An Empowering Experience of Trust and Friendship

Lena is a Group 4 participant in the Canadian Conservation Corps.

I had no idea what was awaiting me as I stepped out of the plane in Toronto.

I knew I was going to meet fellow CCC participants, receive training, go canoeing, receive more training, then go home. But little did I expect to become completely immersed in what was a profound discovery of self.  Through an assortment of stunningly meaningful connections with fellow participants I emerged as part of a well-rounded team we call the Fourtagers.

Yes, we did learn some hard skills. I learned to truly canoe (not the way I was casually shown to as a kid). I learned how to do a canoe-over-canoe rescue along with some fancy paddling techniques, useful knots, portaging, tarp shelter building and cooking over a fire. As importantly, as a group we learned to trust one another and improve our leadership and teamwork skills. I learned about meaningful leadership, and how to listen and be heard.

Paddling Algonquin Provincial Park

Algonquin Provincial Park is the land of the lakes, a generally unfamiliar landscape to me. We paddled from tiny, glass-smooth lakes to giant, stormy ocean-like lakes. We hiked through beautiful, mixed forests with heavy barrels on our backs and canoes on our shoulders. As trees were starting to shift into their autumn colours, paths under our feet were becoming covered in fallen leaves and dotted with mushrooms of all colours. As a fairly large group, our wildlife sightings were not very frequent,  however, we got daily glimpses of a few birds such as ospreys, kingfishers and mergansers. At night, with starry skies above our heads and firelight glinting in our tired eyes, we often heard the eerie calls of the loons.

It was not just the stunning natural beauty of Algonquin, but also that of the Fourtagers. It was the brief interactions and deep conversations with one another, and the profound fireside group discussions, that resulted in the development of lovely, and what are sure to be long-lasting, friendships.

What I take from this empowering and genuine experience is a little learning from every member of this cohort as well as our two incredible Outward Bound leaders. And among that, the importance of trust, communication, collaboration and meaningful interactions.

My Conservation Odyssey

It is so rewarding to feel as if you are making a change, influencing minds of the new generation. A love for nature, an appreciation for wildlife and knowledge of the benefits of conservation all start at a young age. In a time when too many kids spend their years indoors to learn, study and also have fun, we need to encourage those few that have an interest in a more sustainable and diverse future.

At my Canadian Conservation Corps stage two field experience position at the Calgary Zoo I have been creating pre and post zoo program information. My CCC cohort Luke and I have been researching the amazing conservation work the zoo has been doing for the Vancouver marmot, the black tailed prairie dog and the whooping crane to name a few. I was pleased to find that the Calgary Zoo is the fifth in conservation organizations worldwide in releasing endangered animals into the wild.

marmot

I initially had reservations about working at a zoo but this great place has met and surpassed my expectations in the realm of animal conservation. Here the animals have a varied diet and different sorts of enrichment items and activities that are introduced into their habitats. This is done to keep their minds quick and active as well as exercise different muscle groups. Animals that are well taken care of generally live much longer than they do in the wild. Because they live such long lives, animals suffer the same health problems as humans: stiff joints, slower minds and aching muscles. These enrichment items help mitigate the problems caused by old age.

Another conservation effort in which the zoo takes part is the Species Survival Program (SSP). It has been described as the Tinder for tigers! There are ledgers and family histories of every animal within the program this ensures the genetic diversity of the offspring of endangered animals.

sandhill crane calgary zoo

In addition to rehabilitating animals and taking part in the SSP the Zoo hosts school programs that teach K-12 students about various scientific principles. This is where Luke and I come in. The education department of the Calgary Zoo wants to give teachers more tools to engage with children about the benefits of conservation. We have been writing activities and gathering information based on everything from penguin poop to GMOs. These activities also need to have these criteria: relevant to the school program, relevant to youth, relevant to zoo goals, values, issues, gets the students outside, includes literacy and numeracy components relevant to the Alberta curriculum, introduces individual animals at the zoo. On top of that all of these activities need to be doable in one class period. We clearly have our work cut out for us!

