Wetlands and the community benefit from youth workers

Ontario – Hilliardton Marsh Provincial Wildlife Area is just one of the 11 New Liskeard and Timmins area wetland projects receiving critical maintenance work this summer thanks to a group of young men and women, passionate about our natural environment.

20-year old, Sidney Coll, is one of five local youths spending the next several weeks carrying-out much needed repairs to area wetlands, as members of Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry Stewardship Youth Ranger (SYR) program – an eight-week, summer program that was developed to give young people the opportunity to work outdoors on natural resource management projects in their own communities.

Coll, originally from Trenton, Ontario, has been a resident of New Liskeard for the past three years while completing the Wildlife Rehab Program at Northern College. This recent graduate joined the SYR program with the hopes of gaining hands-on experience that will help her find a full-time position working outdoors with nature and wildlife, every day.“Even when I was very young, I enjoyed being outside, catching bugs and bringing them home,” says Coll. “I always knew I wanted to go to school to be outside with the animals, and I hope this program will help me get there.”

After some initial workplace training, crew members are now getting their feet wet learning how to properly inspect and repair wetland dyking systems impacted by burrowing animals, deterioration and/or breaches that allow water to pass through. They’re also being schooled on how to safely inspect and remove beaver debris affecting the flow of water into wetland control structures.

“Publicly accessible wetlands, like Hilliardton Marsh Provincial Wildlife Area, provide safe, outdoor recreation and learning opportunities for people of all ages” says Rick Robb, conservation specialist for DUC. “Regular maintenance and general repairs to wetland projects across the province are critical to ensuring they continue to operate as biologically designed and remain healthy habitats for years to come.

According to Dalas Forget, President of the Hilliardton Marsh Research and Education Centre (HMREC) the work the Youth Rangers are doing is not only helping complete the much needed repairs, but they’re helping educate others about wetlands, HMREC and the potential that’s there for the public.

“Its exciting to see the ownership these young people are taking in their work” says Forget. “Not only are they bringing their hard work and attention with them to the Marsh every day, but the’re also developing their interest and then talking about what they’re doing with their family and friends. This peer group is often the most difficult for us to reach and this program is helping these individuals do just that, as both educators and ambassadors.”

According to Lindsay MacLean, Partnership Specialist with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), Kirkland Lake District “MNRF is committed to providing Ontario youth with the opportunity to obtain meaningful work experience, develop practical, personal and professional skills, learn to be environmental leaders, and gain a deeper appreciation of their role in the stewardship of Ontario’s natural resources.”

While several of the crew members have already indicated they would like to participate in the program again next year, like Coll, the team is still very focused on what they will be taking away from this season.

“I’m really looking forward to learning more about Hilliardton Marsh and wetlands in general” says Coll. “We have the opportunity to be part of several public events this season and I’m excited to share what I’m learning. I’ve already come to realize there’s a lot to be done. More people need to understand the work that’s needed and why, and then get involved.”

“Hilliardton Marsh provides an ideal location for local residents and visitors alike to learn more about wetlands and their importance to our area” continues Forget. “It’s the collaborative efforts of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Ducks Unlimited Canada and HMREC that ensures this resource is made available”

According to Rob Watson, DUC’s Manager of Events, Volunteer Relations & Development Northern Ontario, DUC has a strong history in Ontario’s north, with conservation efforts resulting in a major concentration of wetland projects surrounding New Liskeard and Timmins. “This conservation activity represents an accumulated investment of more than $3.5 million over the last 30 years” he says. “But today’s challenge is maintaining them for the future. Wetlands are often recognized for their important role in providing habitat for a myriad of wild creatures, but, they also play a central role in clean water, reducing floods and helping mitigate climate change. Significant investments are required to ensure these Northern Ontario wetland habitats stay healthy and productive long into the future and we need the help of individuals, companies and organizations in the north, to raise the funds that will allow us to make that happen.”

Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) is the leader in wetland conservation. A registered charity, DUC partners with government, industry, non-profit organizations and landowners to conserve wetlands that are critical to waterfowl, wildlife and the environment. To learn more, please visit ducks.ca.

Hilliardton Marsh Research and Education Centre (HMREC) offers a unique, environmental opportunity through the provision of a bird observatory for research and education that serves school groups, the general public, birders and researchers primarily drawn from Northeastern Ontario. We offer bird banding programs, workshops, special community events, summer work experience and career preparation. We are supported by membership fees, educational sponsorships, corporate donations as well as foundation and government grants. For more information please visit: thehilliardtonmarsh.com.