Think through and balance your goals as needed.
- Explore how best to manage your activities.
- Understand and follow any applicable regulations and bylaws.
- Identify potential funding or support for your work.
In order for your hard work to bring some lasting changes, you should be prepared to take on a long-term commitment. Do not let this discourage you, however, for after the initial few seasons, you will find that less effort is required to maintain your site.
Removal of Invasive Species
Most restoration projects begin with removal of exotic, invasive species. However, before you start ‘bashing broom’ (or any other invasive plant on your site), there are a few things to consider. For example, will control efforts surrounding invasive plants pose a risk to native or “at risk” species on your site? Also, different species have different ideal times for removal. To help you with this assessment, as well as with any issue surrounding species identification or removal techniques, GOERT has a number of resources at your disposal:
- General Decision Process for Managing Invasive Plant Species in Garry Oak and Associated Ecosystems (2007)
- Best Practices for Invasive Species Management: Blackberry (2002)
- Best Practices for Invasive Species Management: Broom (2002)
- Best Practices for Invasive Species Management: Daphne (2007)
- Best Practices for Invasive Species Management: Ivy (2002)
- Best Practices for Invasive Species Management: Orchard-grass (2007)
- our invasive species field manual and bibliography webpage
- Best Times to Remove Invasive Species in Victoria, courtesy of Patricia Boyle
Removal of Invasive Species: Tools
The following are some (suggested) standard items used by restoration workers in the field. All should be easy to find at garden or hardware stores.
- Secateurs (hand pruners or pruning shears) to cut smaller stems on plants that cannot be pulled out (either due to size or risk of disturbing soils and other nearby native plants)
- Loppers to cut large, woody stems
- Pruning saw for thick, woody stems that cannot be cut with loppers
- Mattock to dig out root balls of Himalayan blackberry or non-native rose bushes on sites that are already highly disturbed
- Sturdy gloves for handling blackberry stems and any daphne plant material
- Black garbage bags to ‘cook’ plants with a high risk of seed dispersal (e.g., bull thistle)
- Drinking water to keep yourself hydrated.
Some General Guidelines for Removal of Plants
- Before you begin, think about how you are going to dispose of the unwanted plants and what you are going to replace them with.
- Clear one small area at a time and avoid leaving large open areas of bare soil.
- Pull small plants out by the roots between October and the end of January, or during summer when plants are stressed by drought. Take care not to disturb native species — do not remove invasive plants during the spring when delicate wildflowers are emerging or blooming.
- Remove larger plants before they fruit or set seed, to prevent birds and other wildlife from spreading the plants.
- Remove non-native shrubs that may be shading or crowding out lower-growing plants, or keep them to the edge of the patch.
- Use hand tools that are specially designed to cut stems close to, or just below, ground level.
- Wear protective clothing and eyewear when necessary. For example, daphne produces toxins in its sap, bark and berries that can severely irritate eyes, skin, and breathing passages, and Himalayan blackberry has very sharp thorns.
- Avoid using herbicides. If you must, seek expert advice before doing so.
- Place removed cuttings onto tarps or in heavy-duty bags to keep berries and seeds from spreading and to keep discarded roots and stems from taking root; and to avoid being overcome by toxic gases in your vehicle.
- Dispose of the removed plant material at an approved site, such as a public works yard where they use high intensity heat composting. In some cases, you may be able to use your own compost system or dry out the plant material.
- Work gradually to make growing conditions more difficult for invasive species and easier for native species such as camas.
Restoration plans and invasive plant management prescriptions often recommend mulching. But what is mulch, and how should it be used in Garry Oak and associated ecosystems? Our guidelines answer these questions and provide references for more information: Guidelines for Mulching in Garry Oak and Associated Ecosystems (2013)
Planting Native Plants
Many of the neighbouring webpages in this section will be useful to you if you have the time and financial resources to carry out planting activities on your site.
Planting native species is highly recommended in areas where intensive invasive species removal has led to highly-disturbed or exposed soils. Bare mineral soil is susceptible to colonization by many exotic, weedy plant species. As well, disturbed soils may be subject to increased erosion, especially with the arrival of winter precipitation (something that might not be evident if restoration work is carried out during the dry summer months). By planting seedlings or scattering seeds, you are effectively speeding up the establishment of native plants. This can greatly reduce the likelihood of invasion by weedy, colonizing invasive plants. Further, planting certain species can mitigate erosion if the roots have good soil-retention abilities. However, before you proceed, there are many questions to consider, for example:
- What species are best suited to my site? Your extensive background research should have given you an idea of species suited to the characteristics of your site. Keep this in mind, for certain species that you see on other types of Garry oak or associated sites might not fare well on yours.
- Where is the source population for your seeds or seedlings? Even if the plants or seeds come form ‘local’ seed sources, bringing them into your site may have an impact on the genetic fitness of plants already established in the area. This subject is often debated by biologists, restorationists, and conservationists; however, it is generally agreed that propagating plants from seed or vegetative sources as close to your site as possible is preferred, since it is more likely to mimic natural dispersal. See our collection guidelines webpage.
In areas where soil disturbance is minimal following the removal of invasive plants, it is often worthwhile to wait until the following spring prior to planting. You may be surprised by what is already there. Native bulbs can lie dormant for many years, and if you open up the site, wildflowers such as camas and fawn lilies may emerge.
Fencing & Netting
If there is a high abundance of deer in your area, it may be advisable to install a fence around part of your site. This is especially recommended if you have planted green-house grown plants that have not had the opportunity to adapt to pressure from herbivores. Alternatively, individual trees and shrubs can be covered with stiff plastic netting. This helps to reduce browsing but does not eliminate it.
For more information see our dealing with deer webpage.
Monitoring Your Progress
Recording occurrences/densities of species and taking photographs is very important to the restoration process. While removal of large invasive plants may produce an immediate, observable result, many of the natural processes occurring on your site proceed slowly and may not be immediately recognizable. The data you gather will help you to adapt your management approach so that it is effective and long-lasting. As well, it will help you assess your achievements if you return to a site after a long period of absence.
Some examples of questions you might want to ask yourself as you go over data and photographs are:
- Are invasive species individuals re-sprouting from cut stems after initial removal?
- Are the same invasive species appearing at a higher density after removal of mature individuals?
- Are different invasive species appearing at a higher density after the removal of mature individuals?
- Are planted native species surviving and dispersing?
- If they are dispersing, are they displacing exotic species or native ones?
Positive results will bring encouragement to you and those that are involved in the project. As well, it may be easier to secure financial donations if you can ‘show off’ your success.
When it comes to restoration, you will likely come to realize that there are no hard and fast rules. Each site (and each plant, for that matter) is unique in the processes that govern it. Further, the factors that are altering these ecosystems, for better or for worse, often occur very slowly and are quite complex. Therefore, it can be challenging to study and draw conclusions about these systems. Ongoing research in this area is providing support for ‘best practices’ to be carried out during restoration, however, nothing compares to personal site-specific experience. Professionals will be able to offer advice based on their own experience and expert opinion, but, with time, the intimate knowledge that you gain about your site will be the best guide for how to proceed into the future. Your knowledge will also be invaluable to others who wish to take over the project if you decide to leave.
Above all, have fun! The rewards of restoration await you.
Other Helpful Publications & Websites
- The SER International Primer on Ecological Restoration (Version 2, October, 2004). The Society for Ecological Restoration International Science & Policy Working Group.
- Society for Ecological Restoration International
- Society for Ecological Restoration (BC)
- Restoration of Natural Systems Program at the University of Victoria