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A new conservancy on Saturna Island boosts the protection of B.C.’s rarest ecosystem, which shelters a rich variety of at-risk plants and animals.

The community came together to save 77 acres on the Mount Fisher Bluffs from development, an area of tremendous ecological value, said Jasper Lament, CEO of the Nature Trust of BC.

The property falls in the moist maritime Coastal Douglas-fir (CDF) biogeoclimatic subzone, one of the smallest and most at-risk areas in the province. Limited to the southern Gulf Islands and narrow strips along southeast Vancouver Island and the southern mainland — only 11 per cent of the CDF is protected.

The new land trust is connected to another 143 acres Nature Trust recently acquired in the same area, and is also next to land protected by Parks Canada, Lament said.

“It’s really exciting,” he said.

“Collectively, between the Nature Trust of BC and other conservation groups working there, we’re in the ballpark of protecting half the island in a recognized area of high biodiversity by provincial, national and even global standards.”

Having large connected protected areas is much better for safeguarding biodiversity than a postage stamp-sized conservation area, Lament said.

“We’re really trying to maintain the ecological resilience you get from larger complexes and that ecological connectivity.”

The new conservancy boasts a mix of important ecosystems, including grasslands, mixed forests, and the rare Garry oak ecosystems — critical habitat and breeding grounds for at-risk species such as the barn swallow or great blue heron.

The new Mount Fisher land trust on Saturna Island protects critical habitat favoured by the tiny slender popcorn flower, which is on the cusp of extinction.

Saturna Island is a hot spot for the at-risk slender popcorn flower

Saturna Island is a hot spot for the threatened slender popcorn flower. Photo submitted

But the area is also a haunt for lots of rare plants, Lament said.

For example, the tiny threatened slender popcorn flower, or Plagiobothrys tenellus, has been documented on Mount Fisher’s coastal bluffs.

Saturna Island, dubbed the “popcorn bowl,” is a hot spot for the fragile annual herb that sports a tack-sized white flower with five petals and a butter-yellow centre.

Parks Canada has a dedicated recovery program for the rare flower that populates the neighbouring bluff, known as Mount Warburton Pike.

The finicky little plant has hairy leaves and stems that reach a top height of 25 centimetres and is on the verge of disappearing from Canada, a scenario only aggravated by climate change, said conservation biologist and botanist Matt Fairbarns.

The total population is estimated to be under 1,000 plants and documented in only seven pockets in the CDF and the Garry oak ecosystems, with Saturna being the only place it is consistently found.

The popcorn flower prefers open areas with a bit of moisture in the spring, and warm south- or west-facing slopes, Fairbarns said. But the flower has a “Goldilocks point” and is still sensitive to excessive heat or dryness in the spring.

“With climate change, these places may simply become too dry for these plants in the springtime,” he said, adding the plants don’t disperse easily on their own.

Existing plant populations tend to wax and wane depending on the weather conditions, he said.

“You can go across the same landscape for years in a row and never see them,” he said.

But if conditions are right, the flower will pop up in nooks and crannies along their favoured coastal bluffs.

“They’ll kind of erupt in this very brief show once every few years.”

The new conservation area will boost the popcorn flower’s habitat range and improve its chances of survival, Fairbarns said.

“That way, we can hedge the bet they’re not going to go down the gurgler if one patch is lost.”

Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

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