Thursday 28 July 2011

Sean Shaw: The opportunity to make a difference

Sean Shaw (, the senior environmental geochemist for a Saskatoon-based mining consulting firm, moved to Saskatoon in 2004 to obtain his PhD in Geochemistry at the University of Saskatchewan. He is already playing an active role in shaping the city’s future. He ran for City Council in 2009, chairs the City’s Environmental Advisory Committee and the Board of Directors for Quint Development Corporation, and is the founding president of Saskatoon Cycles.

Politics in full sentences
Sean is an admirer of Don Iveson, an Edmonton city councillor, and Naheed Nenshi, mayor of Calgary, because they practise “politics in full sentences.” Sean explained what this means in a recent article on his blog.

“The idea of ‘politics in full sentences’ is to engage voters in an actual conversation about the state of their city and how best to collectively improve the parts that need improving. Both of these civic leaders understand that decisions made by City Hall cannot be made in silos, that there is an inter-connectedness between roads, mass transit, neighbourhood revitalization, and lower property taxes (among many others!) and each decision has a ripple effect on the effectiveness and efficiency of other decisions.”

Sean believes that residents have tuned out politicians because they haven’t been engaged – witness the low voter turnout (27%) in recent municipal elections – and he believes we need to turn that around. “People have the willingness and capacity to understand the concepts,” says Sean, “so why wouldn’t you talk to them? It resonates with people when politicians ask questions rather than talking at them.”

Sean points to a recent City report estimating that it will cost the City $117 million over five years to return the existing roads to a state of good repair. As Sean explains, this isn’t an isolated topic and needs to be considered in terms of other issues, such as public transit and urban planning.

As the City expands outwards, it requires more and more roads so people can move around. City planners have been making an effort to design more compact neighbourhoods, but Evergreen at 8 houses per hectare 8.6 units per acre still doesn’t stand up against Calgary, which won’t accept a density of less than 10. Similarly, research has shown that investing in public transit will lead to lower infrastructure costs because there is less pressure to provide more roads for more cars.

Leadership role for municipalities
Sean strongly believes that municipal politicians and administrators can and should play a leadership role in designing livable cities. He points to the Warehouse district as an example. The City has stated that they want to see this become a lively neighbourhood with lots of street-level interaction beyond the 9 to 5 work day. But they have approved new construction which is not conducive to this philosophy. The new Holiday Inn has 4 or 5 stories of above-ground parking, presenting a blank façade that discourages street-level activity.

“We need regulations, not guidelines,” says Sean, “if we want to have underground parking and store fronts and facilities that will attract local residents.”

Saskatoon Cycles
So long as there isn’t any ice on the ground, Sean cycles to work. He feels comfortable cycling in downtown traffic, but not everyone does. “It’s hard to get my wife to go out cycling with me,” he says. “She doesn’t feel safe.” He points to research that was carried out in Portland that clearly indicated that safer streets policies, such as separate bike lanes, lead to large increases in the number of cyclists.

After participating in Ice Cycle 2010, a group of cyclists were sharing their concerns about local bicycle safety. Sean suggested that they do something about it, and Saskatoon Cycles was created. Saskatoon Cycles is an advocacy group that is speaking out for cycling as a safe, year-round mode of transportation for people of all ages. Their goal is to engage municipal decision-makers, both politicians and administrators, in a conversation about improving the cycling infrastructure in Saskatoon.

“We try to be constructive,” explains Sean. “We want to work with them and suggest solutions.”
Public response to Saskatoon Cycles has been extremely positive. By summer of 2010, they had over 300 members and they now have well over 1000 members. “I’ve never seen this level of excitement and commitment,” says Sean. “People are really excited, and they want to come out to meetings. And it’s not just students. The average age is around 45, and the group includes a large number of working professionals.”

Next year, the group hopes to start collecting statistics and quantitative research in order to back up their recommendations with evidence.

