Thursday, 14 October 2021

Exploring Your Neighbourhood: Tips for Curious Urban Naturalists

the path to Innovation Place

“I would never dream of walking a woodland pathway or a riverbank or a sweep of Puget Sound shoreline without my binoculars. Now I had declared the sidewalk my path. That meant I had to carry my binoculars everywhere.” (Lynda Lynn Haupt, Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness) 
We don’t always have the time to visit a wilderness area, but that doesn’t stop us from exploring the nature which is all around us – even in the city. Here are just a few ideas to help you jumpstart explorations of your neighbourhood. 

Macro Explorations 
Invest in a magnifying glass or use the magnifier app on your phone to take a close look at the veins in a leaf, a snowflake, or an insect. 

Explore the cracks in the sidewalk. What plants can you identify? 

Lift up a rock. What do you find underneath? (Be sure to replace the rock once you’ve had a good look.) 

Seasonal Celebrations 
Go for an evening/night walk every month when the moon is full. 

See if you can guess when the first pelicans or other migratory birds will arrive back in your community. Saskatoon residents can participate in the annual Pelican Watch Contest

Mark on your calendar the first time you spot a robin, a prairie crocus, or other flowers in the spring. What is the last day you see a robin or prairie flower in the fall?
American Robin

Walk Differently 
Take a walk around your neighbourhood looking for natural objects that are somehow alike (the same colour, the same shape). 

Slow down and listen - what can you hear? 

Take a walk at a different time of day – early in the morning or late at night. Look for bats swooping over a river or lake at dusk as they search for insects. 

Take a close look at one or two trees. What kind of tree are they? What lives in the tree (bird nests, moth cocoons, insects, spider webs)? Feel the texture of the bark. 

What birds do you see the most frequently? Choose one and see what you can learn by watching the way it moves. 

Choose a small plot of land (in your garden or a nearby area) and visit it regularly. How many different plants, insects, and other animals can you observe in your small area? How does it change from month to month? What is the soil like? What kind of rocks can you see? Take photographs or record your findings in a journal. 

Draw a map of your neighbourhood and include your favorite natural features – the puddles where the pigeons take a shower, the rowan tree with its bright red berries.

Winter Explorations 
Don’t let snow and cold keep you indoors. There are so many ways to enjoy nature in winter – from snowshoeing and winter camping to pishing for chickadees and identifying animal tracks. 

Look for insects in the snow. 

Decorate a Christmas tree for the birds. What birds does it attract? Which treats are the most popular? 

Further Reading 
The Urban Bestiary, Lyanda Lynn Haupt 

Be sure to download Nature Companion, EcoFriendly Sask’s free nature app, to your phone for easy access to information about the plants, trees, or animals you spot on your walks (downloadable directly from the Nature Companion website). 

EcoFriendly Sask supports Saskatchewan environmental initiatives through an online publication, an events calendar, small grants, and the Nature Companion website/app. You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or subscribing by email (top right corner).

Tuesday, 12 October 2021

EcoSask News, October 12, 2021

fall colors

Upcoming Events 
There will be a virtual Wild Ecol Seminar Series presentation on pronghorn and mountain goat population monitoring at 3:30 pm, Oct. 15. 

Ryan Fisher will describe a day in the life of the curator of vertebrate zoology at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum at Nature Regina’s meeting at 7:30 pm, Oct. 18. 

The Saskatchewan Environmental Society and the Saskatoon Public Library are offering an online presentation from 7-8:30 pm, Oct. 19, on uranium: premises, promises & predicaments. 

There will be an online presentation on eagle research and conservation in the intermountain west at the Saskatoon Nature Society meeting at 7:30 pm, Oct. 21. 

Looking Ahead 
The Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council is hosting a fall workshop from 9-11:45 am, Nov. 4. 

SaskOutdoors is offering a remote first aid course in Lumsden Nov. 12-14. 

Full event details are available on the EcoFriendly Sask Calendar 

Local News 
The Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park and Zoo has won an industry excellence award for the prairie dog exhibit and the Saskatoon Zoo Society for its virtual environmental education programs for children in K-8 that incorporate real-time animal interactions. [City of Saskatoon

The Saskatoon Freeway project has released its preferred route following public consultation. In addition, Partners for Growth has released a planning district zoning bylaw.

