This has been a challenging season for the Comox Valley Naturalists Society (CVN) Wetlands Restoration group not least because of COVID-19 restrictions. A small but dedicated group of CVN volunteers continued stewardship activities primarily in Little River Nature Park and Courtenay Airpark. Much of the work involves watching for and controlling, as soon as possible, invasive alien plant species such as Himalayan blackberry, tansy, yellow flag iris and purple loosestrife. The word “work” is used as volunteers do return home knowing their bodies have been active but they have also had fresh air, a hike to observe native plant communities and a reconnection with our home place and to each other. This group’s traditional outreach and education activities were certainly curtailed by the cancellation of public events this year. However, the volunteers working in parks fielded many questions as the increased numbers of park users were curious to know not only more about the native plants they were amongst but also how invasive plants threaten the biodiversity of native plant communities, human and animal health and cultural values.

A contract that was first initiated between CVN and the Comox Regional District (CVRD) in 2001 supports these volunteer efforts and provides funding for Sellentin Habitat Restoration and Invasive Species Consulting (SHR). SHR is a professional contractor who takes on the most difficult and specialized invasive plant removal and survey work. A comprehensive work plan outlines the targeted invasive plant species for eight areas of concern that range south to the Argyle/Spindrift area and as far north as the Tsolum River. The collaboration between CVN and the CVRD is further leveraged by funding for CVN from BC Nature and in-kind services and materials made available by the City of Courtenay Parks Dept. for the Airpark. Relationships with other like-minded local groups such as Broom Busters, many stream keepers and other conservation groups as well as keen individuals and property owners are critical for stewardship success.

This coming together of forces for the common good was illustrated this season as the SHR crew undertook the very arduous and hazardous task of walking the length of the Tsolum River between Fitzgerald Rd and where it meets the Puntledge in Courtenay to survey for yellow flag iris.

Yellow flag iris was introduced into the nursery trade for use as an ornamental. With its’ showy yellow bloom, it has been popular in garden ponds and wet areas from which it can easily escape into wetlands by seed or bits of root. When established, the vigorous root system can create such a dense mass that native species of cattails, sedges and rushes that would be used as habitat by local wildlife are squeezed out. It can also impede normal water flows and reduce open water areas of marshes.

Brian Hay and Jason Guthrie from SHR were able to not only find and note new patches of this plant along the Tsolum River but dug out many of them. Seed heads, ready to release many seeds to float downstream, were removed on any patches that were not dug out this season.

Long-time area resident Stuart Carwithen owns a property adjacent to the river where they found a patch of yellow flag iris and he had noticed the patch as “something out of place”, was concerned about its’ spread and was so thrilled to have a crew arrive to deal with it that he offered the crew better access via his drive and pasture. He is further relieved to know that the work of monitoring and removing yellow flag iris from the Tsolum river will continue next year. “It is a nice river and we have to take care of it.”

Indeed. We can all do our part, as the CVRD’s brochure Toxic Invasive Plants in the Comox Valley points out: “Spread the word, not the weed”.

More information about CVN is available on our website https://comoxvalleynaturalist.bc.ca/

Karen Cummins

Comox Valley Naturalists