On a mild and warm day in May this year, Land Acquisition Coordinator Barb von Sacken led a Conservation Covenant monitoring team to visit the Homer-McCrea natural lands, protected by a conservation covenant. Barb was joined by Karen Yearsley (Volunteer, retired biologist and former HAT Board Member), Jordana Herron (Summer HAT intern), and Alanah Nasadyk (Community and Development Coordinator). There, the team was quite taken with the biodiversity of the covenant and the heartfelt family stories of land protection they were met with.
The Homer-McCrea covenant is 24.2 acres (9.8 hectares) of mature second-growth forest in Sooke, owned by the Homer family and stewarded in conjunction with Habitat Acquisition Trust. This property provides continuous upland habitat to the nearby Sooke Potholes and Sea-to-Sea Green-Blue Belt, while including a lush riparian zone alongside Goodman Creek.
Before they set off to hike the thick, green undergrowth and mossy outcrop dappled landscape, the HAT team had the pleasure of meeting the people, who with caring and foresight steward this natural area: Patti Homer and her son Paul Homer.
Patti Homer kindly shared the story of how the Homer-McCrea Covenant came to be. Goodman Creek marks one edge of the covenant, which is also on the East face of Mount Christopher Goodman. Both features are named after the original pioneers that came to clear the land and farm around 1900. Unsuccessful in farming and near starvation, the Goodmans left and the property went back to the Crown. For those who are curious a visit to the Sooke Region Museum may provide more information on this pioneer family.
The next person to purchase the property was Mr. Jameson. As the land passed hands through the family, it eventually came under the ownership of Mr. Jameson’s grandson Chris McCrea, for whom the covenant is partially named. Chris McCrea was originally in the logging industry. In fact, the property was logged in the 1930s. But like many people working close to nature, he grew to feel a deep connection to the land and he felt it should be protected.
In his later years, Chris McCrea offered Patti Homer the chance to purchase some of his land inexpensively, if she agreed to protect and not log it. Patti told the HAT team, she thought this meant an acre or two. When she met with Chris and found out that he meant 40 acres, she said, “I sat down at the creek and just cried.” Truly, the natural area that is now Homer-McCrea covenant has the power to stir the emotions of even those that visit briefly.
Nowadays, Patti and her son have built homes and live on the portion of land outside the covenant area, keeping a close eye on it. Patti is proud of her family’s connection to the land. “The grandchildren came and I went for a walk with them. It made me feel good to see how comfortable they were in the forest.” Patti told the HAT team the grandchildren Brittany and Zach will inherit the land eventually. She is confident they will make a wonderful new generation of stewards noting “they really feel a responsibility to the property, they already think of this place as theirs.” This sense of responsibility includes concern when they see signs of trespassing and the harm that this can do to the land.
Trespassing is a problem on the covenant, with trails on adjacent crown land meandering into the protected area. Though there is some “no trespassing” signage, HAT hopes that better placement will deter trespassing by raising awareness of the sensitive nature and protected status of the property. Many people enjoying nearby park and crown land, and may not even be aware that this space is off limits for the replenishment of the nature that we all so clearly enjoy. Fencing is not an option as one of the great values of this protected habitat is that it is so well-connected to the rest of the Sooke wilderness for allowing for the unrestricted movement of wildlife.
Looking back at the numerous standing, dead wildlife trees with their rugged bark and cavities for nesting, the landscape gives off a feeling that there are many places inhabited by denizens of the woods. Patti says, “It’s an incredible piece of property, I’m really proud of it”, sharing that cougars and bears pass through regularly, and the wolves of the Sooke Hills wilderness can be heard from her neighbours’ property. There is even a wetland with amphibians, just outside the covenant boundaries.
Before the HAT team headed off into the trees to assess the covenant, Patti posed for a photo in front of a stately Douglas Fir and explained,
“When I was building the house I would get a lot of people giving me advice. They would say, ‘oh, you’ve got to take that tree down, it’s going to hit your house.’ I would say, ‘in my lifetime I can build another house, but I could never grow another tree like that.’"
The purpose of Habitat Acquisition Trust’s annual covenant monitoring visits is to ensure ongoing assessement of the condition of the covenant and that the terms protecting the covenant are being upheld. Ideally this includes hearing from and where possible spending time with the landowners, who are the most important and knowledgeable stewards of these areas. As the team made their way through the Homer-McCrea covenant, they photographed and took GPS points at areas of interest or concern. One of the concerns documented on the trip, the encroachment of invasive Scotch Broom and English Holly plants, is a problem we look forward to nipping in the bud soon. Keep an eye out on the calendar and volunteer Enewsletter for future events removing invasive plants there.
As the HAT covenant monitors crossed Goodman Creek, they passed through a delightful variety of habitats from lichen and wildflower covered meadows to wet and cedar-filled dips in the terrain, and so much in between.
At the farthest end of the covenant the team came across a lone Garry Oak tree. There is also an oak standing next to Goodman Creek. These Garry Oaks are known as the furthest west in their range. This is significant considering that changes in climate can cause ranges of species to creep. With projected warming, dry Garry oak ecosystems tolerant of hotter climates could play an important role in nature’s ability to respond to such rapid changes. Garry Oak ecosystems on the edge of Douglas Fir forest also indicate a historical presence of fire, that with recent suppression no longer keeps the area open enough for many oaks and their floral and faunal associates to thrive.
Follow the rest of our adventurous day monitoring the Homer-McCrea covenant in photos here!
This covenant does not yet have an endowment fund; donations to its long-term protection as a natural area are warmly welcomed. Make your gift here today: http://hat.bc.ca.