The winding road took its passengers up to touch the blueness of the September sky. It was unseasonably warm. A bus load of Grade 10 students neared the summit. The field trip to Manning Park would be a day to learn, see and experience nature for these Princeton Secondary School kids and they were up to the adventure.
Local park and trail enthusiast Kelley Cook, pulled together the trip for the students as part of an educational journey into the life of the whitebark pine tree. She had brought a team of experts to lead the guided tour through the alpine meadows and, as everyone gathered together in wait for the start, it was impossible not to notice the surrounding beauty. A cool breeze reminded the group that fall was nipping at their heels. The air was fresh and made everyone want to breath deeper. Sharp mountain peaks were softened only by the hearty trees whose short growth period made their existence all the more precious. Life on top of the mountain was magnified by a majestic canvas.
Along with the students who were happy to have nature as their classroom for a day, were more teachers. Members of the Vermilion Forks Field Naturalists had come to help plant trees and to enjoy. PSS teachers Gordon Bibby and Patrick Kaiser had competition. The Hope Outdoor Club and Hope Mountain Centre had representation as well. There was a mountain of knowledge almost as high as the landscape.
Parks and Protected Areas ecologist Judy Millar from Natural and Cultural Heritage Parks Planning and Management Branch of the Ministry of Environment was a big part of the Manning Park Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Restoration and Environmental Awareness Day. The venue was at the top of Blackwall Peak. The group of about 70 adventurers were given a brief history of Manning Park and B.C. Parks leading up to Manning’s 70 birthday and B.C. Parks 100 birthday. This discussion was followed by a overview of the whitebark pine tree and its ecosystem led by Biologist Randy Moody who is also chairman of the Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation of Canada.
West Okanagan park supervisor Ed Atkinson was thrilled to be a part of the day and said B.C. Parks was instrumental in locating funding for the field trip. “It is so great to have all these people up here learning and getting a real glimpse into Manning’s ecosystem,” said Atkinson. “Kelley is such a huge part of this day and such a great advocate of our parks and trails. She is the one we need to thank the most. The rest of us just did what we could to help out, but as usual Kelley is tireless when it comes to protecting what is most important.”
Manning Park was created after domestic sheep were found to be overgrazing the magnificent area over seventy years ago. Since that time, it has been monitored for a variety of issues. One of the latest studies ongoing in the park comes as the result of whitebark pine trees. “The whitebark pine tree was designated as an endangered species in April of 2010,” said Millar. “Its status is still under review, but we are hopeful it will stay there for now and get the attention it needs. If it is designated endangered, the logging industry needs to monitor their practice around it and of course, there is funding for protection purposes.”
“It is a long road to rehabilitation for these trees,” stated Moody. “It takes four years in a nursery setting to grow a seedling to a stage where it is ready to plant. Then, they take years before they reach any height. They are vulnerable to all sorts of things along the way.”
The Clark’s Nutcracker bird eats only the seeds from the whitebark pine tree. Bears and squirrels also like the nutritious seeds which are a valuable food source that is 51 per cent fat, 21 per cent protein and 21 per cent carbs. “No other pine tree produces seeds that big,” continued Moody. “The Nutcracker pries the cones open, the bear is libel to break off branches before eating the whole cone and the squirrel will also take away the whole cone. The value of the seed is also one of the problems with its reproduction life.” Moody has been involved in a program whereby cages are actually attached to the tree branches surrounding the precious cones to ward off the Nutcrackers who are known hoarders of the seeds.
Fungus, climate change and pine beetles have all combined to hit the whitebark pine hard. “The whitebark pine is not a good competitor,” added Moody. Moody and others have been collecting the tree’s seeds for the restoration program and during the field trip the group learned about site choice for new seedlings and then planted 91 back into the sub alpine meadows at Blackwall Peak. All the plantings were GPS’d by conservation specialist Kirk Safford. While the students had to leave at 1:30 p.m. to get back to school for the end of the day, Cook, Millar, Moody,Safford and their partners in crime stayed to plant the rest of the trees. “We were there until 5 p.m.,” Cook said. “It was just such a great day and the kids were really good. Really…we couldn’t have asked for more.”
“This day was just fantastic,” said teacher Bibby. “We are really grateful you let us be a part of this adventure. It is a day we won’t soon forget.”
Millar added, “I would like to thank you all for the successful planting of 100 whitebark pine trees in Manning Park. It was fun to see the students up there, their teachers, the naturalists, Hope Mountain Club, and even the bus driver learning about whitebark pine. It was a great group: enthusiastic, energetic and friendly. I enjoyed the questions and was thrilled to see the students so engaged. Most of all though, I am happy that the trees that Randy and I have been involved with for the past four years have found their home again. We will be monitoring these over the next few years to determine survival.”
The day ended on a high note for the students. Millar handed out Robert Bateman prints, mugs and other prizes to the students who answered questions about the endangered pine trees. All in all, the day was a hit for everyone who attended made even better by the perfect weather.