Volunteers sought for Arbor Day planting 

Voles, drought take toll on new seedlings

The work to rehabilitate the north gravel pit in the Emerald Forest will once again be the main event this year as Whistler gears up for its 13 th annual Arbor Day on Saturday, May 8.

Work on the Emerald project began in 2001 when the municipality reshaped the steep walls of the gravel pit into terraces and added a base of organic materials and sludge to the surface. Volunteers carefully replanted with indigenous shrubs and trees over the past two years, and this year’s work will involve more of the same as many of those trees and shrubs are dead or dying.

"What we’re seeing is much more mortality from a very dry summer," said Bob Brett of Snowline Ecological Research, the author of the Emerald Forest Management Plan. His current work with the Emerald Forest is as a volunteer director of the Whistler Naturalists.

"Some of the trees are burnt in the very exposed sites and they’re not going to grow, unfortunately. It was just our luck that we should have planted these trees before what turned out to be a very hot, very dry summer, in an area that doesn’t have a lot of natural shade."

The local vole population has also taken its toll, according to Brett. The rodents have girded the stems of trees and bushes, munching away at lower stems and shoots as they foraged for food under the snowpack during the winter.

"It’s good we have voles, because they’re part of the ecosystem, and it shows that the area is healing, but it’s possible we don’t have enough prey species. We don’t want to do anything to harm them, but we can’t let them do what they’re doing after we put so much effort into that area," said Brett.

One solution that Brett, RMOW horticulturist Paul Beswetherick and RMOW parks planner Martin Pardoe have high hopes for is the use of protective plastic cones to protect the lower stems and root systems of seedlings. The Ministry of Forests is providing the cones, which are used in reforestation programs across the province.

They are also researching the use of "diversionary" foods.

"That’s a scientific term for sunflower seeds," said Brett.

Before the snow falls this year they will scatter sunflower seeds in the area so that the voles have something to eat besides the young seedlings and bushes in the area.

That has to be done carefully says Brett in order to prevent an explosion in the vole population.

"This is something we would only need to do for a few years to get the seedlings established enough that the voles are no longer a problem," he said.

As for the dry conditions, this year volunteers will plant species that appear to be more resistant to the weather conditions and vole teeth, including cottonwoods and Douglas firs.

Volunteers from the RMOW, AWARE and the Whistler Naturalists Society are spearheading the Emerald Forest restoration project, and more volunteers of all ages are welcome to help out between 9 a.m. and noon. Meet at the North Gravel pit, which can be accessed in two ways.

From Alta Lake Road, the entrance is about 200 metres north of the entrance to Bart’s Dark Trail. Look for a gate to mark the dirt road to the gravel pit. If you hit the entrance to River Runs Through It, you’ve gone too far.

You can also access the dirt road from the bottom of Lorimer Road. Follow the Valley Trail over the River of Golden Dreams and the railway tracks and head left along the trail at the bottom of the South Gravel Pit. Keep following the doubletrack trail until you enter the clearing for the North Gravel Pit near Alta Lake Road.

Volunteers should dress appropriately for the weather (hat, sunscreen or raincoat), and bring their own shovels and work gloves.

The Whistler Rotary Club will also continue its riverside planting work on the River of Golden Dreams this year. The meeting location has yet to be finalized.

Another Arbor Day activity to take note of is a display outside of Nesters Market from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Free seedlings will be handed out and municipal arborists will be on hand to offer free advice on planting and pruning. The display is sponsored by Whistler Outdoor Adventures, Nesters Market and The Grocery Store.

Arbor Day wraps up with a post-planting barbecue at Edgewater Lodge on Green Lake, also sponsored by Whistler Outdoor Adventures, Nesters Market and the Grocery Store.

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