People tend to enjoy and appreciate things more when they can engage with them personally. This is the challenge of conservation today. With too many people spending their free time inside and living in cities with limited green space there is little opportunity to build a personal connection to nature. What Luke and I are doing at the zoo and other similar programs will hopefully shift the trend towards a greater appreciation for nature. We work with so many passionate people who feel the same way, it’s hard to believe otherwise!

The Gift of Expedition

For two weeks our group of intrepid adventurers paddled through the stunning natural splendor of Clayoquat Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

It’s difficult to describe the appreciation I felt (and still feel) for this majestic landscape. There were rolling forested mountains filling the horizon in every direction; and abundant wildlife like seals, porpoises and eagles keeping us constantly on the lookout.

catface ridge milties beach CCC mountain ocean sea
Catface Ridge as seen from Milties beach.

As we neared the halfway point of the expedition we reached the furthest campsite from our launch point — a peaceful crescent sand beach called Halfmoon Bay, where we would all get the chance to spend a night solo-camping in tarp shelters. It was here, in the presence nature and in the absence of all else, that I felt an enveloping sense of tranquility and clarity. Providing the inspiration for my journal entry that evening; The Gift of Expedition.

“There is a certain calming exhilaration that comes from the simplicity and even obscurity of an expedition. I do not know the time, I just know the sun has risen. I do not know the day, I just know it is a good day to be alive. On expedition, in some remote location tucked away from the eyes of the world, something special happens to those brave enough and curious enough to venture into the great beyond. That need for control and order is surrendered to the eternal cycles that nature effortlessly provides. The sun rises and falls, the tides come and go, and life goes on. The worries and tribulations you brought with you melt away. Providing a greater sense of inner peace and an amplified ability to appreciate the simple wonders of life that often go unnoticed. Because when the only time that matters is now, the everyday can suddenly appear extraordinary. A miracle in its own right.

ccc yoga beach sunrise
Evening yoga on Catface Ridge beach.

But the true gift for these adventurous souls is not the expedition itself. It is being able to take the lessons and wisdom from those experiences and share them with others. Igniting the flames of curiosity and courage in another soul; so that they too may desire to experience their own journey of discovery and enlightenment. And hopefully, through these means- like the repeated refrains in nature- the cycle will continue. Creating a better world for all to inhabit. This, is the true gift of expedition.

CCC group 3
Back to civilization — Grice Bay.

For this experience I am incredibly thankful. Firstly to our amazing guides Dave and Adelia; whose skill, knowledge and positivity made this the experience of a lifetime for me. Secondly, to my CCC Tri-Pod family; for sticking together through thick and thin to overcome any challenge that confronted us. The strength, courage and spirit they demonstrated on this expedition was just as magnificent and inspiring as the landscape we explored together. And finally, to the Canadian Conservation Corps program and the staff who make it possible. Not only for providing young Canadians with wilderness expedition opportunities like these, but also for encouraging us to share these experiences with others in the hopes of creating a better world. A model I wholeheartedly believe in.

Learn more about Canadian Conservation Corps.

A Cake Worth Climbing

Michelle Parry is a participant in Group 5 of the Canadian Conservation Corps.

My CCC wilderness journey is a memory I will hold close to my heart for a long time. I am oddly fond of each section of our trip, from the grimy details of how much dirty foot water I wrung out from my socks each evening, to the surreal expanse of mist and sunshine in the valley far below our goat trail. The hardships were made not only bearable but a cherished badge of honour because it was shared with such a resilient and wonderful group.

As the brutal cold assault continued the snack crazy began. We had a full bartering system going on. We started to see the cliffs and towering crags as a glorious bakery. There were varieties from layered chiffon mountain cake to Mt. Galatea, a lightly dusted back forest gateau. I am certain that, as we scaled the sides of those rocky “gateau” and traversed the hefty layers of icing, we pushed through many personal challenges and finally solidified as a team.

The second to last day will always stick in my mind, a testament to the groups’ fortitude, our guide’s wisdom/trust and the hardships and rewards that being in nature can give us. It was on this day that we broke trail through knee deep snow until the light began to fade (remember it was mid-September and 28 degrees in Montreal). What was supposed to be a moderate two-hour hike turned into a full day affair, but ah, the reward! As we trudged into the clearing there was a break in the clouds, enough to see the setting sun nestled in the far pass above the lake. I’m sure all of us relaxed just a little bit at the sight, even with our wet feet and broken hiking poles. The small valley of Lost Lake was the perfect place to do our solos and spend the last day building forts and looking at bear tracks.