A good place to live
Sean is a passionate advocate for Saskatoon. He loves the trails along the river and the summer festivals. But most of all, Sean loves the people. “There’s a broad group of people who are 35 and under living here,” he says. “They know what kind of city they want to see, and they’re actively doing something to achieve it. It’s not mainstream, but those things that will make Saskatoon a more livable city are already happening.”

Sean points to core neighbourhoods, such as Caswell Hill, where young people are fixing up old houses or designing interesting infill projects, as well as to changes in the types of restaurants and bars around town.

“Saskatoon is almost a blank slate,” says Sean. “We haven’t yet made the mistakes of larger cities. We have the ability to apply what they’ve learned and avoid making their mistakes.”

And Sean believes that all of us have the opportunity to make a difference. “You can get to know people quickly in Saskatoon,” he says. “If you want to be involved in making decisions, you can.”

Tuesday 26 July 2011

EcoSask News, July 26, 2011

ecoEnergy Retrofit Program Returns
The ecoEnergy Retrofit Program has been renewed by the federal government. Homeowners have until March 31, 2012 to complete an energy efficiency audit and qualifying fixes.

The Natural Resources Canada website outlines how to apply for the grant. (via Green Living)

Designated Sacred Space, Craik Eco Village
Multi-Faith Saskatchewan, in partnership with the Craik Sustainable Living Project, is hosting the grand opening of the Designated Sacred Space, adjacent to the Craik Eco Centre on Saturday, July 30 at 1 pm.

The program will include an opening prayer, greetings from the Hon. Rob Norris, Minister of Advanced Education, Employment and Immigration, and other officials, as well as cultural dance performances, a travelling art show, displays, and ethnic food at the Solar Garden Restaurant.

Ed Spratt Memorial Trail, Craik Eco Village
Canoeists, hikers and bird lovers will honour the memory of Ed Spratt, who played a leadership role in the Three Rivers Trails Association and Sask Trails, by inaugurating the Ed Spratt Memorial Trail at the Craik Eco Centre on Sunday, July 31.

Canoe participants will leave the Wilkin’s Wildlife Refuge at 9 am for the Birding Site. Trail enthusiasts will start a personal exploration of the trails at 12:30 pm, and the official opening of TRAILS will be held at the TRTA staging area (located at the bridge below the Craik Eco Centre) at 2 pm. This pamphlet provides more detailed information.

Trash Dashers
Get your exercise and clean up your neighbourhood by joining Trash Dashers. Sundays at 9 am they run/jog around a park, picking up litter, and collecting recyclables.

July 31 - cancelled for long weekend
August 7 - Kiwanis Park, 501 Spadina Crescent East (meet at Vimy Memorial Bandstand)
August 14 - H.S. Sears Park, 222 Pendygrasse Road
August 21 - Glacier Park, 41 Cambridge Crescent
August 28 - Wilson Park, 920 10th Avenue N
September 4 - cancelled for long weekend
September 25 - Rotary Park, 225 Saskatchewan Crescent E (meet at the Peace Flame)

Trash Dashers will also meet at 5 pm on Monday, September 12 at City Hall Square, 222 Third Avenue North.

Summer Day Camps at the YWCA
Eco-Uniquo is one of a number of summer day camps offered by the YWCA Fitness on 25th. The camp explores the environment through guest speakers and hands-on activities - plant a garden, get dirty with compost, outdoor games, and swimming. (every week from July 4 - August 26, ages 8-12) For more information, call 244-0944 ext. 100 or stop by the YWCA front desk.

Women’s Outdoor Weekend
The Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation is hosting a Women’s Camp September 10 and 11, 2011 at Lumsden Beach Camp. Participants will learn skills such as canoeing, wildlife and birdsong identification, and archery. (PCAP newsletter)

Saskatchewan Eco Network
The Saskatchewan Eco Network promotes active networking among environmental associations and is a member of the Canadian Environmental Network. Check out their Green Directory and sign up for the SEN Bulletin, a provincial electronic environmental news bulletin.

Edmonton’s Environmental Action Plan
The City of Edmonton has passed The Way We Green, an environmental strategic action plan covering everything from food to land, air, and energy.

