Thursday, 29 December 2011

2011 Highlights

EcoFriendly Sask is now six months old! Like every new publication, we’ve been on a steep learning curve to build our readership and to uncover interesting stories that are relevant to residents of Saskatoon and area.

So many individuals and organizations have encouraged and supported us as we grew. Thank you.

We look forward to continuing to provide you with ideas and information as we work together to promote and protect our natural habitat.

Top Five Posts for 2011
1,200 people have visited EcoFriendly Sask’s website since we started in July 2011. Below is a list, in order, of the five most popular articles:

Native Plant Society of Saskatchewan

Sean Shaw: Opportunity to Make a Difference

CHEP Good Food – Community Gardens

Meewasin Valley Authority

LichenNature: Salvaging and Reclaiming our Biodiversity (tie)

Grounded (tie)

In addition, we’ve had plenty of visitors to the Calendar and the List of Organizations as well as Facebook and Twitter.

Upcoming Stories
2012 will bring stories about urban farming and urban planning to be followed by a wide range of other stories. Do let us know what people, places or events you would like us to profile.

Photo: Northeast Swale - Native Plant Society of Saskatchewan

Thursday, 22 December 2011

A Gift of Nature

We receive so many gifts every day from the world around us – from the air we breathe to the breathtaking beauty of birds, plants, and animals.

Unfortunately, we also spend a great many hours in front of our computers. We hope that you will enjoy this desktop background wallpaper and that it will brighten your day and remind you of the many gifts of nature that we have been fortunate enough to receive.

Happy holidays!

Windows Instructions
  1. Click on one of the links below (NOT the small image above)
  2. Right click on the displayed image
  3. Choose "Set as Wallpaper" or "Set as Background"
Mac Instructions
  1. Right click on one of the links below ( NOT  the small image above)
  2. Choose "Download Linked File" or "Save Link As"
  3. Right click on the download and choose "Show in Finder"
  4. Right click on the file in the Finder and choose "Set Desktop Picture"

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

EcoSask News, December 20, 2011

Sanatorium and Riverbank Hike, January 8
You are invited to join the Saskatoon Nature Society as they look for winter songbirds on the old sanatorium grounds and waterfowl along the river bank from 2 to 4 pm on January 8. For further information, contact the trip leader at 652-5975.

Redberry Lake Winter Workshop, January 10
The Redberry Lake Watershed will be hosting its 5th annual winter workshop from 10 am to 4 pm on Tuesday, January 10 in the Ukrainian National Hall, Hafford. The theme is Real Results: The Benefits of Implementing Best Management Practices on your Farm.

Saskatchewan Environmental Society, January 11
Amy Jo Ehman, author of Prairie Feast: A Writer’s Journey Home for Dinner, will discuss her year of eating local in the Canadian prairies at 7 pm on January 11 at the Cliff Wright Library Auditorium. The event is co-sponsored by the Saskatoon Public Library and the Saskatchewan Environmental Society.

Outdoor & Environmental Education Association, January 21
The Saskatchewan Outdoor and Environmental Education Association will hold their annual general meeting on Saturday, January 21 in Moose Jaw. Shelley Scheibel will speak on Going Nowhere: A Journey to Antarctica.

Effective Commissioning of Existing Buildings, January 25
The Saskatchewan Chapter of the Canada Green Building Council is offering a workshop for building managers and operators to help them get the most out of re-commissioned buildings on January 25 from 9 am to 1:30 pm. Participants will learn how to define their scope, incorporate LEED credit requirements, select the right service provider, evaluate the quality of service provided and avoid common pitfalls. The event will be held in the Candle Room, Atrium Building, Innovation Place, Saskatoon.

First Place, WeLoveBirds
Congratulations to Nick Saunders, Saskatchewan Birds, Nature and Scenery, for winning first place in the WeLoveBirds Winter 2011 photo competition. The winning image of six saw-whet owl chicks can be seen on WeLoveBirds’ website.