That day I hiked up to the far pass with Madeleine (one of our guides) and we just sat and stared at the giants around us. The Kananaskis Mountains are a class unto themselves, they are wide, wide and tall enough to convey the expansiveness of history and time on their surface. We are insignificant blips of life to the bedrock of nature yet we have the potential to cause so much change. A sobering thought. It was comforting to be able to let go of city life and to know that nature provides solace even after the storms of yesterday.

There are no regrets to the trails we walked. I feel like our group was forged in snow and rain. We not only persevered but prospered during and from the experience. Much like our hike, the fight to preserve these spaces is not easy but I feel that it is worth it, for many, many reasons.

The opinions expressed are those of the participant and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

A Snowy September In Alberta’s Back-Country

Angela Rehhorn is a participant in Group 5 of the Canadian Conservation Corps.

It’s snowing. It’s cold. It’s wet. This is not what I had expected or planned for.

“It’s fine; I’ll be fine,” I keep reassuring myself.

I left my life in New Brunswick and arrived in Alberta expecting yet another hike and camping trip no big deal, right? I’m told there are mountains in every direction but the fog and snow are so thick, I don’t believe it.

As anxiety begins to whisper in my ear, and adrenaline starts to pump throughout my body, I continue to tell myself the snow is good it will be a challenge. With one cold night under our belts, we pack our bags in high spirits ready to face the curve ball Mother Nature had thrown us.

On the way to Mount Romulus © Angela Rehhorn
On the way to Mount Romulus © Angela Rehhorn

Though the first couple of days are full of excitement and anticipation, there is a constant worry that we may not be warm for the next 13 days. Despite the anxiety, everyone rises to the occasion and keeps their spirits high. The resilience of my teammates is uplifting and we are soon rewarded with an afternoon of sunshine to remind us that everything will be okay.

After a long day of what seemed like an uphill battle (17.6 km up to be exact), we built “tent city” and clump together even though we have the whole campground to ourselves. It is here that we also begin to call ourselves a “pack” because we travel together, eat together, live together and work together. Just in case we aren’t loud enough already we began to wolf howl to each other.

The journey is just beginning.

Although we have already completed our longest hike the most treacherous hike came to follow. With our adrenaline rushing, the beautiful views pushed the limits of security. I bask in the glory of the cliff side, in awe and speechless. However, loose rocky cliffs also mean not every member is in their element. I watch my teammates as they threw their fears over the edge and keep pushing forward.

The meadow turning into the Horse Camp location © Angela Rehhorn
The meadow turning into the Horse Camp location © Angela Rehhorn

Another turn of a corner and the most breathtaking meadow appears shimmering in gold. Moments like this make all the cold, all the wet, all the anxiety worth it. I thank my stars for showing me that such wonderful places exist. Towering mountains surround me as my mind tries to grasp where I am and how I got here. This landscape is surreal.

As I’ve learned over the years, things must keep moving; and so do we. Mother Nature does not let up. Though the cold is easier to manage, the emotional toll is still heavy. Wet boots are constant reminders that we are not in control. Regardless of the weather, every location we visit is breathtaking. The still waters, snowy mountains, bear tracks, and pika calls never get old and with each new discovery comes an even deeper appreciation for our surroundings.

Nearing our last days of expedition, I realize I am comfortable living outside with my new family. I like waking up to my teammates, morning warm ups, cooking together, eating together, goofing off, sitting around campfires and sleeping in tents while we listen to the sounds of wind and rain.

The Pack of GOAT's © Adam Holke
The Pack of GOAT’s © Adam Holke

As much as warm showers and clean clothes sound amazing, I know that I am going to miss the backcountry. A piece of my mind will be forever stuck on the Beach of Lost Lake playing a simple game of tag. Thus, another unexpected event occurs my ocean loving heart falls in love with the cold, mountainous, Alberta backcountry.

