Understanding Whistler’s habitat 

Work begins on biodiversity inventory of Whistler Valley

Armed with his camera, guide books, some funding, and the leading biology experts in a variety of fields, local ecologist Bob Brett has started to work in earnest on a biodiversity inventory for Whistler.

The inventory will one day catalogue all species, plants, insects, and animals sited in Whistler, as well as the type of habitat where they were spotted.

While some basic inventories have been made as part of the Community Habitat Resources Project and the Protected Areas Network Strategy, through environmental assessments, and by groups like Whistler’s birding community, there are still a lot of blank areas to fill in.

"The goal is to survey all species, from ants to large mammals to fungus to grasses to trees – everything that’s out there," explained Brett of Snowline Ecological Consulting. "No one has ever taken this kind of in-depth look at what is in the valley, so how can we know what’s worth protecting, or even how our habitat functions?

"There are very few opportunities like this to do a valley-wide study that isn’t constrained by boundary lines or by the client who is paying for an environmental assessment."

Brett started the project earlier this summer with some seed funding from the Resort Municipality of Whistler, $2,500 from the Community Foundation of Whistler, and $5,000 from AWARE.

While that’s a relatively small amount of funding for a project of this scope, Brett’s decision to use experts in various fields, rather than consultants, will keep costs down.

In recent weeks Brett has hosted rare plant experts Adolf and Oluna Ceska and Dragonfly expert Derrick Marven, covering a wide range of habitat from wetlands to high alpine.

"One of the benefits is that these experts will pick up on things that I might miss, like a rare species or exotic species that maybe doesn’t belong there," said Brett. "They really know their stuff, and how these ecosystems work.

"Best of all they work relatively cheaply, which is one reason I’m confident that we can complete something like this."

Brett is calling the biodiversity study the Whistler 2010 Biodiversity Project, which he hopes to wrap up before the 2010 Winter Games.

While the project will serve as a reference catalogue for all of the different species in the valley, Brett says there are several practical uses for the information.

One of the most important is the fact it will complement the municipality’s Protected Areas Network (PAN) Strategy. The RMOW has already hired consultants to map all of the different habitat areas within the valley, and the PAN will apply a general degree of protection to those habitat areas based on their ecological value. Wetlands, for example, will have the highest level of PAN protection, and only certain types of activities or development will be allowed within or adjacent to wetlands.

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