Conservation and conversation: Connecting communities in unexpected ways
The Pincher Creek and District Municipal Library was abuzz on March 18, 2014 when Kimberly Pearson, program manager for the Waterton Park Front (WPF) project, took her place at the podium. A crowd of 18 locals sat shoulder to shoulder, flipping through the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) brochures and pamphlets while waiting patiently for 10 other library audiences from across the province to tune in to the presentation via videoconference.
When the dust finally settled on the television remotes, another 38 participants (hailing from Drayton Valley, Hanna, Claresholm, Rockyford, Carmangay, Cardston, Bow Island, Magrath, Three Hills and Okotoks) had joined the group to hear Kim speak about NCC’s important work across Canada. And speak she did.
Over the course of the next hour, Kim outlined NCC’s purpose and vision for a long-term conservation heritage in Canada. She spoke about the plight of ranchers facing tough economic realities and the community values of stewardship and sustainability that inherently and aptly lay the framework for maintaining species' biodiversity throughout the grassland and foothill regions. The spellbound audience nodded understandingly while Kim described the seemingly insurmountable pressures of development and legacy weighing heavily on rural communities. They burst into appreciative smiles as she outlined the many successful partnerships and projects NCC has been engaged in across Alberta.
After highlighting NCC’s Canada-wide work, Kim took the audiences on a brief tour of NCC's projects in the Alberta Region, showcasing the carved viewscapes of the Sandstone Ranch above the Milk River, the green valleys of the aspen parkland region, the prehistoric appeal of Horseshoe Canyon and the pristine grasslands of the Waldron Ranch before finally landing in the WPF.
Kim highlighted the slew of stewardship work recently completed in the WPF as part of a generous grant from The W. Garfield Weston Foundation, including an array of off-site watering systems, fencing and other grazing improvement projects.
Much like her audience, Kim’s messages and photos crossed geographical boundaries to engage those much further away. Sprinklings of laughter could be heard as Kim shared wildlife photos captured from remote wildlife cameras that displayed inquisitive grizzly bears, gawking sandhill cranes, speedy wolf pups and gangly-looking moose.
Kim concluded her presentation by providing an overview of some of the many ways that Albertans and Canadians can become involved in NCC’s work. She highlighted NCC’s Conservation Volunteers program and welcomed the audience to attend other NCC outreach events in various communities, visit NCC properties open for public use, or donate land and funds to NCC's conservation cause.
Both the home and virtual audience asked many insightful questions regarding NCC partnership opportunities, conservation agreements, program foci, operational funding and challenges moving forward. Kim invited the opportunity for continued conversation, obviously glad to share her knowledge and passion for NCC’s work, providing additional information and detail as required. In response the audience was impassioned and animated, discussing with Kim and with each other the implications and possibilities of future conservation work.
Unexpectedly, and quite generously, Heidi Eijgel (event organizer, Alberta Parks) announced that the Pincher Creek and District Municipal Library was donating a stipend towards NCC’s work in gratitude for Kim’s sharing of NCC’s message. The donation was a welcome surprise as it will go directly towards ensuring Canada’s valued natural landscapes remain one with wild spaces and species for generations to come.
As the applause quieted and the other libraries signed off following the question and answer period, the studio audience lingered on, continuing the conversation with Kim regarding NCC’s work and contributions. It was not until the lights fell on the library, marking its closure for the night, and library staff gently ushered everyone towards the exit, that the chatter finally came to a close.
As I stood with Kim in the snowy parking lot, watching the last of the attendees drive away, it was with immense pride that we reviewed the night’s success and our own good fortune in working with an organization that generates so much excitement and interest. It was an inspiring reminder that NCC’s work is not only accomplished through the direct conservation of land but also through the conversation of caring people in diverse communities, connected sometimes in unexpected ways.