What We Can Do
  • Visit Craik Eco Village
  • Pick up litter around your neighbourhood
  • Go camping

EcoSask News is a weekly Tuesday feature. Email if you have news or events that you would like us to include.

You can also follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter

Sunday 24 July 2011

Making Streets Safe for Pedestrians

by Penny McKinlay

As a pedestrian, I am often nervous about crossing the street. There have recently been a number of fatal accidents involving pedestrians on 22nd Street, and the City of Saskatoon’s Traffic Safety Committee is proposing a two-kilometre barrier to prevent jaywalking. But is that the solution?

Smart Cities, Healthy Kids, a university research project, says that this will make it even more difficult to move from one neighbourhood to another.

They have compared the number of pedestrian crossings on several busy streets in Saskatoon. In an 18-block segment of 22nd Street, there are only 5 marked pedestrian crossings. Similar stretches of 8th Street and 20th Street have 9 to 14 crossings - these streets have far fewer pedestrian-vehicle collisions. (via The Saskatoon StarPhoenix)

Blaming the victim
In a recent case in the United States, Raquel Nelson, whose son was killed when the family crossed a busy highway in Atlanta, has been convicted of second-degree vehicular homicide for crossing a road elsewhere than at a crosswalk and reckless conduct. She faces up to three years in jail, a far harsher penalty than the driver, who admitted to taking alcohol and painkillers at the time of the accident and pleaded guilty to hit-and-run for the third time. He was released on probation after serving a 6-month sentence.

Raquel Nelson had just returned from a grocery shopping trip by public transit with three young children. When she got off the bus, the nearest traffic signal was over half a mile away while her apartment was directly across the street. Is it any wonder that she took the shortest possible route to her destination? (via When design kills: The criminalization of walking, Stop putting pedestrians to blame: The case of Raquel Nelson)

What we can do
Take a look at A Resident’s Guide for Creating Safe and Walkable Communities published by the United States Department of Transportation Federal Highway Authority. It outlines ways to assess pedestrian safety and ways to address the problems.

Write a letter to the City of Saskatoon’s Traffic Safety Committee to inform them of your concerns about pedestrian safety.

Find out more about the Smart Cities Healthy Kids project.

Photo credit: Shelley McKinlay

Thursday 21 July 2011

Events and Organizations

To help you stay on top of what's going on around Saskatoon and Saskatchewan, EcoFriendly Sask now has an event Calendar and list of environmental Organizations.

Attend some of the events or check out the organizations and consider joining or supporting them. We hope you'll find something of interest.

These pages are a work in progress as we continue to learn about new events and organizations. If you know of anything that we should add, please email us at

If you use Google Calendar you can can add EcoFriendly Sask by clicking on the + Google Calendar button at the bottom of the calendar. If you use a different calendar, like Outlook, you may be able to use one of the following to subscribe:


You can also follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter

Tuesday 19 July 2011

EcoSask News, July 19, 2011

Possible Cuts to Saskatoon’s Public Transit System
Public transit provides a low-cost, energy-efficient alternative to individual car ownership. It’s hard to sell in Canada’s carcentric society, and it’s under attack in Saskatoon.

The Saskatoon StarPhoenix reports that Saskatoon City Council is reviewing all municipal services and is considering scrapping bus service between 10 pm and midnight as well as on statutory holidays. Transit Services is considering further changes that would shift resources from low-ridership routes, particularly in low-density suburban areas, to high-ridership routes.

It’s a vicious circle. Cut public transit services to decrease expenses, and even fewer people will use the service.

The city of Murcia, Spain, is demonstrating a vastly different approach. In an effort to promote its new tram system, cut congestion and reduce air pollution, the city is offering a lifetime public transit pass to citizens who give up their cars. To demonstrate the difficulty of parking in the city, they placed cars in impossible parking spots. (via Sustainable Cities Collective)

If you are concerned about possible cuts to public transit in Saskatoon, write a letter to City Council.

