Catherine Temple is an avid hiker and has been in the woods on Vancouver Island since she was a child. It was during several recent hikes north of Campbell River when she began noticing entire forests full of dead salal.

“We went down a trail on Menzies Mountain and it was everywhere,” said Temple. “It wasn’t as dead as the stuff that’s exposed to the sun but it was well on its way to dying and that’s when I took the video, I went ‘my god look at this.'”

Over the next few weeks, she began documenting dying salal in different locations.

“So we started watching and we were up the Campbell River lookout trail last weekend and the same thing there,” Temple added.

Temple posted the video to her Facebook page Go Hiking Vancouver Island and began hearing from other hikers across Vancouver Island who said they were seeing the exact same thing.

“I was getting responses from people in Port Renfrew to Port McNeill saying they were seeing the same thing,” said Temple.

Salal is a leathery-leaved shrub in the heather family native to western North America and is very common and can grow very thick on Vancouver Island.

It’s tolerant to both sunny and shady conditions and it’s been used by First Nations people for thousands of years.

“You never, ever see it where you’ve got a whole plant that’s just dying, the whole forest floor was carpeted with dead salal,” she said.

There was no sign of any regrowth like she found on some healthy plants in Campbell River Friday.

Concerns about the dying salal range from increased wildfire risk to the impact it will have on mushrooms.

“The mushrooms are basically, intrinsically involved in the salal. The salal dies, the mushrooms are exposed, they no longer have that canopy over top of them so the moisture doesn’t stay in,” said Temple.

The Ministry of Forests says Provincial staff has also noticed browning of the salal leaves, which they say is likely due to the cold and dry winter. Ministry staff will continue to monitor salal on the island very closely.

Dean Stoltz