Future brightens for Turtleback Garry oaks

A grounds-eye view of a stately Garry oak. - Contributed photo
A grounds-eye view of a stately Garry oak.
— image credit: Contributed photo

The San Juan County Land Bank has been awarded $40,000 in grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to continue its program of Garry oak habitat restoration on Turtleback Mountain Preserve on Orcas Island.

The project will be conducted in partnership with the San Juan Preservation Trust. Other major partners include the Washington Department Fish & Wildlife, the Center for Natural Lands Management, and the American Bird Conservancy.

Garry oak savannahs and native grasslands are some of the rarest habitats in Washington state. Some of the best remaining examples are in the San Juans. Garry oak savannahs and grasslands are home to a high diversity of native plants, birds, butterflies, and other animals, according to Land Bank officials.

Wildfire and intentional burning by Coast Salish people historically maintained these open habitats in the San Juan Islands, but in recent decades, due to absence of fire, Douglas-firs have taken over. Garry oaks cannot survive when shaded out by other trees, and the habitat and its many dependent species are eventually lost. In addition, severe browsing from deer prevents young oaks from getting established on Turtleback.

The grant funds will be used to cut and girdle small Douglas-fir trees in prime oak areas, plant new oaks and cage them from deer, and replant native grasses. Bird and butterfly surveys and monitoring will also be conducted.

Public educational tours will provide guided walks of this special habitat and restoration activities. For information about the project, contact the Land Bank at 378-4402.

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