Beaver Creek Conservation Area – Movie Night and Hike
It’s movie night at Beaver Creek Conservation Area every Saturday and Sunday evening from July 2 to August 28. Watch an episode of Planet Earth or Human Planet (BBC Video) from 5:30 pm to 6:30 pm. Then enjoy a guided hike from 6:30 pm to 7:30 pm to see who’s out and about at Beaver Creek.

For more information, call 374-2474.

Plugging the Gap: Sustainable Power Options to Complement Wind and Solar
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Saskatchewan office, has released Plugging the Gap: Sustainable Power Options to Complement Wind and Solar by Mark Bigland-Pritchard. The report investigates ways in which the province could complement wind and solar power with other renewable energy options, such as using fuels of biological origin like biomass and biochar, dammed and run-of-the-river hydroelectricity, concentrated solar thermal technology, advanced energy storage and other hybrid systems.

The report examines various quick-response power sources that could be partnered with variable renewables (wind and solar) to ensure power security for customers, focusing on plentiful resources that are sustainable into the foreseeable future. Particular attention is paid to biomass energy, noting that it works best on a local community scale.

Woodland Caribou
Woodland caribou were once numerous throughout Canada and the northern United States, but their numbers are declining rapidly.

Keeping woodland caribou in the boreal forest: Big challenge, immense opportunity, a research report released by the International Boreal Conservation Science Panel, provides an overview of the caribou’s current status as well as proactive steps that can be taken to save the species from extinction.

The report singles out Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia for having failed to address the issue. "Saskatchewan has taken virtually no action to protect its boreal forests. It is in these places where significant progress is needed." (via The Montreal Gazette) (photo credit: Valerie Courtois, Canadian Boreal Initiative)

The Boreal Herbal Book by Bev Gray
The boreal forest nurtures a wide variety of plants as well as animals. Bev Gray is a herbalist and registered aromatherapist living in Whitehorse, Yukon. Her family’s store, the Aroma Borealis Herb Shop manufactures and sells over 200 products incorporating wild plants from the sub arctic with organically grown herbs and essential oils.

Bev has just published The Boreal Herbal Book, a guide to identifying and using northern plants for food and medicine. She will be at McNally Robinson Booksellers in Saskatoon on Thursday, July 21 at 7 pm to launch her book.

Chef Kevin Tetz will be on hand to cook up some northern eats, and recipes from the book will be featured in Prairie Ink Restaurant from July 14 to 21.

What We Can Do
EcoSask News is a weekly Tuesday feature. Email if you have news or events that you would like us to include.

You can also receive EcoFriendlySask news by liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter.

Sunday 17 July 2011

Featured Photos: Beavers on the Riverbank in Saskatoon

Beavers are one of Canada’s national icons and can be found in every Canadian province and territory. They use physical markers (mud pies with paw prints and musky oil) and noises (whines, bellows, tail slaps) to communicate.

One very famous Canadian, Grey Owl, shared his home with beavers in northern Saskatchewan.

Although beavers are often regarded as a destructive nuisance, they are valuable because they improve habitat for many forms of wildlife, help maintain water levels, stabilize stream flow, and prevent stream bed erosion.

What We Can Do
Watch for beavers on the river or Beaver Creek, especially in the early morning and late evening
Notice signs of beavers at work, chewing on trees and building lodges and dams
Visit Grey Owl’s cabin in Prince Albert National Park
Watch the Grey Owl movie
Read Grey Owl’s books - Pilgrims of the Wild, Sajo and the Beaver People

Thursday 14 July 2011

Shercom Industries, Saskatoon

Turning scrap tires into playgrounds, driveways, road repairs, and ramps

Picture 80,000 tires cluttering up the landfill. They take up an absurd amount of space. If they catch fire, they smoulder for days. And the tires hold water, promoting mosquitoes and rodents.

Now picture Shane Olson, a local business owner who has been turning tires and waste rubber into useful products for over 15 years. Shercom Industries collects and processes approximately 80,000 tires every month. That’s one and a half million pounds of waste – and not a single pound goes back to the landfill.