Redberry Lake Biosphere Reserve
Redberry Lake Biosphere Reserve has a new website where you can sign up to receive their newsletter. You can also follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

Cameco Meewasin Skating Rink
The Cameco Meewasin Skating Rink opened on December 17. The rink is open daily from 12 noon to 9 pm (11 am to 9 pm on Sundays). Ice skates are provided free of charge, and group rentals are available after hours.

EcoSask News is a weekly Tuesday feature; however, we will not be posting on December 27. We’ll be back again on January 3.

Email if you have news or events that you would like us to include.

Visit EcoFriendly Sask's Calendar page for a more complete list of upcoming events.

You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter or by email (top right corner).

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Tipping Points: What Lies Ahead?

“Human beings are the single most ecologically significant marine carnivore. We’re also the dominant grassland and forest vertebrate herbivore,” says Dr. Bill Rees.

“We’ve used technology to exploit fossil fuels, which enabled us to clean out the oceans and mow down forests. We’ve expanded to fill all accessible habitats and tend to use up all available resources. And all these actions have been supported by a ‘socially constructed’ belief in continuous progress and infinite economic growth.

"Unfortunately, Earth is finite and humans and their economies are embedded in the same ecosystems they are consuming.”

“There is no separation between us and nature,” Dr. Rees says. He warns that the climate and critical ecosystems may be reaching tipping points and there is no guarantee that conditions on the other side will support civilized existence.

Bill Rees* is a professor in the School of Community and Regional Planning at the University of British Columbia. His ecological footprint model is a widely-used measure of human demand for land and resources.

A Collective Response
Dr. Rees believes that we are facing a collective crisis that requires a collective response. However, our culture emphasizes individual responsibility rather than a collaborative society. Our culture has perpetuated a myth that everyone can become a millionaire. This works to individual advantage if one succeeds, but the system is structured so that wealth trickles to the top, leaving large numbers of citizens unemployed or underemployed, homeless, and relying on food banks and charitable donations to survive.

The so-called free market economy was intended to enhance efficiency and growth, but it has come at the expense of equity and true development. Dr. Rees believes that the market economy has failed for two reasons.

Welfare for the Rich First of all, “governments often tax good things, subsidize bad ones, and rescue poorly managed businesses. For example, the banks and General Motors should have been allowed to fail,” Dr. Rees says. “Instead, they were bailed out with taxpayers’ money. It’s welfare for the rich, for the same corporate interests that usually argue for less government and lobby to tear down social safety nets for ordinary people.”

Dr. Rees argues that if there must be public subsidies or loans, they should be redirected from the automobile industry to the manufacture of public transit vehicles and improved transit service—collective assets for the common good whose provision also conserves resources and improves urban environmental quality.

True Cost of Production Secondly, globalization has masked the true cost of production, further undercutting market efficiency. In a global economy, governments tolerate the externalization of significant production costs to improve their nation’s competitive position. But this means that retail prices don’t tell the truth about the costs of goods and services. Sales may increase, but it is at the expense of ecosystems and people.

Dr. Rees points to computers as an example. “We have cheap computers in North America because we’ve offloaded the dirty manufacturing to poor countries along with the pollution,” Dr. Rees says. “We wouldn’t tolerate those levels of pollution in Canada. If the computers were manufactured here, we’d have to use cleaner production processes, and the cost would reflect the difference.”

Dr. Rees believes that if prices reflected the true cost of production, we’d consume fewer resources, the environment would improve, and there would be incentives for increased innovation. For example, the cost of gasoline would rise dramatically if we took into account environmental costs, but this would promote the development of lighter vehicles and fuel-efficient engines. We’d drive smaller cars that were adequate for in-town driving rather than large, gas-guzzling trucks. Meanwhile, our climate-changing carbon emissions would be lower. As matters stand, climate change remains the best known example of massive market failure.

Globalization was intended to enhance efficiency by promoting specialization. Unfortunately, specialization has come at a cost. Canada exports its raw materials, returning to its historic role as ‘hewer of wood and drawer of water.’ We have no fallback position because we’ve lost so much economic diversity, we’ve deskilled our population, and we’ve lost our capacity for self reliance.