This expedition feels like so much more than just beautiful scenery and a physical challenge. I am so thankful for my teammates, my pack, my family. Not only do we connect to nature in a spiritual way, we connect to each other. From laughter on the good days and support on the bad, this team of people are a large part of what makes this journey unforgettable.

Learn more about the Canadian Wildlife Federation‘s Canadian Conservation Corp program.

Conserving Fresh Water Ecosystems

This summer I had the opportunity to assist with a whirling disease monitoring project through Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP), Trout Unlimited Canada (TUC) and the Canadian Conservation Corps (CCC).

I am very grateful to be of service as fresh water source protection is a close passion of mine. I hope to continue to help improve monitoring and research particularly in areas of water resources as I know the work I am doing is helping to protect places I love to enjoy.

jeremy harbinson alberta river

What is Whirling Disease?

As explained by Trout Unlimited Canada, whirling disease is caused by a microscopic parasite and affects salmonid fishes including trout and whitefish by deforming and killing juveniles. The parasite requires two hosts: tubifex worms, which are found in many waterbodies, and salmonid fish. The parasite is released from tubifex worms when the water temperature is between 10 °C and 15 °C.

Our team was tasked with installing HOBO water temperature loggers in selected headwaters in Castle Provincial Park that were pre-selected by Albert Environment and Parks & TUC through geographic mapping software and aerial maps.
Our team was tasked with installing HOBO water temperature loggers in selected headwaters in Castle Provincial Park that were pre-selected by Albert Environment and Parks & TUC through geographic mapping software and aerial maps.

Our team was tasked with installing water temperature loggers in selected headwaters in Castle Provincial Park, which were pre-selected through geographic mapping software and aerial maps. After receiving training in July from Alberta Environment and Parks on how to launch and install these temperature loggers, we geared up to begin the installations in August.

In order to properly install these temperature loggers there are key steps to follow to ensure a success deployment. For instance, configuring the logger’s settings is required to set appropriate time interval of temperature recording to sustain an adequate amount of data recorded.

Other factors that have to be considered are environmental conditions of high flows and hazardous debris that could potentially damage or completely remove the logger from its placement. This was factored in through securing the loggers in a threaded housing case and zip tying them in place to protect from physical damage.

In order to prevent further cross contamination of whirling disease across other water bodies our gear was cleaned, drained and dried to remove any sediment material.

jeremy harbinson Traci Blacksmith hiking

We located the selected logger sites through provided GPS coordinates from AEP, which required a little game of hide and go seek.

There are two methods of approach when installing the loggers in a watercourse using either marine epoxy or rebar. The choice of method installation is case-dependent, however, marine epoxy is preferred because it is comparatively the least invasive and known to better withstand the environmental conditions.

A critical step in installing water temperature loggers is properly documenting all the details required to have a successful data set and ability to relocate the temperature loggers to download the data. For instance, some common parameters to record is the latitude/longitude coordinates of the temperature logger, site description, data logger serial number, and directions how to access the site.

Citizen Science

Our CCC team also had the opportunity to assist with the Discovering Didymo Distribution citizen science project facilitated by Trout Unlimited Canada in partnership with the University of Calgary and funded by the Alberta Conservation Association. As explained by Trout Unlimited Canada, didymo is a type of single‐celled, microscopic alga known as a Diatom.  Diatoms have an outer “shell” of silica called a frustule. Some diatoms, like Didymo, can produce a stalk. Recently, enormous stalk production by Didymo has resulted in thick mats of Didymo in rivers worldwide and has generated concern because of possible impacts on the salmonid fish of these rivers (View distribution map).

The task we assisted with was sampling various rocks in a watercourse by scraping algae from the rocks using a standardized method. Samples were preserved in a test tube, which will be analyzed at the University of Calgary.

Read more about Jeremy’s experience with CWF’s Canadian Conservation Corps.

Adventure Awaits

Going into this experience, I am feeling very excited and ready for new experiences.

At the same time, I am also feeling somewhat nervous as well. I still have a lot to do before leaving. I have never had to put my life on hold for an extended period of time before, and there is a lot to think about. Putting my financial career on hold means I need to be very mindful of my spending. I am also nervous to leave my friends and family, as I have never been away from home for this long before. In sum, the start date is fast approaching and I am feeling a mixture of emotions!