Peaceful Coexistence 
“When negative encounters arise between wildlife and humans, it isn’t a sign that coexistence is failing; it’s a sign that it’s time for those efforts to begin in earnest. Coexistence is a daily intention. A thoughtful and regular pursuit of behaviours and philosophy that humans and wild animals can adapt to living in the same spaces.” [The Fur-Bearers

The West is a “wiry place, containing enough fencing to circle the equator 25 times. Sage grouse, peregrine falcons, and other birds collide with fences, and ungulates must navigate an endless obstacle course.” Fences trap, injure, and kill large animals; separate mothers from calves; and exclude herds from prime habitat. The research done by fence ecologists will be important in identifying solutions. [Undark

Energy Gains & Losses 
Interprovincial connections between electricity grids are an essential element in delivering the clean electricity that is the key to decarbonizing Canada’s economy. [Pembina Institute

The environmental impact of using a ride-hailing app (Uber or Lyft) is 30-35% greater than using a personal vehicle, even if the entire app-based fleet is electric. Any potential benefits are lost when an Uber or Lyft driver travels from one drop-off to the next pickup, or simply drives around waiting for their next fare to be assigned. “Taxes and other public policy approaches could help hold down the external costs of app-based travel, the researchers suggest, for example by encouraging ride-pooling through Uber and Lyft, encouraging app-based travel to destinations where parking is in especially short supply, and discouraging it on routes that are already well served by public transit.” [Anthropocene]
Woolybear caterpillar

Not in my Back Yard? 
“Why do insects have to be either beneficial or pests?” Every insect species is an essential “part of a complex web of interacting communities and ecosystems. Every (native) species plays an integral role that would be missed if it were gone … If you lean into the idea that you’re creating [garden] habitat for as many species as you can, success comes easily. Instead of worrying about what’s eating your plants, you’ll start to notice which plants attract the most caterpillars or grasshoppers. Then, you’ll notice where the crab spiders or assassin bugs like to hang out, trying to take advantage of that abundance of prey. Birds will appear too, catching those insects to feed their families or fuel their migration flights. A complex mass of dynamic interactions will be taking place literally in your back yard – and you’ll have a front row seat.” [The Prairie Ecologist

Check out EcoFriendly Sask’s Nature Companion, a free nature app for Canada’s four western provinces. 

EcoFriendly Sask
supports Saskatchewan environmental initiatives through an online publication, an events calendar, small grants, and the Nature Companion website/app. 
You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or subscribing by email (top right corner).

Thursday, 7 October 2021

Community Highlight: Public Pastures – Public Interest

1. How and when did you form your group? 
Public Pastures – Public Interest (PPPI) was formed in late 2012 in response to the federal government’s announcement that the PFRA program was being dissolved. This meant that the native prairie pastures scattered across Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Manitoba were to be returned to provincial jurisdiction and potentially developed and sold. PPPI was born at a meeting of pasture stakeholders, people who made regular use of these publicly owned pastures – managers, patrons who grazed cattle on the pastures, hunters, birdwatchers, artists, First Nations, and other citizens for whom these community pastures are a central part of their homeland. We were united in our commitment to preserving these grasslands, both their biodiverse health and their public ownership. Although the PFRA has been dissolved and the lands returned to provincial jurisdiction, they are still publicly owned and PPPI has evolved to advocate for native prairie grasslands and ecosystems more widely. Our mission is now to “Retain and conserve publicly-owned grasslands and advocate for the conservation and protection of all Saskatchewan’s prairie ecosystems.” 

2. What are your principal activities and why do you believe they’re important? 
Our activities in the service of these old-growth grasslands are varied but serve four main goals: to retain public ownership, to manage the lands to protect ecosystem health and respect the needs of all people who use and care about them, to enhance community appreciation for and knowledge of these natural treasures, and to engage in research to document the past, present, and possible futures of the grasslands. 

