Thursday 21 March 2013

Nature in our Backyard: Saskatoon's Naturalized Parks

For many years, we separated urban life and nature. Cities were for houses. Parks were for playgrounds and sports activities. If we wanted to view nature, we went to the lake or out in the country. And yet, the separation of urban life and nature is artificial and inaccurate. Flocks of Canada Geese take advantage of the mowed areas underneath University Bridge; moose and coyotes, partridges and owls live in our parks and vacant lots. In addition, not everyone has a big backyard or a cottage at the lake. For many of us, access to nature is limited to the nature we find around us in the city.
Lakewood Wetland
Saskatoon’s Naturalized Parks
There are some remnants of native prairie within Saskatoon’s city limits. The largest is the North East Swale, an important wetlands area and wildlife corridor. Mark Thompson Park, just to the east of Circle Drive Alliance Church, contains some native grassland and plants as well as a great deal of history as traces of the Moose Jaw Trail still remain.

Saskatoon’s parks have traditionally been carefully manicured with plantings, lawn, and sports grounds or playgrounds. In the 1990s, the City began looking at naturalized landscaping. The City wanted to provide a pleasing landscape with lower maintenance costs, and local residents wanted to retain the aspen stands in Lakewood Park. A wetland area could also serve a dual function by providing natural stormwater drainage and a home for waterfowl and wetland plants. Lakewood became Saskatoon’s first natural park.

Gabriel Dumont Park is also a naturalized park with large areas of unmowed grass. There are naturalized plantings in several areas, such as the weir and the Mendel Art Gallery.

Birkmaier Park
From Horticulture to Ecology
The City soon realized that naturalized parks bring a whole new range of challenges for Parks employees.

Gary Pedersen was hired in 2011 as the City’s first Natural Areas Supervisor, and he quickly realized that natural areas required a completely different approach from traditional parks. “Park technicians have horticultural training,” explains Gary. “They weed and prune, but they have no experience in managing the land. Maintaining a natural park doesn’t mean that you don’t do anything. You have to understand the ecology.”

The first challenge is establishing an area of native grasses or wildflowers. Native grass seed is expensive and difficult to obtain, so municipalities often substitute a commercial dry land grass mix. However, tall fescue is toxic to animals so it can’t be harvested, and it tends to prevent other plants from growing beside it, so it discourages biodiversity. In addition, native grasses grow very slowly, so they require intensive weeding until they are well established.

In the wild, fire and grazing ensure a continuous cycle of cutback and renewal. Gary and his staff are currently learning how to use controlled burns to ensure the City’s stands of native grasses remain healthy, and he wonders if it would be possible to introduce sheep or cattle to manage the weeds in Gabriel Dumont Park.

The City is planting willows around some of the wetlands to act as a buffer and ensure that the fertilizer used on sports fields doesn’t lead to problems with increased nutrients in neighbouring wetland areas.

Gary is also planning to plant small stands of wildflowers in the hope that they will act as islands of biodiversity and spread through natural seed dispersal.

Public Reaction
Naturalized parks have many advantages. Wetlands provide stormwater drainage. Native plants are drought tolerant and better suited to the environment so they help control weeds, pests, and diseases. In the long-term, there are economic benefits as the parks will require less maintenance (fertilizer, irrigation, mowing). In addition, they provide food and shelter for the City’s wildlife and are an attractive area for residents to walk, watch birds, and relax.

Public reaction, however, tends to be mixed. Some people think natural parks look untidy. Others are worried about rodents and snakes. Most of these fears are unwarranted, but public education is an important part of establishing naturalized parks. For example, some people see alfalfa as a weed, but it provides cover for birds and waterfowl and nectar for butterflies. While aspen stands sometimes raise public concern about youth mischief, they also shelter wild plants, such as Solomon’s Seal and Goldenrod.

Gary sees a need for a variety of different types of parks. The large stands of evergreens in President Murray Park provide a green oasis and attract a different bird population from native grasses. There is a need for skateboard parks as well as natural parks for birdwatchers and nature lovers. “For new Canadians,” Gary says, “our natural parks are their first introduction to Canadian nature.”

Birkmaier Park
Wildlife in the City 
We share the land with insects, birds, rodents, and deer. Wildlife is already present in our cities, and that won’t change. However, we can do a more effective job of understanding and providing for their needs so that we can live peacefully side by side. The City of Winnipeg, for example, takes pride in the fact that Assiniboine Forest hosts a herd of white-tailed deer within city limits.

The City of Edmonton has an integrated management plan and allocates money for natural area land acquisition and conservation. A 2006 study on the state of natural areas paid particular attention to wildlife connectivity – the degree to which plants and animals can move between habitat patches. Parks and vacant lots can serve as stepping stones and corridors, helping plants and animals to move through the city.