The rubber is turned into child-safe paving for children’s playgrounds, into durable paved surfaces for walking trails and tennis courts, into parking curbs, speed bumps, ramps and garden mulch. The steel is recycled, and the nylon fibre is used by the oil industry to clean up oil spills.

That’s pretty impressive.

Too stubborn to quit
Shane Olson grew up on a farm near Melfort and spent a number of years operating the family farm, so he’s no stranger to business. He’s learned how to hang in there when times are tough, how to improvise and how to reach out to new markets. He’s needed all those skills, and then some, as he developed Shercom Industries.

Tire recycling was a brand-new field when Shane started up his business. In fact, for the first few years, he was recycling rubber buffing, a by-product of applying new tread to semi tires. In those early days, the company made wheel chocks and later developed an automotive riser that was distributed nationally by Canadian Tire.

In 1998, the provincial government introduced an environmental levy to encourage tire recycling. Now, Shercom Industries had a steady supply of material, but the specialized equipment required to shred and crumb the tires wasn’t available. Shane improvised, researching the technology, piecing together the necessary equipment, finding the money to buy a second shredder when the first one never worked.

When money got tight, Shane took a welding job on the graveyard shift in order to support his family, while spending the day developing the technology and finding markets for his products. Later, a fire destroyed the plant, just days before they began shipping their product after a major overhaul.

But Shane didn’t quit. “I was too naïve to know what I was getting into and too stubborn to quit,” he says. And that’s fortunate for Saskatoon and Saskatchewan. Shercom Industries now employs 30 people, is building a second manufacturing line and operates a secondary plant in Ontario.

Changing the shape of the tire
Shercom Industries is dedicated to putting recycled rubber to good use in a wide range of different products. “We’re farming tires,” explains Shane. “The true recyclers are the individuals, corporations and municipalities that purchase products made from recycled rubber.”

Consider the tires on your car. They’re tough. They resist extreme heat and extreme cold. But they’re also flexible. Recycling changes the shape of the tire, opening up an ever-expanding range of ways in which the rubber can be put to good use.

The first step in tire recycling is shredding. Shercom Industries has a portable shredder so they can go directly onto a site to clear up landfills or private stock piles, immediately reducing the volume by about 65%. There’s a twofold benefit as you get rid of waste and save on the costs to the environment of hauling large amounts of material from place to place.

Next, the shredded tire is processed into crumb, and the steel and fabric are removed. Shercom Industries produces a range of crumb from very coarse to very fine. The finest crumb is like icing sugar and goes into asphalt paving. Coarse crumb provides a flexible base for children’s playgrounds; there’s lots of give so children won’t hurt themselves if they trip and fall.

Shercom has just purchased state-of-the-art rubber paving machines that are self-propelled and lay down a continuous layer of rubber. The rubber paving provides an ideal surface for walking trails, jogging tracks or tennis courts. It’s permeable so there are no puddles. It’s non-slip; it has some give; and it’s durable.

Shercom Industries paved their first driveway in 1998. “It doesn’t have a crack in it to this day,” says Garry Gelech, Shercom’s General Manager.

Rubber Mulch
Shercom Industries is constantly expanding its range in order to provide products at all different value levels. The new manufacturing line will screen, colour and bag the crumb for use as garden mulch.

The mulch is available in four different colours. It’s non-toxic, deters insects and rodents, drains rapidly, resists mold and doesn’t compact.

Curbs, Ramps and Tiles
Shercom products can be used by families, businesses or municipalities. Recycled rubber ramps come in various heights, providing easy access for everything from wheelchairs to lawn mowers to trucks.

Rubber parking curbs weigh 40 pounds; concrete curbs weigh 200. They’re easy to install, environmentally-friendly and come equipped with high-visibility reflective tape.

Interlocking tiles are easy to install over existing hard surfaces.

Home-grown solution
Shercom Industries not only collects our garbage – they transform it into useful products. And they’re local. “Working with communities, corporations and consumers,” says Shane Olson, “we can provide a home-grown solution to recycling all the scrap tires in the province and provide cost-effective, valued-added products.”