Grasslands are one of the most endangered and least protected biomes on earth, and in Saskatchewan more than 90% of our original grasslands have been lost to development. Sadly, we continue to lose native grasslands as well as wetlands and bush throughout the province, leading to the rapid decline of several species at risk, severely hampering our ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and damaging our treaty obligations to Indigenous people. 

To influence policies and decisions relevant to the grasslands, we spearhead letter-writing campaigns to all levels of governments, meet with government officials, hold news conferences, and sponsor educational grassland tours and film events. We also circulate lists of suggested issues and questions to discuss with candidates during municipal, provincial, and federal election campaigns to bring grassland preservation issues to the attention of voters and politicians. 

PPPI monitors government attempts to privatize our public lands, bringing these actions to public attention and working to prevent them. We consult with companies planning developments on native grasslands, such as windfarms, potash mines, and landfills to help them minimize the damage to fragile ecosystems, and we help local communities organize to respond to such proposals. We also combine our efforts with other conservation groups such as Nature Canada, Nature Saskatchewan, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Ducks Unlimited Canada, Citizens Environmental Alliance, Saskatchewan Alliance for Water Sustainability, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, Saskatchewan Environmental Society, the National Farmers Union, Heritage Saskatchewan, South of the Divide Conservation Action Program, the Prairie Conservation Action Plan, and, of course, EcoFriendly Sask. We are members of consultation groups such as the recently formed National Grasslands Taskforce and the Transboundary Grassland Partnership. 

3. What have been your successes to date? 
With respect to our initial goals to protect the now-former PFRA pastures, the province agreed to three conditions: 1) only patrons could buy the pastures and any sales would include a conservation easement, 2) no breaking, drainage, or clearing would be allowed, and 3) pastures were to be operated as wholes and not subleased to individual patrons. To our knowledge, no former provincial or federal pastures have been sold. In 2019-2020, Environment and Climate Change Canada arranged to operate three former PFRA community pastures in southwestern Saskatchewan (Govenlock, Nashlyn, & Battle Creek), resulting in 80,155 hectares of land becoming the Prairie Pastures Conservation Area, with habitat technicians monitoring species at risk. 

We were key contributors to Saskatchewan’s provincial guidelines on the siting of wind energy projects, and our advocacy made sure that native grassland would be clearly indicated in the avoidance zone requirements. 

Our actions related to specific development projects have prevented the destruction of several areas of native prairie. For instance, a proposed windfarm on native grassland near Chaplin Lake was prevented as was a golf course proposed for grassland within the White Butte Provincial Recreation Area. We facilitated public critique of the siting of a potash mine near Sedley, leading to stricter environmental mitigation requirements. We helped inform the community and company about problems with a planned landfill at Avonlea on a privately owned piece of native prairie next to the Caledonia-Elmsthorpe Community Pasture, and the project was halted. 

PPPI is a supporter of the Treaty Land Sharing Network, which connects Saskatchewan farmers with Indigenous people to support treaty rights by providing safe access to farmlands for activities such as foraging, hunting, and ceremonies. 

In a broader sense, our proudest accomplishment is in knowing that we have helped to get native grassland onto the agendas of national and regional conservation organizations and governments at all levels. Canadians are beginning to understand that native grasslands are rare and precious places worthy of protection and good stewardship. 

4. What would you like to achieve in future?
Saskatchewan needs a complete inventory of its remaining grasslands in order to most effectively direct conservation efforts to keep public control of these natural resources and to include these areas in nature-based climate solutions which are becoming increasingly central to international plans to mitigate and adapt to climate change. 

Grazers, such as bison or cattle, are essential for healthy grassland ecosystems. Thus, efforts to support a sustainable livestock grazing industry, operating with best rangeland management practices, are increasingly important as farmers and ranchers struggle to cope with the challenges of climate change. 

We hope to increase public appreciation for, and thus motivation to protect, the multiple wonders and value of our native grasslands. Native landscapes, which means grasslands in the prairies, provide solutions to so many problems, including carbon sequestration, air and water filtration, flood and drought protection, and human health issues and disparities. 

5. If you could have 3 wishes for improving your community, what would they be? 
Stronger relationships with Indigenous conservation groups and projects, 
More public appreciation of the value of grasslands for carbon sequestration and biodiversity, and 
Better policies to support grassland preservation. 

