Earth Day 2023: Wild Cortes Displays (P 1 – the Mother Tree)

Wild Cortes celebrated Earth Day, on Saturday April 22, with the opening of the new Mother Tree Exhibit. One of the advantages of being among the first to arrive, is that the facility was not too crowded. There were only half a dozen people when Wild Cortes opened at noon. Local biologist Sabina Leader-Mense agreed to give Cortes Currents a walk through.

She was making some last minute touches to the exhibit when I asked some of the first viewers, ‘What’s your impression of the exhibit?’  

Lanny wearing the Western Toad costume – Photo by Roy L Hales

“It’s actually pretty amazing. This is my first time seeing it,” replied Charissa Hunt.

“What do you especially like?” asked Cortes Currents.  

“The way it’s set up and how everything’s so easy to see and accessible for kids too,” she said. 

Co-curator Donna Collins was attaching one of the last labels to the Mother Tree display, when Leona Jensen exclaimed, “Well Donna, I’m amazed – the displays have improved so much!”

The main exhibition room was filling up by this time. Alona Levesque was deeper in the room, where several species of owls were perched upon the shelves and a young fawn looked up from a patch of salal bushes. 

“I like all the taxidermy animals. My sister is apprenticing with Laurel Bohart, who does the taxidermy.” 

My walk through with Sabina Leader-Mense (SLM) began after that.

SLM: “We are here at the 2023 opening of the Mother Tree Exhibit, for the Cortes Wild Partnership, at the Linnaea Education Center. Cortes Wild is a partnership of five organizations. The Cortes Island Museum and Archive Society, the Forest Trust for the Children of Cortes Island SocietyFriends of Cortes Island Society, Linnaea Farm Society, and the Discovery Islands Ecosystem Mapping Project from Read Island. We’re a regional partnership that got together in 2018. Cortes Wild is the brainchild of Lynne Jordan, the former president of the Cortes Island Museum.”

“This beautiful display we have behind us, created by Laurel Bohart in about 2000, is called Wild Cortes. It follows water from falling on the bluffs of Cortes, moving through the forest, through the riparian, into the wetlands, and eventually into the sea. This was the permanent display at the museum and, as we all know, the building is very small.  As we tried to bring new things in, it was constantly being reduced or compromised, and Lynne really wanted to see it find a permanent home. So she went out looking, talked to the Linnaea Farm Society and found this permanent home for the Wild Cortes Exhibit. Then, around that, we created the Cortes Wild Partnership just to have fun with the words.”

“Every year, or every second year, we try to have a new exhibit. This year the main exhibit in the display gallery is called ‘the Mother Tree.’  Donna Collins, Director with the Cortes Island Museum, Laurel Bohart, also a Director and our taxidermist, came together and said, ‘Let’s celebrate Suzanne Simard.’ They had read her book, Finding the Mother Tree, and were very impressed with Suzanne’s work. They said, ‘Let’s celebrate the work of Suzanne with a beautiful canvas of a Mother Tree!’ So they brought in Kathleen Pemberton, a fabulous Whaletown artist. Kathleen created a mother tree at the center of the display for us, and the other partners from Cortes Wild brought in their individual ways in which they celebrate forest on Cortes.”

“Suzanne Simard, for people that may not know her name, is a Professor at the University of British Columbia, in the Forestry Department. She has created a bit of a stir globally with respect to her research on mycorrhizal networking communications systems happening below the ground in our coastal temperate rainforest. It’s called the ‘wood wide web.’ Suzanne is a very, very influential researcher in that field.”

“The Discovery Islands Ecosystem Mapping Project create maps to provide communities with the power to affect conservation and preservation of their forest lands.  We’re featuring a protected landscape mapping project that they just finished a couple of years ago. A great inspiration for Cortes to follow.  It’s a ecosystem based conservation plan, and the mantra of those plans are to always identify what you leave before you take anything. It’s a critical mapping project to have and we’re working very quickly on our way to creating one for Cortes.”

CC: Do you want to tell me a little bit of the detail? What is this map actually saying?

SLM: “This map is called Map 7. It’s the culmination of a series of maps that are produced when you tackle a protected landscape mapping project. Herb Hammond completed one for us in 1999. We have a map 7, which is the collation of all of the various maps coming together. In 1999, Herb put out this idea that we could connect things across a landscape, and that it was critically important to do. There were cross island linkages that we put in place along our riparian zones or where our old growth is. That was a laughable concept in 1999. Today there’s a whole science about connectivity conservation.  The idea being that we cannot leave things as individual oasis. You get a small oasis of something surrounded by denuded landscape, it has no chance of surviving and being a healthy functioning ecosystem.  You need to connect riparian, old growth, bluff ecosystems, wildlife corridors,  in a functional way so the ecosystem can continue.” 

