No sunflower seeds in the washrooms, please: What it's like to hold a conservation planning meeting in small-town SK
“So, what are you guys up to today?”
It is about 8:15 a.m. on a Tuesday morning and I’m picking up the keys for the Lumsden River Park Centre at the town office. I arrived before the office was open so Chris, who apparently starts at 8, lets me in to sign for the keys.
The three Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) folks I brought from Regina in -25C weather to this little town in a big valley are chatting up the Saskatchewan naturalist, Trevor Herriot, who caught a ride with us to today’s workshop. They are also, probably/certainly, telling jokes at my expense.
I’m expecting another nine people to show, but really, will anyone? Well, who cares! The trunk is full of food and the cartons of takeout coffee are chilling as we speak.
It is the day of my first natural area conservation planning workshop and I’m a little nervous. We have biodiversity goals to discuss, threats to explore and human well-being targets to hash out. Will any of it actually happen?
As I sign for the keys, Chris asks me about my plans for the day. I explain:
“Well, ah, we’re getting a bunch of people together from around the area to talk about a management plan that Nature Conservancy is working on."
“Oh yeah. That sounds like something Gary from the Lumsden Valley Community Association would be interested in.”
“Gary H.? He said he’d be there.”
“Tell Gary I said hi.”
With that and my name (“Braun? Are you related to the Braun in town that does art?”), I’m handed a set of keys. Welcome to meeting-hosting in small town Saskatchewan.
Getting to this point has meant many phone calls, chats about the weather, false starts as to who I should invite, who can come and where and when we should meet. Not to mention trying to figure out how to pay for the rental of the centre without the use of a credit card (Chris: “Can you drive out and give us a cheque for the deposit on the centre?” Me: “I live north of Saskatoon. It’s a three-hour drive.” Chris: “Okay, we’ll just say the cheque is in the mail and the room is now yoursMake sure you bring a cheque the day of the meeting. Don’t wreck the place.”)
I think, not for the first time, that I may not be organized enough for this whole thing, but then we get to the centre, the key works, the projector systems is state-of-the-art, the windows all around us let in the bright February sunlight shinning off of fresh snow and people actually show up like they said they would. And the cookies are plentiful.
Let the planning begin!
But first I need some of that coffee. Mmmm, lukewarm Timmies!
The day progresses pretty much as planned. My slide show is short (at least, I think it is), the NCC people I put on the spot fill in the gaps describing plants, animals and ecosystems of the Qu’Appelle area, stakeholders make good suggestions and the management plan started to take form.
We exchange ideas, make and eat sandwiches, finish off the coffee (Ryan wins a donut!) and just like that the day is done.
The group consists of professionals from the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture, Ducks Unlimited Canada, Moose Jaw River Watershed, Wakamow Valley Authority, Lumsden Valley Community Association, University of Saskatchewan and Wascana and Upper Qu’Appelle Watersheds Association Taking Responsibility. We need all that knowledge (and all those acronyms) to successfully evaluate biodiversity targets, prioritize the most serious and immediate threats to existing biodiversity and identify ways to increase buy-in by improving access to natural areas.
We wrap up, almost on time (five minutes past the hour — sue me!), hug everyone goodbye (okay, no hugs, but some good handshakes and shoulder chucks), make a couple of sandwiches for the trip home (extra pickles for me), stack the tables and chairs, placed the garbage in the bin just like Chris said, gather up the forgotten travel mugs and new ideas on how to manage this natural area and skedaddle back south with the wind to Regina.
(Postscript: The only photo I have from the day is the one taken from the washroom at the meeting centre, which is in a park and perfectly relates what it is like to hold a meeting in a small town Saskatchewan in the middle of winter. Also, the fact that that is the only photo I took means I have an odd sense of humour.)