First Person: Bob Brett 

Making an inventory of Whistler’s natural biodiversity

click to enlarge Ecologist Bob Brett sifts through a jungle of swamp grasses in the Millar Creek wetlands, looking for rare or invasive species.
  • Ecologist Bob Brett sifts through a jungle of swamp grasses in the Millar Creek wetlands, looking for rare or invasive species.

Over the past three years local ecologist Bob Brett has been everywhere, from the top of local peaks to the bottom of our valley swamps, cataloguing all the plants, animals and insects he finds.

On many of these trips he has been joined by experts on plants, amphibians, insects, and small mammals, using funds provided by organizations like the Community Foundation of Whistler, the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE), and the Whistler Naturalists.

The goal of the Whistler Biodiversity Project (WBP) is to create a list of all species found in Whistler and how they relate in the ecosystem; to identify any rare species requiring extra attention and conservation; and to spot any imported or invasive species that can upset the balance of Whistler’s natural ecology, and to facilitate their removal.

Brett also hopes that WBP will help to educate people on the Whistler ecology, to the point where people plant native species in their gardens and join in the battle against invasive species.

To date, WBP has catalogued more than 900 native species and 76 non-native species of plants and animals in Whistler, the latter being mostly ornamental house plants. When combined with lists of species kept by groups like local bird watchers and the Whistler Fisheries Stewardship Group, Brett’s list of native species is now over 1,120, with 89 non-native species.

The WBP has also helped to identify several rare, blue-listed species that require additional care and management. Most recently Brett and amphibian specialist Elke Wind confirmed the existence of red-legged frogs along Whistler’s southern boundary in the Brandywine area, as well as the widespread existence of tailed frogs in creeks throughout the valley. We also have two species of rare plants, and the status of up to 28 other rare species is being clarified.

Pique caught up to Bob Brett to discuss the progress of the biodiversity inventory, as well as his future plans for the WBP.

Pique: This is the third year for the biodiversity inventory. How far along are you at this point?

Bob Brett: Our approach has been to target different species groups at different rates, so I’d say we’re very far along with plants, big mushrooms and amphibians, and we’re not very far along with bats, lichens, and insects and other invertebrates, which is by the far the biggest group.

It’s kind of funny, the biggest analogue to the biodiversity project as a whole is the bird work done over the last 20 years or so by really keen local birders like Karl Ricker, Mike Thompson, Heather Baines, Nancy Ricker, Max Goetz when he was here, and they’ve done a phenomenal job maintaining their list. That’s actually quite typical as naturalist groups are very strong on birds, but not as strong on other species. People like birds and bird-watching, but there’s not many people who spend their free time wading through swamps.

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