6. Are there volunteer opportunities with your organization? 
If so, please describe them and indicate how people can contact you. We welcome volunteers from across the province to contribute to these prairie conservation efforts. Volunteers can take part in actions of their own communities, as in the consultations for specific windfarm, mining, and landfill projects. Volunteers can also introduce people to the beauties of their local landscape by organizing tours and events sponsored by PPPI. We need as many “eyes on the land” as possible to help monitor the health and state of public grasslands and parkland and proposed sales and cultivation of these lands. We also need volunteer help to achieve a better social media presence. To contact PPPI, please email 

See Also: 

Photo Credit: Trevor Herriot 

EcoFriendly Sask supports Saskatchewan environmental initiatives through an online publication, an events calendar, small grants, and the Nature Companion website/app. You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or subscribing by email (top right corner).

Tuesday, 5 October 2021

EcoSask News, October 5, 2021


Upcoming Events 
Find out about all-season composting at an online Regina Public Library presentation at 7 pm, Oct. 7. 

Join Meewasin staff in removing invasive European buckthorn from Saskatoon Natural Grasslands on Oct. 12 or 15 (morning and afternoon sessions). 

The Saskatchewan Association for Environmental Law is holding its annual general meeting online at 7 pm, Oct. 14. 

Library of Things, Saskatoon, will be open for pick-ups by reservation from the back door in the alley from 1-4 pm, Oct. 15. 

Looking Ahead 
The Saskatchewan Environmental Society is offering online training on Nov. 5 & 19 to help non-profits and small businesses operate their buildings more efficiently. 

Full details on all upcoming events can be found on the EcoFriendly Sask Calendar

Local News 
Iain Phillips, Saskatchewan’s senior ecologist for aquatic macroinvertebrates, says that climate change and environmental degradation are playing havoc with aquatic insects. “And what happens to the insects he studies can be a valuable early warning sign of environmental problems.” [CBC News

The City of Regina is exploring noise reduction options in response to residents’ complaints about noise on the Ring Road. [Global News

Making Smart Choices 
“Pumped hydro has an important role to play in the renewable energy transition, but only where projects cause minimal harm to people and nature” [The Conversation

In the last 3 years, 10% of Vancouver’s building permits were in areas prone to flooding. Warmer temperatures will strain electrical distribution systems and transportation systems throughout the country. We need to publicize the risks, build for resilience, and take climate change into account [Canadian Institute for Climate Choices

Bad for us and bad for the planet – traces of 122 different pesticides in the 12 most polluted fruit and vegetable products, many with links to cancer and groundwater contamination [The Guardian

Canadians who purchase cheap fast fashion from online retailers may be exposing themselves to potentially toxic chemicals. For example, a jacket for toddlers contained almost 20 times the amount of lead that Health Canada says is safe for children [CBC Marketplace

An international review of the cruise ship industry “finds that cruising is a major source of environmental pollution and degradation, with air, water, soil, fragile habitats and areas and wildlife affected” [Science Daily]

Read, Watch, and Play 
A Pocket Guide to Pigeon Watching: Getting to Know the World’s Most Misunderstood Bird by Rosemary Mosco is “part field guide, part history, part ornithology primer, and altogether fun” [Saskatoon Public Library

11 new bird- and nature-themed books for kids – from hummingbird migration to dandelion seed travels and piping plover parents [Audubon

Orphaned, an hour-long documentary, examines Alberta’s ‘orphaned’ wells. “Thousands sit idle, ‘orphaned’ by companies that went bankrupt and left the pricey cleanup for taxpayers to take care of." A problem but also an opportunity for new purposes and new jobs [Calgary Herald]

In Season, a new video game, you’re invited to join a bicycle-riding woman as she travels around the world documenting plants, animals, and cultures before a mysterious cataclysm washes them away [Season]

Free! In honour of our 10th anniversary, we’re giving away individual or sets of our souvenir glasses. Email us if you’re interested. Supplies are limited, so act fast :-)

EcoFriendly Sask supports Saskatchewan environmental initiatives through an online publication, an events calendar, small grants, and the Nature Companion website/app. You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or subscribing by email (top right corner).