In North America, we’re seeing increasing numbers of coyotes within city limits. A large-scale study in Chicago indicates that this need not concern residents. The cases of coyotes attacking people are extremely rare and tend to occur only when people have been feeding the coyotes, thereby lowering the animals’ fear of humans.

A study of coyote scats showed that the most common foods eaten by the coyotes in Chicago were rodents, deer, fruit, and small wild animals. They also raid Canada Geese nests, so they help control urban populations of rodents and Canada Geese, which are often viewed as pests. They may also reduce the number of feral cats, resulting in an increased songbird population. Domestic animals will be safe if they do not run loose.

Heritage Park
Moving Forward
There are a number of issues that will need to be addressed as Saskatoon moves forward. The City currently sets aside land in new neighbourhoods for parks. Can some of this land be designated for natural areas? Can the City’s designers establish wildlife corridors and stepping stones to help wildlife and plants move between habitat patches? Can we establish recreational guidelines so that there is ample space for recreation of all kinds – from bird watching to soccer?

These are all important questions as we recognize the linkages and connections between all forms of life.

Wild About Saskatoon 
If you are interested in learning more about Saskatoon’s naturalized parks, be sure to participate in the tours being offered during the NatureCity Festival, May 25-31, 2013.

Tuesday 19 March 2013

EcoSask News, March 19, 2013


World Water Day Events
There are lots of events to choose from to celebrate World Water Day.

Switch, a film outlining the different methods of producing electricity, along with their pros and cons, will be shown on campus at 7 pm, March 21, in Room 241 of the Arts Building.

Join the SK Eco Network for their monthly film night at 7 pm, March 22, at Root Down Cooperative Café. White Water, Black Gold looks at the impact of the oil sands on water, indigenous communities, and northern icefields. Nicole Hancock from the Safe Drinking Water Foundation will speak about programs they have in place to educate students and the public on safe drinking water.

Howard Wheater, Director of the Global Institute for Water Security, will showcase the Institute’s research highlights in their first two years of operations and outline their plans for future interdisciplinary research from 4-8 pm, March 22, in Convocation Hall, U of S.


Wondering about Water
Water usage: 8 gallons for a cup of tea, 180 gallons for a pound of sugar

Should we start labelling products to identify their water footprint so that we can choose products that have been manufactured with less water?

‘Blue space’ increases our well-being. No surprise to those of us who enjoy cycling on the Meewasin trails or relaxing at the lake.

Environmental Immigrant Bridging Program
Global Infobrokers and ECOCanada are offering a pilot program for immigrant professionals who have a background in the environment sector but have not been able to find employment in their field. The Environmental Immigrant Bridging Program will help qualified individuals bridge into employment through training in business culture and work experience opportunities. For more information, contact Elaine Mantyka (, 664.0500).

Earth Hour, Mar. 23
Join the SK Environmental Society and the City of Saskatoon in celebrating Earth Hour in front of City Hall. There will be street hockey, coffee, tea, and treats from Earth Bound Bakery.

SES Book Club, Apr. 2
The SES’ environmental book club will be discussing The Legacy by David Suzuki at 7 pm on April 2.

Bluebirds, Apr. 6
Join the Saskatoon Nature Society as they look for bluebirds and other early spring migrants at Pike Lake on April 6 from 9 am to 2 pm.

My National Parks
Explore Canada’s national parks, in person and virtually, with the My Pass Parks Activity Guide for iPad (also available as a PDF). The My Parks Pass program also includes free park entry for Grade 8/Secondary 11 classes.

Our commodities are fast running out: the need for sustainable sourcing

Ditching packaging waste – dissolvable, disappearing packaging

Changing our Vocabulary
“Sustainability is dead. Or at least the entire language we use to talk about it should be buried.” Time for a more positive message.

Penny is going on holidays. EcoSask News will return on April 2.

EcoSask News is a weekly round-up of local news and events. Email us if you have items you would like us to include. Additional upcoming events can be found on our Calendar.

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

Tuesday 12 March 2013

EcoSask News, March 12, 2013

Wild Birds Unlimited, Mar. 16 

Wild Birds Unlimited (330A-2600 8th St. E) is holding their grand opening on March 16 (10-5:30) and 17 (10-4). There will be lots of special guests on March 16 including an Arctic wolf, a burrowing owl, and a Swainson’s Hawk. The full schedule of events is available online.

CurioCity, Mar. 22 & 23
Don’t miss CurioCity, a two-day, community-focused urban planning conference to be held at the University of Saskatchewan on March 22 and 23. The keynote speaker is Larry Beasley, the retired Chief Planner for the City of Vancouver. Professionals, community leaders, and students will share their ideas on everything from infill projects to food security.