“Eastern Canada relies on off-shore OPEC oil,” Dr. Rees says. “If we must develop the oil sands (not necessarily a good idea!), let’s build up our domestic pipeline and refining capacity, keep the jobs in Canada, and export only surplus oil to the States.”

The Common Good
People have become disenchanted, even cynical, about governments. The political right calls for reduced government involvement and reduced taxes. And yet, only governments can act on behalf of the population as a whole. The free market doesn’t provide roads, schools, or hospitals.

“Taxes should be seen as a responsibility rather than a burden,” Dr. Rees says. “Taxes are the means by which people pool their resources to achieve a common good.”

Rees recommends relocalizing many economic activities to maintain economic diversity and multiple employment opportunities. Also, while no one can hope to manage the global economy, we have a fair chance of controlling local or regional economies and their supportive ecosystems.

When it comes to exploiting non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels, we should invest an adequate portion of the revenue in developing renewable alternatives so we have a fallback when the non-renewables run out. Shifting to a sustainable economy also means investing in job training and job placement programs to equip people for employment in sunrise industries as unsustainable sunset industries are phased out. Other social safety nets may also be needed to support families during the transition to a post-carbon economy.

An Intelligent, Compassionate Species
Dr. Rees points out that we focus our attention on making ever more money, and yet there is no longer a correlation between average income levels and health or well-being in wealthy countries. More money will not necessarily protect anyone from catastrophic global change. “Both rich and poor went down with the Titanic,” he says.

 Achieving sustainability means that “we need to shift our cultural values from competitive individualism towards community, cooperation, and a collective interest in repairing the earth for survival.”

“We pride ourselves on being an intelligent, forward-planning, moral and compassionate species, but as we confront one of the largest crises to face us as a species, we so far seem incapable of exercising those qualities for our mutual benefit. I am optimistic that we have the basic abilities to survive – but only if we can muster them decisively in our collective interest.”

* Dr. Rees was in Saskatoon for the launch of Resiliency: Cool Ideas for Locally Elected Leaders, published by the Columbia Institute’s Centre for Civic Governance. He also spoke at the University of Saskatchewan and agreed to be interviewed for an article in EcoFriendly Sask.

Photo Credits: iStock_000017154396, iStock_000017532512

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

EcoSask News, December 13, 2011

Season Change Walking Tour, December 18
Join a Meewasin Valley Centre interpreter for a seasonal walk along the river, followed by hot cocoa and a heritage pomander craft on Sunday, December 18 at 2 pm. Call 665-6888 to pre-register.

Permaculture Research Institute Potluck, December 20
Join the Permaculture Research Institute for their first monthly get-together. The winter solstice potluck will be held in the basement of the Unitarian Centre (213 Second Street E.) from 6:30 to 9:30 pm on Tuesday, December 20.

Zoo Society Drop-In Program, December 28, 29, 30
Drop in at the Saskatoon Zoo and hang out with some cool animals during the Christmas break. Members of the Saskatoon Zoo Society will be on hand with one of the socialized animals from 10:30 am to 12 noon and 1:30 to 3:00 pm on December 28, 29 and 30.

SK Wildlife Federation Award Nominations, January 1
The Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation is calling for nominations for the Bill McDonald Youth Conservationist Award and the Resource Management Conservation Award. The nominations deadline is January 1st, 2012. For more information or to submit a nomination, contact Jean Anne Prysliak at 306-692-8812 or

Evergreen Green Grants Program, January 31
Community groups and non-profit organizations working on community development and environmental initiatives (e.g. native planting, community food gardens, wildlife habitat restoration, workshops) are invited to apply for the Walmart-Evergreen Green Grants. Eligible groups must be working collaboratively with a local municipality or institutional partner. The application deadline is January 31.

