Tom's Blog

Saturday, January 1, 2011

An interesting western savanna type

Although we are restoring a midwest oak savanna, my interest extends to oak savannas in other parts of the country. In posts last year, I described visits to Emory oak savannas in the mountains of southeastern Arizona.

Recently I learned of another oak savanna ecosystem that sounds interesting. This is the Garry oak (Quercus garryana) ecosystem of southwestern British Columbia and the State of Washington. It turns out that the Canadians have been doing quite a lot of work on this ecosystem, primarily on the southeastern part of Vancouver Island. Also, there has been some work on Garry oak savannas in the south Puget Sound region. An extensive savanna is present inside the Fort Lewis (near Tacoma, Washington) military base. The savanna here is maintained by frequent fires that are set off by military training activities. This setup sounds similar to the oak savannas inside Wisconsin's Fort McCoy, except, of course, the oaks and the understory species are completely different.

The Garry oak savanna is a fire-dependent ecosystem. It turns out that the Native Americans managed this ecosystem with fire, being especially attracted to the bulbs (for food) of the camas lily (Camassia quamash) that thrived in this system. After European settlement, fire was mostly suppressed, and these days mostly occurs as wildfires.

The Garry oak range extends from southern BC to central California, although it is most prolific in Oregon (where it is often called Oregon white oak). As the photo above (taken in Klickitat County, Washington) shows, this vegetation is an open-oak grassland.

There has been a lot of work on what the Canadians call the Garry oak ecosystem. There is a nonprofit organization called the Garry oak ecosystem recovery team (acronym GOERT), that is very active. Here is a link to their web site.

The Nature Conservancy has acquired and is restoring a Garry oak savanna called the Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve. This is near Duncan, BC on Vancouver Island.

We have a Camassia species here in the midwest that also lives in oak savannas. This is wild hyacinth (Camassia scilloides), also called eastern or Atlantic camas. I've been trying to get this handsome species established at Pleasant Valley Conservancy, but as yet no luck. However, the past year I managed to acquire some solid-looking bulbs, which I have planted in marked locations. We'll see.


Blogger Carolyn said...

Hi Tom, thanks for the interesting article and the link to our website,

Carolyn Masson
Outreach Specialist
Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team
209-606 Courtney Street| Victoria | BC | V8W 1B6
250-383-3427 | |
| A lifeline for our rarest species |

January 7, 2011 at 10:46 AM  

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