Larry Beasley will also be speaking at 7 pm on Wednesday, March 20, at the Roxy Theatre. His topic is “Sustainable and Healthy New Neighbourhoods: The Fundamental Building Blocks of Tomorrow’s Saskatoon.”

Cities & the Environment
More than half the world’s population lives in cities. But is that good or bad for the environment? Here are just a sampling of the environmental issues that cities need to address:

Natural gas garbage trucks - quieter, about 20% cleaner, 30% savings on fuel costs

The dos and don’ts of safe urban cycling

Free public transit has led to less congestion in Europe but increased vandalism in the US – why?

Bikes are good for business – retailers snap up storefronts along bikeways

Combatting residential sprawl and ever-increasing infrastructure requires regional planning

Detailed advice on increasing walkability in Western Canadian cities

Joel Salatin – Beyond Organic Farming, Mar. 20-22
The Permaculture Research Institute of Saskatchewan and Cool Springs Ranch are hosting a three-day, live streaming of a workshop by Joel Salatin on March 20, 21, and 22. The first day will provide practical advice on sustainable urban farming. The second day will cover building a poultry farm from scratch, while the third day will discuss managing livestock.

To register for the Saskatoon PRI event, email and ask for a registration form. To attend in Endeavour at Cool Springs Ranch, call 306-547-4252 or

Gardening is a hot topic at the moment.

Gardening with Native Plants - If you’re in Regina, don’t miss hearing Dr. Fidji Gendron, FNUC, and Sarah Vinge-Mazer, Nature Saskatchewan, speak on Gardening with Native Plants on March 28 at the George Bothwell Branch of the Regina Public Library. (SK PCAP Native Prairie Speaker Series)

Backyard Garden Sharing Program - EcoFriendly Sask is pleased to support CHEP Good Food Inc.’s backyard garden sharing program. If you have backyard garden space that you are not using, or if you are looking for space to grow your own food, contact Gord Androsoff (, 655-4575 ext. 229). 

Advocacy & Change
What is the best way to change people’s behaviour? Here are some suggestions:

Can gamification encourage us to lead more sustainable lives – some encouraging examples

Harnessing narrative and emotion to build public support for environmental solutions

Hedonistic sustainability – a waste-to-energy plant that is also a ski slope

EcoSask News is a weekly round-up of local news and events. Email us if you have items you would like us to include. Additional upcoming events can be found on our Calendar.

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

Monday 11 March 2013

CurioCity: Environmentally Conscious Urban Planning

EcoFriendly Sask is pleased to provide an EcoFriendly Action Grant of $500 to the University of Saskatchewan Planning Students’ Association to help cover expenses for CurioCity, a two-day, community-focused conference on March 22 and 23. Their goal is to engage academy, community, and professional urban enthusiasts in a discussion about the urban workings of Saskatoon.

Larry Beasley, the retired Chief Planner for the City of Vancouver, will deliver the keynote address. His talk will focus on the implementation of urban planning ideas, highlighting the administrative and political challenges to getting ideas off the ground and into the city. This will be followed by discussions led by community members, professional planners and students.

The conference will address environmentally conscious transportation choices (bicycle facilities design workshop; local food security (community food mapping exercise); and environmentally, economically, and community-sensitive infill projects.

“We see a direct connection between the environment and the content of CurioCity, as it is important to educate Saskatonians on how the environment informs urban planning decisions, and how it is a priority that will shape the growth and development of our city,” explain the student organizers.

The conference schedule and registration information is available online. The public is encouraged to attend.

Larry Beasley will also be speaking at 7 pm on Wednesday, March 20, at the Roxy Theatre. His topic is “Sustainable and Healthy New Neighbourhoods: The Fundamental Building Blocks of Tomorrow’s Saskatoon.”

Thursday 7 March 2013

Backyard Garden Sharing Program

EcoFriendly Sask is pleased to provide $10,000 to CHEP Good Food Inc. to support the enhancement of the Backyard Garden Sharing Program.

CHEP has been the leader in community gardening in Saskatoon for many years. In the summer of 2012 there were more than 22 community gardens in the city with more than 700 plots available to gardeners. In addition, CHEP has partnered with the Mennonite Central Committee for several years on a Youth Garden Project that provides the opportunity for young people (11-14 years) in core neighbourhoods to learn to grow and sell fresh organic produce.

A Backyard Garden Sharing Program has been part of CHEP’s network, bringing together people who are passionate about gardening. However, demand has exceeded the staff’s capacity and they have not had the resources needed to adequately support the program. With assistance from EcoFriendly Sask, CHEP will be able to hire a coordinator for the program.

“A person dedicated to this project will enable CHEP to advertise the program, spend adequate time facilitating partnerships that have the greatest chance for success, provide support to both homeowners and gardeners during the growing season, and find a use for any excess produce,” says Gord Androsoff, CHEP’s Community Gardening Coordinator.

