CFB Esquimalt naturalists planting a seed for the future

A rescue effort is underway to protect rare plants at Esquimalt’s Macaulay Point Park

CFB Esquimalt civilian environment officer Tracy Cornforth leans on a new fence at Macaulay Point Park. The enclosures were erected to protect two endangered plant species

CFB Esquimalt civilian environment officer Tracy Cornforth leans on a new fence at Macaulay Point Park. The enclosures were erected to protect two endangered plant species

In an effort to protect two rare plant species, CFB Esquimalt recently fenced off large parcels of Macaulay Point Park in Esquimalt.

Sections of the 5.5-hectare waterfront park, which the Township has been permitted by the base to use since 1991, were cordoned off with 800 metres of cedar split-rail fencing over the past two weeks by Trident Marine Contracting of Saanich.

A network of walking trails and historic military landmarks can still be accessed, but some beach areas and shortcut paths have been permanently closed to the public.

The fencing project is essentially a rescue mission to safeguard the purple sanicle (Sanicula bipinnatifida) and the yellow dense-flowered lupine (Lupinus densiflorus), which are both listed under the federal Species at Risk Act.

“We have done four years of fairly extensive survey work, and what we have noticed is a decline in the numbers of individual (plants),” said Tracy Cornforth, a civilian environment officer at CFB Esquimalt.

The base’s environment team ordered the construction of the $50,000 fence to meet its legal obligations under the Species at Risk Act, or potentially be charged or fined by Environment Canada, which administers the act.

Over the years, park users have strayed from formal trails, carving out a network of informal pathways and causing soil compaction and erosion. Dogs have dug holes – the park is an off-leash area – and dirt has been moved to create bicycle jumps, despite a no-bikes rule.

“In some cases, we have plants that get directly trampled from foot traffic, from bike use, from dogs,” Cornforth said. “So the fences will hopefully provide some clarity to the user as far as where they are permitted to go and where it’s too sensitive and it causes harm.”

About 3,000 individual purple sanicles and 1,500 individual dense-flowered lupines, which are both associated with Garry oak ecosystems, were counted at the park in 2011.

The lupines, which are endangered and at imminent risk of extinction, can only be found at three locations in Canada. The largest population is at Macaulay Point Park, while the others are on the Dallas Road bluffs and the Trial Islands.

The purple sanicles grow at 20 sites in Canada. Macaulay Point’s population is second in size to the grouping at CFB Esquimalt’s Albert Head Training Centre in Metchosin.

The environment team began surveying rare plant species at the Point 10 years ago, before the Species at Risk Act came into effect in 2003. “We knew it was coming. We knew there would be federal responsibilities for us,” Cornforth said.

A study commissioned in 2009 by the Township of Esquimalt recommended that formal trails in the park be closed, certain sections be designated as conservation areas and only on-trail use be permitted, she said.

The Township hosted an open house in 2009 to elicit feedback about park accessibility.

“What we’ve been doing since 2009 is working with (the base’s environment team) on how they want to go about finding that common ground between human interaction and natural space,” said Scott Hartman, Esquimalt director of parks and recreation services. “Instead of banning dogs from Macaulay Point Park, it’s a matter, now, of trying to protect those areas.”

Some dog owners who bring their pets to the park expressed mixed feelings about the tighter restrictions.

Saanich resident Kate Lecompte, who regularly walks her two dogs in the park, said she understands the need to protect the endangered plants. Still, she said, she would have preferred more notice about the fence installation and the reasons behind it.

Esquimalt dog owner Scot Carder also understands the need for protective measures, given the volume of dog traffic at the park.

“There’s still lots of areas where (dogs) can burn around at the park,” he said. “(The fencing) will give that area a rest.”

By sectioning off the park, the environment team hopes the rare plants will become more robust, flower and reproduce.

“We’re hoping that population, at a bare minimum, stops declining, and secondly, that it remains stable, and, ideally, that it recovers,” Cornforth said, adding that won’t be possible without protective measures.

“Once they’re gone, they’re gone.”

Inquiries about the fencing project can be emailed to CFB Esquimalt’s public affairs department at cfbesquimalt@shaw.ca.

emccracken@vicnews.com

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