Nevertheless, I am very much looking forward to meeting new people and learning new outdoor skills from talented individuals. I have heard the Algonquin Provincial Park is beautiful and I am excited to do some exploring! I am also relieved to be able to get away from my day job and to spend more time outdoors in a field that I am actually interested in. I’m looking forward to embark on this adventure and to make some lasting memories!

During this experience, I expect to have the opportunity to push myself. I know I will try my best and I expect to excel in the outdoors and physically challenging aspects of this journey. I’m sure I will be nervous of the unknown, of being away from family and friends, and of having to be with a group of new people for an extended period of time.

Regardless, I’m hoping that I will get along with the others in my group and be able to bring some skills and knowledge to the table despite not having a lot of experience in a conservation-related field. I am hoping to feel comforted by the fact that I will probably not be the only person who is a little nervous for this adventure. I trust that this experience will be unforgettable and I expect to learn lots.

I hope to gain new friendships, new skills, and both knowledge of the outdoors and knowledge that might be helpful for everyday life. I decided to apply for this program because I believe that conservation is important. I have always been passionate about nature and this passion was not being fulfilled in my day job as an electrician. I was in desperate need for a change of pace and this adventure seemed like a perfect way to get involved in a field that I’m extremely interested in. What better way to find out whether conservation might be something I might want to pursue as a career?

Learn more about Group 4 from the Canadian Conservation Corps.

It’s Been a Wild Adventure With the Canadian Conservation Corps!

Kimberly McGough is a participant in Group 1 of the Canadian Conservation Corps.

What can I say… CCC has been one heck of an adventure!

I can’t believe that three months has flown by already. I am now back home in Alberta after completing my work placement at Scales Nature Park out in Ontario.

kim nicole and christina at scales
Nicole Webster, Christina Borring-Olsen and Kimberly McGough completing their learning placement at Scales Nature Park.

Scales is a place like no other. During my placement there were unlimited opportunities for growth, skills building, networking, and learning first-hand about conservation. With the unique and dynamic atmosphere of Scales, many days brought new opportunities along with new challenges.

Field Learning At Its Best

Looking back I have to say that I am very proud of myself for taking on all those challenges and completing my stage two placement. From this experience I will be taking away valuable skills and knowledge about wildlife and habitat conservation. Also, I have learned so much about reptiles and amphibians found in Ontario and throughout Canada. Finally, I now have a thorough understanding of conducting fieldwork for species at risk.

Going into my placement I had a basic idea of the type of work they did at Scales. However, it wasn’t until I was actually submersed in the work that I gained an appreciation and understanding of the hard work that goes into ground-level conservation projects. It takes some very dedicated and passionate people to run a conservation initiative, and devote all their time and energy into creating awareness and helping to save species at risk.

I must say it has been a pretty cool opportunity to get to know different biologists, environmentalists, and other people that are passionate about conservation. Until Scales, I didn’t know there were many people out there like me who get super excited about finding a snake or a snail, or enjoyed meandering to look for tiny flowers, insects and birds.

Pelee Island

One of my most memorable experiences with Scales was getting to go on a week-long conservation road trip through Southern Ontario to Pelee Island. We were able to take part in different conservation initiatives with various biologists and organizations. Once we got to Pelee Island, which is surrounded by Lake Erie, I was in awe of the landscape and all of the species that were unique to the island.

Is that the ocean? Pelee Isand and Lake Erie (Photo credits Kimberly McGough)
Is that the ocean? Pelee Isand and Lake Erie (Photo © Kimberly McGough)

Quite often I was lulled into thinking that we were by the ocean — the water seemed endless and the waves were constantly coming up onto the beaches. Also, I kept finding shells!

Snake break with Todd the Fox Snake (photo credits Nicole Webster)
Snake break with Todd the Fox Snake (photo © Nicole Webster)

By far my favorite part of the job was learning about the different animals and getting to interact with them. I am also going to miss the adventures that took place, the excitement of all the staff and never knowing what each day of conservation would bring.