Backyard gardening, with larger plots of land than community garden plots, provides a greater supply of local food to the gardener, thereby increasing local food security. It also gives individuals a chance to work the soil, watch plants grow, and develop a greater appreciation and understanding of nature. At its best, it can build friendships between gardener and owner.

Similar programs, such as Sharing Backyards and Yes in My Backyard, are offered in other Canadian cities. Urban Gardenshare is a US program.

CHEP will be topping up the money provided by EcoFriendly Sask. “Our Board sees the value in partnering with funders to boost new or emerging programs to a level at which their impact can be evaluated,” Gord explains.

If you have backyard garden space that you are not using, or if you are looking for space to grow your own food, contact Gord Androsoff (, 655-4575 ext. 229). You can also sign up at Seedy Saturday on March 9, 2013.

EcoFriendly Sask is a small, personal undertaking, designed to inform, encourage, and support Saskatchewan environmental initiatives. EcoFriendly Sask provides an online publication as well as grants to support local environmental initiatives.

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Discover Uganda, Share Gardening Expertise

Francis Baita, an AgroEcology student in Kasese, Uganda, has established a garden and is training 13 students in the basics of urban farming, with the help of an EcoFriendly Action Grant.

Watch My Garden Grow
Francis updates us regularly on his progress (Financial Support for Spin Farming, Setting Up the Garden Plot). He wrote to us this week to say that the young people are getting skills, the vegetables are growing well, and the drip irrigation system is quite good.

Francis has divided his garden into four plots: one with drip irrigation and a second that is hand watered with watering cans. The third and fourth plots are reserved for vertical gardens and square foot boxes that will be developed in March and April.

Help Me 
Francis is very eager to receive on-site training and mentoring from an experienced Canadian gardener. He will provide simple meals and accommodation in his home. In return, the volunteer gardener would receive an up-close look at everyday life in Uganda. You would have to pay your own airfare, but it would be so much more valuable than simply visiting the country as a tourist.

If you are interested in helping Francis with his garden, email EcoFriendly Sask, and we’ll provide you with additional information.

Tuesday 5 March 2013

EcoSask News, March 5, 2013

Untitled Are you intrigued by owls? If so, be sure to participate in these upcoming events for children and adults:

March 16 – 5-11 year olds – Meet Spirt, the one-eyed Great Horned Owl at the Saskatoon Zoo and discover what’s inside an owl pellet. Pre-registration is required.

March 20 – Erin Bayne will speak on Burrowing Owl Habitat Associations in Room 1039, Education Building, University of Saskatchewan (PCAP SK Native Prairie Speaker Series)

April 13-14 – Join the Saskatoon Nature Society on an overnight trip to look and listen for owls in northern Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan’s Forests 
The Ministry of Environment’s 2012 Report on Saskatchewan Forests covers wildfire disturbance, insect and disease disturbance, proportion of the sustainable harvest utilized, and regeneration.

Mary Houston, Alumni of Influence 
Congratulations to Mary Houston who has been named a 2013 Alumni of Influence by the College of Arts and Science, University of Saskatchewan. Mary co-founded Saskatoon Young Naturalists and has banded thousands of birds - including 5,340 Bohemian Waxwings. She has written over 102 publications and served on the executive of many different organizations, including the Canadian Nature Federation, Saskatchewan Natural History Society, and the Saskatoon Nature Society.

Environmental Activism Awards
Send in your nominations for the Saskatchewan Eco Network’s Environmental Activism Awards to by March 30, 2013.

Making a Difference
It took Minnie and Mickey Mouse to save the Asian rain forests.

Stop wasting time trying to convince those who refuse to be convinced.

Local initiatives can make a difference - pop-up urbanism in Christchurch.

Green Houses
The Government of Saskatchewan offers a number of GoGreen grants for homeowners. They include a Net Metering Rebate Program, Energy Efficient Rebate for New Homes, and Geothermal and Self-Generated Renewable Power Loans.

10 Green Building Tips – from drainage to light bulbs and mould.

Can a Net Zero Energy House also become Net Zero Water by capturing and treating its own water?

Turn your garage into a food factory – Red Deer is test driving the concept.

Coffee grounds work well for fertilizing plants, keeping fleas off your dog, and cleaning drains.

Urban farms foster community and healthy eating (podcast).

Latin America Walks & Cycles 
Untitled Buenos Aires has completed 100 kilometres of protected bike lanes, offers interest-free loans to promote bicycle purchases, and 1000 free public bikes. La Nación, a local newspaper, found that a 7 km journey to or from the city centre at rush hour took nearly twice as long by bus or car as by bike.

Volunteer masked crusaders are defending pedestrians in Mexico City.

EcoSask News is a weekly round-up of local news and events. Email us if you have items you would like us to include. Additional upcoming events can be found on our Calendar.

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