Earth Rangers visit Swift Current

A Harris’s hawk sits on the hand of Earth Rangers presenter Carine Nolet.

Conservation efforts in southwest Saskatchewan will benefit from the latest Earth Rangers campaign that educates children about prairie wildlife.

Earth Rangers is a Canadian conservation organization that educates children about environmental issues and provides them with opportunities to be part of fundraising efforts for conservation projects.

Earth Rangers started their Saskatchewan school assembly tour at O.M. Irwin School in Swift Current, May 2. The tour will visit 32 schools in the province to highlight the “Stand Up for the Little Guy” campaign and to talk to students about climate change and conservation through interactive presentations that include live animal demonstrations.

“Kids have a good connection with animals,” presenter Carine Nolet said afterwards. “That’s why we have our animal ambassadors with us. They help to teach the kids about the importance of conservation and biodiversity, and also all of the problems that entail with animals and their habitats.”

Four animals were shown to students during the presentation. There was a Harris’s hawk, a peregrine falcon, a three-banded armadillo, and a savannah monitor.

Nolet and fellow presenter Kyla Ferguson spent the past month in British Columbia on the school assembly tour.

“We’re going to spend another month in Saskatchewan and then a couple of weeks in Winnipeg,” Nolet said. “So usually we’re on the road for about three months at a time and it’s great, because we get to have a connection with a lot of the kids and we teach them and sensitize them about all the problems that we’re having. We also encourage them to go on to become a member. It’s a free membership, and they get to be part of some specific projects like the one that SaskEnergy is doing.”

The “Stand Up for the Little Guy” campaign aims to create awareness about some of the smaller animal species found in the prairie grasslands, which is one of the most endangered habitat types in North America.

The campaign features at risk species such as the burrowing owl, swift fox, Ord’s kangaroo rat, loggerhead shrike, and black-tailed prairie dog.

People tend to go towards the cuter, the fluffier animals, or the bigger ones, but the little ones do have an importance, because it’s all with the circle of life,” she said. “It starts off obviously with the plants. If the plants don’t go well, if the ecosystem doesn’t go well, then all the small animals won’t go well, and then all the bigger ones as well that depend on all these small animals. So it’s important also to focus on the larger animals that are being threatened, but very important to talk about the smaller ones.”

The Earth Rangers presentation at O.M. Irwin School was attended by Leslie Gosselin, who is SaskEnergy’s manager of advertising and community relations. She said it is a good fit for the Crown corporation to support the campaign.

“We’ve sponsored them before, but not at the level that we are this year,” she noted. “We were really instrumental at getting this “Stand Up for the Little Guy” campaign going so that we could draw attention to the prairies and environmental stewardship in an area that matters to us.”

Gosselin, who is a former educator, was impressed when she saw the Earth Rangers presentation for the first time.

“This is a very professional, well-researched presentation with great visuals and engagement for students and they loved it today,” she said.

SaskEnergy’s support of the campaign is part of the company’s efforts to be a socially responsible corporate citizen.

“There’s not a lot of natural prairie left in the province and we have to be really careful whenever we’re doing any kind of pipeline work, that we’re not affecting the environment or at least doing as little as possible to disturb the environment,” she said. “From that point of view it’s important for us to show that we do actually care a lot about environmental stewardship and conservation. The second thing is that as a provincial Crown corporation it matters to us to be giving back to the community, and helping young people to learn about environmental stewardship is a really good fit for our organization.”

Earth Rangers will provide financial support to two prairie conservation projects in Saskatchewan as a result of this campaign. Funding is provided to Nature Saskatchewan for Operation Burrowing Owl, which aims to improve habitat for the highly endangered burrowing owl through cooperation with rural landowners and land managers.

The South of the Divide Conservation Action Program (SODCAP) in southwest Saskatchewan receives funding from Earth Rangers for a habitat management project to control invasive leafy spurge on private land.

SODCAP representatives attended the presentation at O.M. Irwin School, including invasive weed biologist Melanie Toppi.

“We have had goats come in and graze leafy spurge to help manage it and help reduce the invasion,” she said. “On that ranch there is Sprague’s Pipit, leopard frog and loggerhead shrike, which are all species at risk.”

The person who was hired for this targeted grazing on the ranch brought his own goats and also obtained goats from other producers.

“He’s on horseback all day long,” she said. “He has two herding dogs and he herds the goats from one patch to another.”

The project also uses two other methods to attempt to eliminate leafy spurge. Spurge beetles have been released close to waterways and there has been some chemical control near the edge of the property to prevent the weed from spreading.

This kind of project is expensive and requires time for the management practices to take effect.

“For all non-profits of course it depends on funding,” she said. “So we’re going to be doing our second year and hopefully when funding is renewed, we’ll be able to keep going.”

A conservation project near Pakowki Lake in Southern Alberta will also benefit from the Earth Rangers campaign. This Nature Conservancy Canada project on the MacKenzie Ranch will receive funding to help secure a conservation easement on this property, which provides habitat for many of the species that are part of the “Stand Up for the Little Guy” campaign.

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