Soon after the San Juan Preservation Trust acquired the Vendovi Island preserve we learned that the prairies on the island – with their remarkably diverse suite of native wildflowers and grasses – would demand priority protection. Throughout the San Juan archipelago, remnant prairies are under threat from trees and shrubs which invade native grasslands and shade out native wildflowers. Left alone, the trees and shrubs will over time convert the prairie into forest. While some may logically argue that this is a natural progression and that we shouldn’t interfere, the prairies accommodate native species that are seen too rarely in these. Vendovi Island – due to its remoteness, lack of deer and other invasive species, and the simple fact that it is an entire island – is one of the few places that we can defend our restoration work and effectively protect these vanishing habitat. Human intervention is integrated into the history of Vendovi, as we have inherited these prairies only because native peoples used fire to keep them open as they propagated wild camas, one of their staple foods. Without continued human intervention, these rare prairie remnants – and the paintbrush, lilies, larkspurs and orchids that bloom amidst native grasses – will be lost.
To this end, Preservation Trust staff and volunteers and a crew from the Washington Conservation Corps have been felling and piling fir trees on two different prairie sites. Now that some of the firs are gone, bare areas beneath the trees have been opened up that will – we hope – become re-colonized by the native species. If the prairies begin to restore the desired natives, the tree removal will continue, but only after we’re sure our actions are creating the intended effects. Acquiring this island has created a number of opportunities for conservationists, but we have also assumed a responsibility to protect and care for its unique landscape.