By Penny McKinlay (originally published in the Spring 2011 issue of Fine Lifestyles Saskatoon as well as on Penny’s blog, Wanderlust and Words)

Tuesday 12 July 2011

EcoSask News, July 12, 2011

Paint Recycling
Rona has expanded its in-store paint recovery and recycling program to Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia.

Here’s a list of products accepted for recycling.

Out Of Your Tree in Saskatoon
Out Of Your Tree in Saskatoon, a fruit harvesting co-op currently focusing on North Park Richmond Heights, is an urban fruit-sharing group.

Fruit is harvested cooperatively rather than going to waste. A group of volunteers harvests the fruit: one third is left with the home owner, one third is donated and one third is kept by the volunteers.

The group is looking for volunteers and for home owners with fruit or other produce to share. For more information, call Danae at 664-2857 or email

Courtney Milne Exhibit, Mendel Art Gallery
Courtney Milne was one of Canada’s most recognized professional photographers, renowned worldwide for his images of landscape and nature. The Pool Project brings together more than 40 of Milne’s photographs of the surface of his outdoor swimming pool, captured over the course of a decade. It will be on display at the Mendel Art Gallery from June 24 to September 18, 2011.

In the following video, Courtney discusses how he learned to love the Prairie landscape by being out in it from an early age. He talks about how important it is to be out in nature, for “if we revere that which surrounds us, then we’re not going to exploit it.”

VerEco Home
Canada’s first net zero home is on display at the Western Development Museum. Tours are $5 and run from Tuesday to Sunday at 10 am, 11 am, 1 pm, and 2 pm until September 30, 2011. The VerEco Home has 50 affordable, green features that you can incorporate into your home.

Art Competition
Nature Saskatchewan is hosting an art competition to acknowledge the long-term commitment to conservation of Burrowing Owl habitat in this province. The deadline for entries is September 20, 2011. The winner will receive a prize of $1,000, and the print will be presented to Stewards of Saskatchewan participants on their 15-year program anniversary. Here are the competition details. (PCAP newsletter)

Canoe Trips
River Trails of 1885: CanoeSki Discovery Company is offering one-day professionally-guided canoe trips to explore the sites and interpret the events of the 1885 North West Resistance on July 13, August 6, and August 24. They are also offering a two-day tour of Fish Creek and Batoche on August 20-21 and September 3-4.

Women’s Reconnect with Nature Retreat: Clearwater Canoeing offers a variety of guided canoe tours. They are sponsoring two events specifically for women. The Reconnect with Nature Retreat (July 26-28, August 25-29) is held at Forest House, a wilderness lodge in the boreal forest. Retreat activities include kayaking, fishing, massage therapy, guided meditation, shamanism and more.

If you’re looking for something more active, there is a women’s only three-day primer to wilderness canoe tripping and moving water on the rapids on Waterhen River, Meadow Lake Provincial Park (July 18-20, August 8-10).

Permaculture Design Certificate
The Permaculture Research Institute of Saskatchewan is offering an intensive certificate course (72 hours of class and field work) from August 14 to 27 at the University of Saskatchewan.

Permaculture is an integrated design system that is modelled on nature. It is intended to be self-sustaining, integrating the land with all its inhabitants.

What We Can Do
Take advantage of the City of Saskatoon’s Household Hazardous Waste Collection Day on July 23, 2011 to dispose of household, automotive, lawn, and garden chemicals (in their original containers)

Go for a hike at Beaver Creek or Cranberry Flats

Go canoeing on one of our many lakes or rivers

Take photographs of nature

Save energy with SaskEnergy's tips

EcoSask News is a weekly Tuesday feature. Email us if you have news or events that you would like us to include.

Photo Credit: Andrew McKinlay

Monday 11 July 2011

Ready, Fire, Aim

by Andrew McKinlay

Penny and I launched EcoFriendly Sask eight days after I first brought up the idea. (Although I'd been thinking about it for a while before that.)

In that eight days, we researched related organizations and web sites, came up with a name, registered a domain, set up on Blogger, Facebook and Twitter, and started collecting news.

In the first week we've posted an introduction, our first news summary, and a book review. We're gradually gaining followers.

