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NatureSpeak Articles

Rain = Mushrooms + Fish + Forests

Maybe the greatest thing about nature is how it is so interconnected. The more you look, the more you see how things are linked. This past week I learned more about rain, specifically the effect of no rain on mushrooms and spawning fish.

First, the mushrooms. Being a neophyte who finally decided to correct a woeful state of ignorance, I recently bought a great little mushroom guide: "Everything that the rain promises, and more...", written by a loveable nut named David Arora. Just reading the title connected rain and mushrooms for me. It was one of those times when naming something (in this case the link between rain and mushrooms) crystallized a concept that was already obvious: most mushrooms sprout during cool, moist weather.

Too bad there wasn’t more of that cool moistness in early September, otherwise we wouldn’t have postponed the Whistler Naturalist’s mushroom walk. Todd Bush, our fearless fungal leader, pulled the plug because many mushrooms from the wet weeks of August were already busy (especially with the wormy larvae of fungus gnats). It’s the first time I’ve heard of an event postponed due to good weather.

Second, the fish. Down at Porteau Cove last week (wilderness camping with some other new parents), we saw schools of huge salmon in the cove – chinooks, according to our resident fish expert. So why weren’t the fish hightailing it up the Squamish River while they still had energy to spawn?

Checking with a real expert, Ian Fairweather of the Whistler Angling Club, I learned some species of ocean-run fish time their trip upriver with the rain. Coho salmon and steelhead trout are most reliant on rain, chinook a little less so. These fish wait at entrances to the rivers until rain causes water levels to rise. Apparently this is an adaptation which increases the chance of making it all the way upstream since higher water reduces the number of obstacles in the river.

The interconnections don’t end with mushroom and fish. Without mushrooms, nutrients locked up in dead vegetation would pile up unused. Without the carcasses of spawned-out salmon, there would be lower nutrients in streams for future young salmon. And mushrooms and salmon provide important food to a multitude of creatures, including mammals and birds.

A further amazing connection was recently revealed by scientists working in coastal forests. It turns out salmon carcasses dragged ashore by bears are important fertilizers of riparian forests. Stretching it a little further, is it a coincidence the tall canopies of these fertilized forests trap moisture, encourage cloud formation, and increase rain? And that the rain in turn leads back to mushrooms and fish?

Rain sometimes gets a bad rap in this town, but nature isn’t frivolous – nothing is wasted, everything is linked. So take note, Tourism Whistler and grumpy locals: rain isn’t so bad after all. Now if we could just remember that in the grey days of November.

Upcoming Events:

Saturday, Sept. 22nd —Alpine Nature Walk: Take a casual alpine walk with other local naturalists while learning about geology, glaciers, and alpine animal and plant life. Free for members and children; $5 for adult non-members (lift ticket not included). Meet at the base of the Whistler Gondola at 9:45 a.m. with your ski pass, warm clothes, and lunch. Total time about 4 hours. We’ll go if it’s raining lightly but not if it’s a monsoon.

Saturday, Sept. 29th — Arbor Day Planting in the Emerald Forest: The RMOW is again hosting Arbor Day, this year with all planting focused on the new Emerald Forest Conservation Area. The Whistler Naturalists will be meeting at 9 a.m., rain or shine, at the base of Lorimer Road. Planting will take about 3 hours.

Mushroom Walk — tentatively rescheduled for Oct. 6th. The wet weather is good news for the mushrooms. Check this column next week to confirm details for the mushroom walk.

Written by: Bob Brett


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