Environmental Education & Communication Awards, February 1
Nominations are now open for the Canadian Network for Environmental Education and Communication awards for outstanding individuals and organizations engaged in environmental learning across Canada. The deadline for nominations is February 1. (via SK Outdoor and Environmental Education Association)

Greg Fenty, 2011 Meewasin Conservation Award
Greg Fenty, the Education Coordinator for the Saskatoon Zoo Society, received the 2011 Meewasin Conservation Award. Following university, Greg worked for Environment Canada throughout the Arctic and Saskatchewan. He is an active participant in the Saskatoon Nature Society, volunteers with Meewasin’s Monitoring Avian Productivity Species program, played a key role in establishing the Poplar Bluffs Canoe launch and Saskatoon Young Naturalists, volunteers with the Saskatchewan Marathon, and much more.

Over the past 20 years, Greg has spoken to more than 150,000 youth about ecology and the importance of conserving biodiversity. Congratulations Greg – and thank you!

Rural Weather Network
Saskatchewan farmers have established their own weather network in order to ensure that they receive timely information that is focused on rural areas.

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

Visit EcoFriendly Sask's Calendar page for a more complete list of upcoming events.

You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter or email (top right corner).

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Solar Energy for your Home

Saskatchewan is one of the sunniest places in Canada, so it makes sense to use solar energy. But how does it work? Phil Foster and Brent Veitch of Rock Paper Sun took the time to explain how solar panels work – and how to use them most effectively.

Solar Hot Water
The most common use of residential solar panels is for creating thermal energy. In other words, they help to provide you with hot water. Glycol (antifreeze) circulates through the solar panel(s) and is warmed by the sun. The heat is then transferred to a water storage tank, pre-heating the water that enters your hot water heater.

Two thermal energy panels can meet the needs of a family of four or five. They’ll provide an annual average of 50-70% of your thermal energy needs and will heat your water 100% in the summer. In fact, there’s a device to lower the temperature if it heats up more than would be comfortable.

Solar panels are an effective way to heat water in our homes as we use hot water on a year-round basis. The University of Saskatchewan and the City of Saskatoon take advantage of solar panels to heat some of their indoor swimming pools. Heating a backyard swimming pool this way isn’t very effective as they are only operational for a few months each year. There are less expensive seasonal solar collectors that can be used to heat an outdoor pool, but they need to be drained to prevent freezing.

Approximately 100 homes in Saskatoon have installed solar thermal panels.

Solar Electric
There are only a dozen homes in Saskatoon with solar electrical panels, which operate very differently from thermal panels. Each panel functions like a rechargeable battery. When the sun shines, the panels collect electrical energy. An inverter transforms the electrical charge from DC to AC so that it can be connected to your home’s electrical panel and become part of the system that provides electrical power to your home.

There are a number of different factors to consider before installing solar electric panels:

1. Solar panels work most effectively on a south-facing roof, but there is some flexibility. Your exposure can vary by 45 degrees from true south, and it’s also possible to use east- or west-facing roofs. You’ll need to take into account shading by tall trees or buildings.

2. The electrical utility treats residences with solar electrical panels as power producers and, depending on where you live, provides differing forms of compensation for the power you contribute to the grid.

If you live in one of the older parts of Saskatoon, Saskatoon Light & Power is responsible for the electrical system. They will purchase your surplus energy and reimburse you at approximately 80% of its retail value.

If you live in a newer neighbourhood, SaskPower is responsible for the electrical system, and they employ a net metering system. They will only charge you for the electricity you consume over and above what is provided by your solar panels, but they will not compensate you for any excess power that you contribute to the grid on an annual basis. If you consume 7,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) and produce 6,000 kWh, you will only pay for 1,000. But, if you produce 8,000 kWh and only use 7,000, you will not be reimbursed for the surplus power that you contributed to the provincial grid.

Wherever you live, you will pay the basic infrastructure charge of approximately $20.

3. The size of your roof will also influence how many panels you can install. And it’s a good idea to make sure your roof is in good condition before installing solar panels.

4. Finally, you’ll need to consider your budget. How many solar electrical panels can you afford to install? Your solar installation company will be able to model how much energy your potential system will produce and compare it to your current electrical usage. In general, for every one kilowatt of solar power that you install (under optimal conditions), you will receive 1.5 MWh per year.

