Thursday, April 30, 2009

Bold as brass

Bold as brassOriginally uploaded by Calypso Orchid
So, the BC government is going to cut back on an already gutted BC Provincial Parks budget. Well, that tears it -- I was seriously thinking about voting Liberal (because of their carbon tax initiative), but now I am striking them off my list of possibilities! Parks are such an integral component to life here in BC. I don't think we should stand by and see them further reduced.

If every MLA would cut his or her travel budget by less than 1%, I bet we would have more then enough money to keep rangers in the field, campgrounds open, and (be still my beating heart) even put interpretation back into the system! Better still, stop those ridiculous "Best Place on Earth" adds and put the money into the "Best Places in BC"! Those adds must cost a pretty penny.

My post today illustrates very well how desperately important BC Parks are to individuals, the province, and the country. The little fellow pictured here is a Yellow-bellied marmot. Not particularly endangered (he is a pretty adaptive guy) -- but the landscape he is inhabiting is. He is in Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park. This jewel of a park hugs the northern extent of Kalamalka Lake. It is one of the last examples of okanagan grasslands -- an ecosystem that is rapidly disappearing.

This picture is from April 20, 2009, but Mike and I have hiked through this park many times. We always hope to see a rattlesnake. No luck yet. We did get to see a Gopher snake once though. It was very impressive. At first we thought it was a rattler, but the lack of a rattle made us suspicious we were seeing something else.

This park has a great diversity of plant life. In all 432 varieties of vascular plants have been identified here. At 4209 hectares it is rare to find so many species in such a small area.

In 2006 a State of the Park analysis was conducted ( State of the Park Report ). One of the report's findings noted the importance of building public awareness around ecosystem issues. This is going to be very difficult to do if there is no one there to help interpret and explain the importance of this place. Without help all that will be seen and understood by most visitors are some cute rodents, space for a few picnic tables, and lots of land to develop into yet more subdivisions.

Well, perhaps that is a little bleak, but these parks belong to us. I think they deserve better treatment than our BC provincial government is currently doling out. Bit by bit our parks are being dismantled. And, since it is death by a thousand cuts, we don't notice it happening. It is the little things -- less maintenance on trails, closing a few access points, cutting research budgets, no replacement of interpretive signs, canceling one or two programs a year, later seasonal opening, earlier seasonal closing. And so it goes until one day we wake up and realize that "Super Natural BC" has been gutted.

No matter which group ends up running the show here in BC, we the people, especially we the people that put parks and the environment first, will have to be vigilant. Government types have to wake up and smell the coffee -- it's not a choice between the economy OR the environment. A healthy economy is built on a healthy environment, and parks are a key component in building and keeping our environment strong.

Talk to your friends and family about this issue, ask potential MLAs about their opinions on Provincial Parks and the environment. Vote for the ones giving an answer that supports parks and the environment. When these folks get in power, hold them to account. In general, make a nuisance of yourself -- your kids will thank you.

Kalamalka Lake reflections  - Mike and an old Juniper

If you get a chance, visit Kalamalka Park. A few more cuts to our BC Parks and it could be "Last Chance to See".
Info on Kalamalka Provincial Park
More photos from Kalamalka .

Kalamalka Lake colours     Kalamalka Lake and Ponderosa Pine   Arrowleaf Balsamroot   Mary at Jade Bay, Kalamalka Lake

Friday, April 10, 2009

A rare and delicate bloom

I love Spring in Victoria. The town is awash in colour, cherry and plum petals blizzard down on walkers and cyclists, and everyone seems to be in a wonderful mood. Out in the parks the show is, if anything, even more spectacular as our native wildflowers start to strut their stuff.

Mt. Wells Park, in Victoria's Western Communities, is one of my favourite spring hikes. It has all of the colourful and delicate native plants that I am coming to know and love. And, it is home to the very best display of Satinflowers in all of Vancouver Island. This flower ( Olsynium douglasii ) is only found on southern Vancouver Island and in a few spots in BC's southern interiour. Its delicate magenta petals look like they have been cut out of a satin ball gown. In the sunlight this flower nods and swings, splashing colour and light all around. It is one of our most beautiful harbingers of spring, and when I see it, I know warm days are coming.

These flowers are almost always a magenta purple, but every now and again we see a very rare white Satinflower, or a variegated one. A few years ago Mike and I were bushwacking through some back routes on Mt. Wells when we stumbled upon a patch that had all three types of plants -- magenta, white, and both together. I'm pleased to report that three years on the plants are still there and doing better than ever.

Mt. Wells was established as a park in 1994, but it was only in the past few years that a new path has been put up its north slope. Unfortunately, this path has suffered terribly from overuse. The erosion is quite wide on the steep bits. This year Victoria's Capital Regional District installed an ugly chain fence up through the area. Not very pretty, and far, far, far from "natural", but necessary to keep people off the delicate habitat to either side.

There are other routes up Mt. Wells, but they can be difficult to find, and some go over private property (or at least I assume it is private -- it doesn't belong to the park). However, once found they are well marked and you can't go wrong.

Mt. Wells is an example of a roche moutonee -- a rocky hill shaped by glaciers to give a smooth up-ice side and a rough, bouldery surface on the down-ice side. The up-ice side is where the main trail is located.

Mt. Wells is famous for its native plants, but its bird life is just as fascinating and lovely. Sooty Grouse, Golden Eagles, Ruffed Grouse, Pygmy Owls, and lots of other birds can be found here. Just this past week (April 8, 2009) I rode out from town with Alan and Rick. We heard and saw Sooty Grouse and Townsend's Warblers. Both are magnificent birds and NOT easy to get good looks at. As well, three weeks ago Alan and Jan were hiking on the south side of Wells when they looked up and noticed a Saw-whet owl just a few metres away at eye level.

My worry for Mt. Wells is that it will be "developed" (what a stupid word to use for the process of habitat destruction in service of yet more suburban sprawl) right up to the park boundaries and the delicate balance that allows unique plants like white Satinflowers to flourish will be completely over turned. As I was saying to a friend last week "we humans have a lot to answer for"!

A rush of colour -- and then some white
Magenta and White Satin Flowers on Mt. Wells.

Info and map of Mt. Wells Park .
More flower pictures from Mt. Wells.
Photos of Sooty Grouse on Mt. Wells

Riot of Satinflowers      Sooty Grouse on Mt. Wells     Mt. Wells Summit - Finlayson in the background