Garry Oak trees
Garry oaks are an important part of the park's history. During the time of the joint occupation (1859-1872) at English Camp, there were about 100 acres of open Garry oak woodland inside the park boundaries. Earlier, native peoples collected foodstuffs such as acorns, camas roots, and bracken ferns here, and burned the forests regularly to create habitat for game animals, promote the growth of weaving materials and food such as camas, and maintain an open prairie.
But lack of fire in recent years spurred an increase of Douglas fir trees, which have deprived the oak trees of sunlight, water, and nutrients.
To stimulate the growth of Garry oaks, the park has initiated a prescribed burn regimen to clear out the thick underbrush and firs on the south side of Young Hill at English Camp. Since 2003, the park has conducted numerous prescribed burns, which are conducted by fire crews from the Olympic National Park. This method effectively eliminates invasive exotic plants and allows native plants to thrive. Without burns, the prairie would convert to forest.
Clearing out the aggressive young firs will help restore the forest's ecosystem and reduce the chance of catastrophic wildfire. Fire scars on some of the older Douglas firs are evidence they were subjected to fire before Europeans arrive on the island.
Another benefit of the burns is to restore habitat for wildlife. The band-tailed pigeon will come in the fall if there are ripe acorns about, and some species of butterflies, such as the rare Island Marble butterfly, live in the Garry oaks.
Park status: Common. Native.
Did You Know?
Many of San Juan Island's roads trace sheep runs cut by Hudson's Bay Company workers. They were led, in part, by Fort Victoria Chief Factor and colonial Gov. James Douglas, from 1853 to 1859. Many of the workers were Cowichan Indians from Vancouver Island.