Tofino Botanical Gardens Natural History Tour

On Thursday afternoon, following the meeting with Tim Rundle and a brief lunch, we walked over to the Tofino Botanical Gardens for our meeting with Josie Osborne. Josie is a biologist who has lived in this region for 13 years. She operates the Gardens with her husband George Patterson.  In recent years she has worked as a liaison for the provincial government and local First Nations to develop a plan for fish farming. That is a topic to be discussed at a later meeting with Josie. This time, she provided an introduction to local natural history. 

Josie led us down to the mudflats behind the gardens where one has a clear view of the mountains rising behind Clayoquot Sound. In the foreground you see the more rounded mountains that rise close to the coastline. Further away are the snow capped peaks of the mountain range running through the centre of Vancouver Island. Notice the difference in their shape. Nearby mountains look like rounded humps; while the taller ones in the distance are jagged peaks. This is evidence of the last glaciation a blanket of ice scoured the tops off of any peaks under a kilometer in height. When the glaciers retreated about 13,000 years ago this entire region must have been a barren strip of rock. Today, the soil quality remains extremely poor and this is an important factor determining local vegetation. 

Here is a picture of Josie describing some geological features of Clayoquot Sound in our impromptu classroom at the edge of the mudflats. 

Aside of the lack of soil, two other factors determining local plant diversity are the moderate temperature (rarely dipping below freezing or rising above 20 degrees) and the immense amount of rainfall. Clayoquot Sound is reportedly the rainiest place in continental North America, receiving over 3 meters per year. These factors make for extremely dense forests dominated by three species of tree, abundant ferns and enormous carpets of thick, shaggy moss. 

Josie's introduction provided our group with an excellent grounding in some of the basic biological and geological processes shaping this region. Although our discussion focussed primarily on the region's unique natural history, the conversation also touched on how it impacts visitors on an emotional level. Some describe the these rainforests as having a restorative effect. Providing visitors with this emotional connection to nature is one of the primary objectives of the Tofino Botanical Gardens. Undoubtedly, the emotional connection to this place is a large part of the motivation for environmentalists who argue that it should remain in a pristine condition. However, this raises a question of how, exactly, can this area remain preserved while allowing for residents of this region to earn a living and support their families. Perhaps it is an unrealistic expectation that economic development and conservation can coexist in this area. 

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