Scales crew out in the field looking for species at risk (photo credits Kimberly McGough)
Scales crew out in the field looking for species at risk (photo © Kimberly McGough)

After this experience I feel that many new doors have opened. I am excited for the opportunities that will come of it. I definitely was sad to leave my fellow cohorts who were placed with me, as well as all other awesome staff at Scales.

I am happy to be back home in Calgary and look forward to what will unfold for my community project in the third stage of the Canadian Conservation Corps.

Learn more about the Canadian Conservation Corps.

Homelessness – How Our Local Wildlife is Struggling to Survive

Alexandra is a participant in group 2 of the Canadian Conservation Corps.

Habitat loss is undeniably one of the greatest threats to species globally.

Everything needs a place to live and thrive. But with increasing habitat degradation due to pollution and urbanization, and a climate that is warming up at an alarming rate, it is becoming much harder for animals to find suitable land to live in.

rabbit crossing road
Rabbit crossing the road in an urban area

When people think of habitat loss, they imagine clear cut rain forests or disappearing coral reefs. What most people don’t realize is that habitat loss can occur on a much smaller and local scale. Cities growing to accommodate larger populations means less land available for local wildlife. Not only are local species losing habitable land, they are also losing the resources needed to feed and reproduce.

Growing up in an urban environment, I know firsthand that it is very easy to forget that we share our own backyards with a variety of wildlife, some of which are at risk or endangered. Animals have a very special place close to my heart, which is why I decided to pursue a degree in Zoology, with hopes that in the future, I can be a part of the efforts to help conserve our native wildlife for generations to come.

Field Learning

By participating in the Canadian Conservation Corps and Canadian Wildlife Federation, I will gain more insight into current issues affecting Canada’s wildlife and ecological landscape at large. Hopefully, I will become involved with the efforts to conserve our country’s wildlife and ensure their survival.

Alex Falla during field learning

Through fieldwork and public outreach with the CCC, I’m hoping to learn a lot about wildlife, ecosystem management and conservation. I plan to take what I’ve learned and turn it into something that I can share with others back in my home community.

By doing so, I’ll be able to show people how easy it is to be “nature smart” and to inspire others to change their lives. Even small changes can help make a difference to our local habitats. Humans need to come to a compromise on how to live and accommodate an ever-growing population without putting the lives of wildlife at risk.

Without a set plan, Canada will continue to lose habitats and the animals that call these places home.

Learn more about Alexandra Falla and the Canadian Conservation Corps.

Rescued At-Risk Turtle Eggs Are Now Hatching!

Our Turtle Eggs Are Hatching!

This summer, our Conservation Science team has been conducting field work on pollinators, eels, bats and turtles (to name only a few projects!).

Added to the regular turtle surveying, our team collected the eggs of at-risk turtles (Blanding’s and Snapping) laid along roadsides. Roadsides may seem suitable to turtles as they look for open areas of sand or soil to bury eggs. Sadly, the eggs that are laid there have a high risk of being destroyed. So, our turtle team were out at all hours patiently gathering eggs once females had done their duty and left. (Please don’t try this at home as special permits and expertise are needed!)

Now, many weeks later, our little turtles are hatching quickly. Once all the eggs from a nest are hatched, the young will be released together in the area they were laid — only this time they will be a safe distance from the road!

CWF staff and interns have been in awe of these little wonders. We are proud to be a part of helping these at-risk-species, even if indirectly (watch our live turtle cam feed below!).

CWF’s Role in Freshwater Turtle Conservation

The Canadian Wildlife Federation continues to work with regional partners, community groups, lake associations and individuals to reduce risks to turtles. We continue to carry out on the ground surveys to document at-risk turtle locations and HELP PROTECT their habitat. We have also undertaken an analysis of hotspots where turtles are more susceptible to being hit on the road. Finally, we continue to work with partners to outfit turtles with radio transmitters to track movement, habitat use, nesting sites and overwintering sites.

Turtle Eggs Hatching

All of our eggs hatched! We have released them back into the wild. This video is a recording of a batch of snapping turtles as they worked hard to hatch.

Learn more about freshwater turtles at HelpTheTurtles.ca