Solar electrical panels are expected to last up to 25 years, but it’s hard to know for sure as the technology is so new. Surprisingly enough, they are more efficient when it’s cold.

Rock Paper Sun recommends placing solar panels directly on the roof as placing them at an angle (racking) requires engineering and higher construction costs to ensure they are stable.

If you are building a new home and have not yet finalized your plans, consider setting your roof or your solar panels at a 52 degree angle as this will provide the optimal angle for collecting solar energy.

The cost of solar electrical panels has been decreasing, but the cost of labour has increased. It will take 20 or more years before your system is paid off. In addition, the energy needed to manufacture the panels offsets the benefits.

Residential property owners can currently apply for grants to help subsidize the cost of installing solar panels.

The Saskatchewan EnerGuide for Houses and the federal ecoENERGY Retrofit programs will provide a combined grant of $2,250 for a solar domestic hot water system. The work must be completed and evaluated before March 31, 2012, for the $1,250 federal portion of the grant. The $1,000 provincial grant is available until October 31, 2013.

The provincial Net Metering Rebate Program, administered by the Saskatchewan Research Council, has been extended. The program will reimburse up to 35% of the cost of photovoltaic (solar electrical) installations (up to a maximum of $35,000). You must apply before January 3, 2012, and the work must be completed by August 31, 2012.

Choosing a Solar Energy Company
A number of different companies in Saskatoon provide solar installations. The websites of the Canadian Solar Industries Association and the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners are a useful resource as they list the training and qualifications of their members.

Photo Credit: Rock Paper Sun

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

EcoSask News, December 6, 2011

Nature Photography Exposed, December 8
Robin Karpan, Branimir Gjetvaj, and May Haga, three of Saskatoon’s leading nature photographers, will discuss their work and the lessons they have learned in a panel presentation on Nature Photography Exposed. The evening seminar is hosted by the Saskatoon Nature Society and will begin at 7:30 pm on Thursday, December 8, in Room 106, Biology Building, University of Saskatchewan.

Food Sovereignty in Canada, December 9
Attend the launch of Food Sovereignty in Canada: Creating Just and Sustainable Food Systems on Friday, December 9, from 7:30 to 10 pm at Caffe Sola.

“In case studies of practical action, Food Sovereignty in Canada provides an analysis of indigenous food sovereignty, orderly marketing, community gardens, the political engagement of nutritionists, experiences with urban agriculture and the strengthening of links between rural and urban communities. It also highlights policy-related challenges to building community-based agriculture and food systems that are ecologically sustainable and socially just. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in holistic, healthy and sustainable food production and consumption.”

Farmageddon, Regina, December 10
The Regina Public Library Film Theatre is showing Farmageddon, a documentary about government oversight of farming and food production, at 7 pm on Saturday, December 10. (via RCE Saskatchewan)

Green Christmas Ornaments, December 11
Saskatoon children are invited to visit the Meewasin Valley Centre on Sunday, December 11 from 12 to 4 pm to make a unique ornament from recycled materials. Call 665-6888 to pre-register. Program cost is $2.00.

Swift Fox Recovery in Canada, December 14
Shelley Pruss, Parks Canada, will offer a technical presentation on Swift Fox Recovery in Canada from 12:10 to 12:50 pm on Wednesday, December 14 in the Royal Saskatchewan Museum Auditorium, Regina.

This presentation and the following one are part of the Saskatchewan Prairie Conservation Action Plan’s Native Prairie Speaker Series. Both can be watched live on

Canada Goose Management in Wascana Centre, December 14
Jared B. Clarke, Wascana Centre Authority, will offer a public presentation on Canada Goose Management in Wascana Centre from 7 to 8 pm on Wednesday, December 14 in the Royal Saskatchewan Museum Auditorium.

Christmas Bird Counts
Christmas bird counts have been a holiday tradition for over 100 years. The Saskatoon Nature Society invites everyone to participate, especially beginners. Dress up warmly and head outside to find out how many birds are overwintering in our area this winter.