We've stumbled a few times, had a few glitches and miscommunications. But you have to expect those kinds of things. They would have happened even if we'd spent a year planning.

Do we have the ultimate format or content? Of course not. But we're willing to learn, listen to feedback, and steer as we go.

To succeed we need your help. If you've got comments, suggestions, ideas, or complaints, we'd love to hear them. You can leave comments on the blog or on Facebook, or email us at

Ready, Fire, Aim??? “Sometimes the quickest way to find out if something will work is to jump right in and do it. You can always make adjustments along the way. It's the ready-fire-aim approach, and surprisingly, it works a lot better than the more common ready-aim-fire approach. The reason is that after you've "fired" once, you have some actual data with which to adjust your aim. Too many people get bogged down in planning and thinking and never get to the point of action. How many potentially great ideas have you passed up because you got stuck in the state of analysis paralysis (i.e. ready-aim-aim-aim-aim-aim...)?” (Steve Pavlina - Do It Now)

Thursday 7 July 2011

Grass, Sky, Song

In Grass, Sky, Song: Promise And Peril In The World Of Grassland Birds Saskatchewan author Trevor Herriot intertwines the status of grassland birds with his own experiences studying them. Each chapter ends with a profile of a grassland bird — a feature I especially appreciated as I’ve spent much more time in the forest than in the grasslands and subsequently know very little about grassland birds. I really appreciated the Saskatchewan aspect of the book — too often we focus on environmental issues elsewhere (whales, the Amazon, etc.) and ignore the issues in our own back yard.

Herriot’s experiences are filled with awe at the beauty of nature and the resilience of grassland bird species. However, these experiences are tinged with mourning as less birds return each year to the areas Herriot visits. In fact, you could almost read Grass, Sky, Song as a local follow-up to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring [my review]. Unfortunately, the situation doesn’t look good. Although the use of DDT has been banned, other chemicals are still commonly used. Twenty-one of twenty-four grassland bird species are in decline. The chapter on pesticide use is especially hard-hitting as Herriot juxtaposes his discussion of the effects of chemicals on grassland birds with his wife’s experiences with breast cancer.

Is there any hope for grassland birds? A little, but not unless significant change takes place soon.

Ultimately, the most important message might be contained in the brief preface: Herriot didn’t begin to care about grasslands birds until he spent time in their habitat observing them. I’ve read of similar experiences for other environmentalists; it is time spent in nature which made them care. While I’m not advocating for bus tours of the grasslands, it seems that one of the most important things we (that is, people who care about the environment) can do is facilitate experiences which help others overcome what is often referred to as Nature Deficit Disorder.

by Andrew Johnson, reprinted from from seed to bloom

What we can do:
Give hayland birds a break in a wet year
Visit the Saskatchewan Burrowing Owl Interpretive Centre in Moose Jaw
Participate in Operation Burrowing Owl
Visit the Redberry Lake Biosphere Reserve
Positive practices for Prairie landowners (pdf)
Follow Trevor Herriot`s blog
Visit Last Mountain Lake Bird Sanctuary

Tuesday 5 July 2011

EcoSask News, July 5, 2011

Grasslands National Park
Living in Saskatchewan, we tend to take the prairies for granted, but the grasslands are one of the most threatened ecosystems in North America. Only a tiny fraction of the original native prairie remains.

Grasslands National Park is Canada’s only national prairie park and it provides shelter for a variety of endangered plant and animal species, including a small herd of plains bison. In 2010, the park celebrated the first wild-born black-footed ferrets in over 70 years.

In May 2011, Parks Canada announced the addition of 110 square kilometers to the park’s West Block. The land is part of the historic Dixon family ranch lands of the Frenchman River Valley and is home to the greater short-horned lizard and the Mormon metalmark butterfly. The formal acquisition process is expected to take about two years.

Solar Power, Holy Family Cathedral
The large stained-glass windows in the south wall of Holy Family Cathedral are designed to reflect the colour and movement of Prairie skies. But they will also include 1000 solar cells and will collect as much energy as is used by 5 households in a year.

