Hal Gibbard

Group aims to preserve Victoria variety of Garry oak

A Garry oak tree grown in Saanich is genetically different than a Garry oak from Chilliwack

A Garry oak tree grown in Saanich is genetically different than a Garry oak from Chilliwack – let alone the tree species’ American kin from Washington State.

That’s why a Victoria-based environmental group, the Garry Oak Meadow Preservation Society (GOMPS), is embarking on a project to grow healthy Garry oaks from local acorns.

“From a genetic point of view, the Garry oaks in our area are producing acorns that will have the best chances of survival here because they will inherit the traits that their parent trees are developing,” said Michael Croteau, a member of GOMPS.

Last week Victoria council approved a plan to sublease an unused nursery in Saanich to GOMPS, where the organization will sow and grow Garry oak seedlings. GOMPS declined to say exactly where the nursery is located.

“We need to produce a large and healthy enough tree that can be planted without fear of damage in our urban forests – deer, rabbits, people. We need to produce the biggest, healthiest tree that’s economically viable,” Croteau said.

Once the trees are big enough to moved from the nursery, they’ll be sold to municipalities, regional groups, public bodies and the general public.

“This is something that’s very much needed because people in our community are seeing the trees falling, and they’re not being replaced fast enough for an oak tree to fill the space,” Croteau said.

Growing genetically Victoria Garry oaks in optimum conditions in the nursery will give them the best chance of survival once they’re planted in an urban forest.

GOMPS aims to produce roughly 1,000 trees to sell each year. But that will take some time. Croteau anticipates the first lot of trees won’t be available for five to seven years.

The nursery still needs to be prepared for the operation, so sowing likely won’t happen for another month or two.

GOMPS is a non-profit that aims to preserve and restore the Garry oak ecosystem in Greater Victoria. For more information, visit garryoak.info.

kslavin@saanichnews.com