Categories: Environment

Environment File

FUN WITH BIRDS – BLESS summer nature centre co-ordinator Natalia Rudolf shows off one of the bizarre artifacts residents can encounter at the nature centre this summer. The nature centre opens for what is likely its 20th year of operation Monday.

St. Albert’s summer nature centre reopens this week for what is likely its 20th anniversary.

Big Lake Environment Support Society summer nature centre co-ordinator Natalia Rudolf will throw open the doors of the little wooden cabin by St. Albert Trail on Monday for two months of free nature-related activities.

A St. Albert Catholic High alumni and a biology/chemistry student at the University of Alberta, Rudolf said she signed up to be this year’s co-ordinator due to her growing interest in the environment.

“I definitely like helping people and enjoy being around children,” she said, and this sounded like a good opportunity to teach youths about nature.

Rudolf said she has nine weeks of free environmental projects for visitors to try. In addition colouring animal masks and catching bugs with nets, she hopes to have kids paint the shadows of trees on some long boards.

She’s also been familiarizing herself with the cabin’s bizarre menagerie of biological grotesqueries over the last few weeks, which, over the years, have included a ram’s skull, many stuffed birds, and a great blue heron costume.

“Some of the artifacts are a bit scary,” she said, adding that she was spooked by the cup full of dead crickets.

Gazette records and BLESS veterans suggest that the summer nature centre was started around 1997 by birder Dan Stoker, although it’s not entirely clear if it’s been in operation for every year since then.

The inaugural Summer Fun at Big Lake program was run by co-ordinator Chantel Isaak out of the BLESS shelter east of Ray Gibbon Drive on Sundays in July and August of 1997, according to the Gazette’s archives. The shelter was exposed and hard to reach, so BLESS worked out a deal with the city to move into the old RCMP cabin by St. Albert Trail around 1999.

“One main intent of the program was to involve and challenge children to think about and enjoy what they were seeing,” Stoker said in an email.

“Many games evolved that forced the prospective learners to handle specimens and to solve problems.”

The cabin is often host to spectacular aquatic creatures such as damselfly nymphs, snails and crayfish.

Stoker recalled how the cabin housed two 15 centimetre long crayfish from Lacombe Lake Pond one year. One of them escaped its tank overnight – its desiccated corpse was discovered weeks later.

“The loss of this critter to the greater good of educating a potential generation of conservationists seemed justified, although still disappointing,” he said.

The centre’s activities have remained fairly consistent over the years, as has its mission to give children an appreciation of nature, said veteran BLESS member Dave Burkhart.

“In 20 years, we’ve reached a lot of people.”

The summer nature centre opens July 3, and will be open Wednesdays from noon to 7 p.m. and other weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

New climate change funding announced by the province this week should help protect the planet and indigenous treaty rights, says a regional chief.

Alberta Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan announced $35 million in grants Thursday to help Alberta’s indigenous communities save energy, create green jobs and fight climate change.

The grants include $25 million for energy retrofits, commercial-scale green power production and solar panels; $8 million to providing training on climate leadership, energy conservation and energy audits; and $2 million to train indigenous peoples in green jobs such as wind turbine installation.

Indigenous people are often the first to feel, and hardest hit by the effects of climate change due to the remote nature of their communities, whether it be wildfires, wild weather or melting ice, said Willie Littlechild, grand chief of the Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations. Many First Nations don’t have the expertise needed to address these challenges.

Canada’s First Nations treaties are often described as being in force as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the rivers flow, Littlechild said. Climate change is polluting those rivers and burning that grass.

“In a way, it’s directly related to the treaty agreements.”

Many First Nations buildings are very old and could benefit from energy retrofits, Littlechild said. Communities such as Maskwacis (where he is based) have made substantial investments in solar panels and are working on commercial-scale solar farms.

Littlechild said clean air and water was a common challenge for all Canadians.

“This is going to take all of us working together to really make an impact for the benefit of all our peoples.”

Indigenous.alberta.ca/climate has more on the grants.

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