“The science of conservation connectivity is huge right now for the national parks and the provincial parks, because we have all  these fabulous parks across the country, but they’re little oases. Point Pelee National Park in Ontario, they talk about being isolated. It’s going through some major changes with respect to climate change. All of the amphibians have no place. There’s no connectivity, there’s no place for them to move. As the climate changes wildlife, just like ourselves, need to move and migrate to areas that can sustain us.“

CC: I’m looking at some of the old growth displayed on this map and what I’m seeing is little narrow bands.”  

SLM: “They’re connecting up the oases.  All we have left are oases of areas that continue to support old trees, mother trees, and our very mature second growth forests that are recruitment for our old forest areas. They have shown on this map how to link those areas together and protect the areas in between.  That’s a concept that’s very important with sensitive ecosystems.” 

“For example, we have sensitive ecosystem inventory mapping done for Cortes Island in, again, 1999/2000 by the province, and it shows us where we have the sensitive ecosystem of bluffs or riparian, wetland. All these different things; Everything is an oases. There’s just little pieces left, but what links them all, and buffers all of them on Cortes Island, are mature second growth forests. Mature second growth forests that occurs immediately around these sensitive ecosystems and between them is going to ultimately be incorporated into the landscape networking in a mapping process like this, so that we maintain some type of connectivity.” 

“It is a 200 metre minimum wildlife corridor for your large carnivores. You’ve got gene flow happening through those areas. You’ve got water flow happening through those areas, so connectivity networking. It’s the whole theme of the Mother Tree display and the celebration of the work that Suzanne Simard’s doing. It’s all about connections. It’s all about networking. It’s all about everything we know so little about.” 

“‘The Forest Trust for the Children of Cortes Island Society’ is in the process of negotiating for the purchase of 600 acres of Cortes forest lands.  The children, that really were the ones  at the society level we cut our teeth on – giving them experiential place-based education in the forest – are now young adults and are coming home and speaking out for the protection of the Children’s Forest. You’ll see the beautiful quotes they have on the display boards here. They’re reading also from the forest alphabet book that they created for fundraising. “

She pointed to the word ‘Educate’ on the Friends of Cortes Island (FOCI) panel.  

SLM: “Educate is the mantra. We’re trying to really inform people and educate people; Getting folks to understand forests on Cortes Island are ecologically significant. A lot of people think we’re not as important as the tropical rainforest. We’re just a temperate coastal rainforest. FOCI lists all of the different ways in which we are ecologically significant, going through all of what we have here on Cortes.” 

“The last partner is the Linnaea Farm Society, and they are celebrating forests by showing us what they’ve done on their 310 acre landholding, the Linnaea farm. They have a conservation covenant on their lands that is held by Land Conservancy of British Columbia.  They’re giving an example for everyone of how a private land holder can actually protect their forest lands in perpetuity. They have forest zones that have reserved rights and restrictions  all written up in a conservation covenant that is attached to a land title. Anyone who has a private holding of land can preserve their forest lands in perpetuity.

CC: Where would someone go if they wanted to do that on their land?

SLM: Contact the Cortes Land Conservancy working group, and I am the coordinator of that group, and  I do all of the outreach on the island. I’m presently engaged with many private landholders on Cortes who are working towards conservation covenants on their private lands. So yeah, information is right there. 

CC: I’m hearing a lot of birds in the background. 

SLM: “The birds that you’re hearing in the background are fabulous recordings. The man who made them is John Neville, from Salt Spring Island.”

“Years and years ago, we brought him to Cortes to celebrate this new CD he has called Bird Songs of Canada’s West Coast. The reason his tapes are so exemplary is that he recorded them all here. He has recordings from Whaletown. He has recordings from Victoria, Sooke, the Lower Mainland, the West Coast. They really, truly are our birds because all birds have dialects. When you hear a  Olive-sided flycatcher calling on his tape or a Pacific Wren, it’s very distinct to this area. You’re learning about the birds that you’re hearing every day. It’s one of the most valuable tapes in terms of learning how to identify birds by sound. That’s what’s playing in the background.”

As I was about to leave the central exhibition area, I saw someone dressed up as a Western Toad.  

 “My name’s Lanny,” she explained. 

CC:“Okay, and what do you like about the museum today?” 

 “I like the toad mask.” 

Christine Robinson explained that Meinsje Vlaming made the toad costume, as well as costumes for a Barn Swallow, Pygmy Owl and Big Eared Bat.   

“Meinsje, our resident outstanding expert on costumes, created all of these. They are four of our endangered species animals on Cortes.” 

Related Posts on Cortes Currents:

All photos except for the toad mask (by Roy L Hales), Map of Read Island (courtesy of DIEM) and the cover of Bird Songs of Canada’s West Coast were submitted.

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