The stained glass window is designed by Canadian artist Sarah Hall, who is the first North American artist to incorporate solar cells in her artwork.

Saskatoon’s Water Consumption
It came as a surprise to many of us when the City of Saskatoon introduced water restrictions and penalties this spring (due to equipment problems and high levels of silt from the high water), but the City was aware that they had a potential problem.

The average person in Saskatoon uses 230 litres of water a day, and the city has one of the highest water usage rates in Western Canada. We are fast exceeding the capacity of the city’s water treatment and storage facilities.

A 2010 report on water conservation commissioned by the City of Saskatoon’s Environmental Advisory Committee indicated that there is a 50% increase in water use during the summer months due to outdoor sprinkling. Toilet flushing accounts for 45% of indoor residential water usage while showers and baths account for an additional 30%.

The City’s website reports that a dripping tap can waste up to 3,400 litres a month and a leaking toilet can waste up to 7,800 litres a month.

The Conference Board of Canada reports that, as a country, Canada consumes 9 times more water than the United Kingdom and double that of a 16-country average. Industry accounts for 68% of Canada’s water usage; agriculture accounts for 12% and domestic water consumption accounts for a further 20%.

Stop Signs: Cars & Capitalism on the Road to Economic, Social & Ecological Decay
Yves Engler will be launching the book he co-authored with Bianca Mugyenyi, Stop Signs: Cars & Capitalism on the Road to Economic, Social & Ecological Decay, on Tuesday, July 5, 7:30-9:30 pm,  at Amigos Cantina (back room), 632 10th Street E.

“A transportation system based on the private car has so powerfully transformed the American environment that a new human species is emerging, say the authors . . . . Homo Automotivis is less social, more aggressive, weaker, poorer and worships at the Church of Automobility, say Bianca Mugyenyi and Yves Engler, the authors of Stop Signs — Cars and Capitalism on the Road to Economic, Social and Ecological Decay.” (Turning the Tide)

Allan Casey, Saskatchewan Festival of Words
Allan Casey, author of Lakeland, will be one of the presenters at the 2011 Saskatchewan Festival of Words from July 14 to 17, 2011, in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

Lakeland: Ballad of a freshwater country won the 2010 Governor General’s award for non-fiction.

EcoSask News is a weekly Tuesday feature. Email us if you have news or events that you would like us to include.

Monday 4 July 2011

Spreading the Word

For some time I've wanted to do something to help the environment, but it's hard to know where to start. I have my own blog (Sustainable Adventure) where I sometimes talk about environmental issues, but I doubt whether my rants really do much to help the environment.

My sister Penny has a blog as well (Wanderlust and Words). I really liked the way she told the stories of people and their passions. She also has a weekly Flavourful Saskatoon post about local food happenings.

What if we were to start a blog (and Facebook and Twitter, of course) to talk about local environmental stories and happenings?

At first we were both a little sceptical as there are already so many environmental organizations and websites. But there aren't any websites focusing on the local environmental news and issues in Saskatoon and Saskatchewan. No one was gathering the news from all the different organizations, each with their own focus. And no one was telling the stories of the local people and their passions.

Did you know that Saskatchewan's newest national park, Grasslands, was recently expanded? Did you know that the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives has a Saskatchewan office that recently released a report on Sustainable Power Options to Complement Wind and Solar? Do you know which businesses are out there if you want to install solar panels or geothermal? Do you know what events are going on this month related to the environment? That's the kind of information we wanted to share.

The more we thought about it, the more it made sense. I was already following the environmental news, and Penny had already developed a reporting style that we thought would work well.

We brainstormed for names and ended up with EcoFriendly Sask. We're not sure where we'll end up, but we're going to start by gathering the news and stories on the environmental front in Saskatoon and Saskatchewan and passing it on via blog, Facebook, and Twitter. We hope to raise awareness, educate, and encourage.

We hope you'll join us! The first issue of EcoSask News will go online tomorrow, Tuesday, July 5, 2011.

Andrew McKinlay