A selfie photo of a man. In the background is a mountainside, ocean and islands.
GaLTT’s 2024 AGM began with a presentation on “small scale ecological restoration” by Chris Drake, owner/operator of Coast Alive Stewardship Services on Salt Spring Island. He shared techniques for small landholders to prioritize ecosystem restoration activities that increase biodiversity and enhance wildlife habitat while reducing wildfire risk.

Chris’s general advice: remember the 3 E’s: be Efficient and Effective (and Earth-friendly). Prioritize restoration activities: invasives removal and replanting with native plants. Coordinate your restoration and habitat enhancement activities with wildfire threat reduction. Work with others; practice outreach and advocacy. Take into account timing, cost and difficulty when deciding what to do and when to do it.

Here are a few practical tips Chris suggested to help you follow these principles:

  • Step lightly (literally, watch where you are stepping) and reduce your local footprint by using hand tools (or electric).
  • Wildfire risk reduction
    • Remove lower branches (ladder fuel) up to at least six feet, leaving nubs for mosses to grow in.
    • Cut down dead trees, leaving a high stump for wildlife to use.
    • Reduce forest floor debris to one layer.
  • When pruning or clearing, keep the biomass of what you remove onsite as much as possible, but handle it in a way that reduces wildfire risk while mimicking nurse logs.
    • Choose a site on your property away from structures to pile your biomass. A site under deciduous trees is ideal, because it gets rained on in winter, shaded in summer
    • Compact the branches and trimmings as much as possible. Spend the time to cut branches into pieces so the side branches don’t fan out from the main branch. This way you can use the “garbage can method”—stack many small branches upright, spaghetti style, in a garbage can, making as dense a mass as possible.
    • Begin a pile with longer branches (4-8 ft) aligned like spaghetti. Stack the smaller piles (the garbage can “plugs”) on top of these, tightly aligned like puzzle pieces.
    • Jump on the pile often to compress it as you build it.
    • Cap the pile with heavy logs in 5 to 8 foot lengths (to keep it compact) and then leaves.
  • Plant native species to replace removed invasives as soon as possible.
  • Plant during the (wet) winter season (Chris does all his planting in December).
  • For plants unlikely to be watered, use the following technique:
    • Dig your hole to the diameter of the pot holding your plant, but deeper than the plant’s roots. (Put the soil you are digging out into an empty pot to keep the surrounding mosses and ground cover uninjured.)
    • Put mulch, rotting logs or leaves in bottom of hole.
    • Tease out your plant’s roots, ensuring none are facing upward.
    • After planting, put mulch around the top of the plant.
  • Learn to propagate native shrubs from cuttings. Currants and snow berry work especially well.
  • Bird boxes should have holes for drainage and ventilation and should be cleaned out between seasons to prevent insects larvae from over wintering.
  • Create a nature zone with a pond (even a small water feature will provide habitat for wildlife).

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