Christmas bird counts will be held on Saturday, December 17 at Clark’s Crossing, on Monday, December 26 in Saskatoon, and on Monday, January 2 at Pike Lake. Other regional counts are being planned. Call 242-5383 for additional information.

Saskatchewan Birds in Pictures
Nick Saunders, author of the SaskBirder blog, has launched his first book. Saskatchewan Birds in Pictures includes photographs of nearly 120 Saskatchewan birds. You can order your copy online.

Small Boreal Conservation Grants
Small Change Fund is accepting proposals for projects which contribute towards the protection of Canada’s boreal forests, with a focus on First Nations, Inuit, and Metis communities across the boreal region. They accept proposals from registered grassroots charities or registered Aboriginal bands in Canada.

Transition Saskatoon
Transition Saskatoon is now on Facebook and offering a wide range of workshops and events.

EcoFriendly Sask posts informative articles and notices of upcoming events almost daily on Facebook and Twitter. Here are some of the recent posts:

The Drain Game: a video on why and how we can save our Prairie wetlands
The Black-Tailed Prairie Dog, found in and around Grasslands National Park, is now considered a threatened species.

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

Visit EcoFriendly Sask's Calendar page for a more complete list of upcoming events.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Resiliency: Cool Ideas for Locally Elected Leaders

More and more Canadians live in urban centres, and they are confronted by a increasingly complex range of problems – unemployment, urban sprawl, aging infrastructure, safe drinking water, and food security.

Community leaders are looking for practical advice, concrete strategies and critical reflection on the alternatives. The Centre for Civic Governance, an initiative of the Columbia Institute, works to strengthen Canadian communities through sharing best practices, providing tools for locally elected leaders, and progressive policy analysis.

The Centre has published five books in the Going for Green Leadership series. The most recent volume, Resiliency: Cool Ideas for Locally Elected Leaders was launched in Saskatoon on November 23 at McNally Robinson Booksellers.

This is a positive, upbeat book that moves beyond simply identifying the problems to finding ways to address them. All the communities mentioned in the book are Canadian, and they range in size from large cities, such as North Vancouver and Toronto, to small communities, such as Williams Lake and Swift Curent.

The first chapter is a big-picture look at resiliency, its strengths and weaknesses, by Dr. Bill Rees. The following chapters look at urban design, economic challenges, leadership tools, and ideas whose time has come.

Here are a few of the case studies that I found particularly meaningful:

Cities in Transition Ryan Walker, a professor in the department of Regional and Urban Planning, University of Saskatchewan, looks at prairie cities, such as Saskatoon, which have the potential for dramatic transformation rather than incremental change as they confront social, demographic and economic challenges.

Surviving and Thriving at the Council Table Donna MacDonald, a long-time city councillor in Nelson, BC, provides tips for working effectively with other elected officials and community members.

The Craik Sustainable Living Project Reeve Hilton Spencer and Mayor Rod Haugerud were looking for ways in which to maintain viable rural communities. “The rural municipality had 120 acres that we weren’t really using too much, and I thought, well, if I could get ten people to move to Craik that would be an historic step,” explained Reeve Spencer. Step by step, they formed the Craik Sustainable Living Project.

Public Participation in Resource Management Laura Bowman, staff counsel at the Edmonton Environmental Law Center, provides an overview of the legal tools that are available to help communities ensure that there are adequate regulations in place as resource-extraction businesses move to the prairies in growing numbers.

The Case for Watershed Governance Murray Ball, founder of the North Saskatchewan River Basin Council, takes a look at the emerging water issues on the prairies and recommends participation in stakeholder-based watershed protection initiatives and experimentation with alternative treatment options.

Swift Current’s Source Water Protection Story Arlene Unvoas, from Swift Current Creek Watershed Stewards, discusses the key players, initiatives, and the keys to long-term success of community-based watershed protection groups.

Other Volumes in the Going for Green Leadership series:
Going for Green: Leading Edge Policy and Inspirational Initiatives for Communities
Leadership Makes a Difference
Through the Green Glass: Climate Change Tools for Education Leaders
For the Love of Nature: Solutions for Biodiversity