Precious Lichen Collection Evacuated from BC Wildfire Zone

This summer’s BC wildfire season is likely to go on record as among the worst in recent history. We’re hearing every day about the impacts to many interior communities, and this past week brought the impacts to the museum community as well.

Trevor Goward and Curtis Bjork, Co-Curators of the lichen collection at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum’s Herbarium contacted the Director, Dr. Jeannette Whitton to ask for help in evacuating their collection, located near Clearwater, BC. Their community has been told to be ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice.

Derek picking up specimens in Upper Clearwater, BC

Trevor and Curtis maintain one of the largest and certainly most important personal lichen collections in North America at their Edgewood Herbarium, with over 20,000 specimens, including more than 100 species new to science. Trevor began this collection more than 40 years ago, and it has grown to the most comprehensive personal lichen collections in Canada.

They knew they needed to get the specimens out before the roads were closed, knowing their life’s work could be lost. Plenty of ideas and offers came from concerned people offering their help. Our most gallant saviour UBC alumnus Derek Woods, a past collaborator of Trevor and Curtis, along with his friend Evan Morson-Glabik came to the rescue. Derek is the step-son of Dr. Sally Aitkin who shot this video driving on Highway 20 with the fire burning on both sides of the road. Derek and Evan rented a U-haul in Vancouver, drove it to Upper Clearwater to pick up the specimens, and then turned around to deliver them to the Beaty Museum. With the specimens now safely away from the threat of fire, Trevor and Curtis can focus on protecting their house and property.

A team of volunteers met Derek at the museum to help unload the collection last Saturday. By Monday morning, the herbarium team – Olivia Lee, Erin Fenneman, Barbara Nato-Bradley and Linda Jennings – was in place to prepare the specimens for freezing, so that they can safely be worked on. Freezing is a chemical-free way of killing any unwanted pests that might be hiding among the specimens, and could damage these and other collections. The specimens were evacuated just in time – on Tuesday, there was an evacuation order for parts of Clearwater.

Specimens tucked away in BBM freezer

We are glad to have been able to move quickly to protect this national treasure and are so thankful for all the help to get these collections here safely.

We are hoping for rain without lightning and no winds to come through BC to give all those who live and work in these regions a much needed break from this horrible disaster.