Larry Simpson speaking at NatureTalks event (Photo by NCC)

Larry Simpson speaking at NatureTalks event (Photo by NCC)

Edmonton engages in conservation conversation

Larry Simpson speaking at NatureTalks event (Photo by NCC)

Larry Simpson speaking at NatureTalks event (Photo by NCC)

The Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC's) NatureTalks speaker series is an opportunity to engage communities in meaningful conversation with local conservation experts. Each event aims to inspire and motivate participants to be champions for nature and conservation. NCC’s most recent event on April 12 in Edmonton focused on engagement.

Early in the evening, one of the speakers shared a quote that set the tone for the evening. Environmentalist Baba Dioum is well-known for a quote, which comes from a speech he made in 1968: “For in the end we will only conserve what we love, we will only love what we understand, and we will only understand what we are taught.”

Approximately 100 people attended the event. Some were familiar with NCC and the world of conservation. For others, it was their first foray into the world of environmental protection. What each discovered over the course of the evening was that everybody has their own stories about connecting to the natural world and their own reasons why protecting it is important.

For some, it might be childhood memories of spending weekends hiking in the mountains. For others, it could be a special connection to a wild species.

The job of protecting our country’s wild spaces is a monumental task, and land trust organizations like NCC cannot accomplish this alone. It takes many partners, supporters and volunteers to secure and steward these natural areas. Throughout the evening, the speakers discussed ways to communicate, collaborate and become engaged in these conservation efforts, and how that telling stories that people can connect to emotionally are more impactful that those stories that get mired in facts.

Collaboration is one tool used to achieve large-scale conservation efforts, after communicating and spreading the message. There are many environmental organizations working to care for their own projects, but by working with partners, it’s possible to expand and connect these protected landscapes. An example of this is Cypress Hills, a natural area that crosses the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. Keith Bocking from Alberta Parks described how the two parks used to be managed by their respective provinces, but the two organizations now work together to manage an interprovincial park.

The same mindset is used to steward an area very close to Edmonton: the Beaver Hills Biosphere, which is 20 minutes east of the city. Beaver Hills already contains many protected places, such as Elk Island National Park and the Beaverhill Lake. But by banding together, this community has achieved biosphere status: a UNESCO designation that recognizes the harmonious integration of people and nature on the landscape.

Within the biosphere, they are many opportunities for people to get involved in protecting this special place. One example is the Beaverhills Bird Observatory (BBO), a bird migration monitoring station that offers a variety of education opportunities to the public. From internships to saw-whet banding events, the BBO engages and inspires local communities.

Another way that people can become involved in conservation is through citizen science projects, where volunteers partner with scientists to answer questions about the environment, such as where specific species live and how far they range. Tara Narwani from the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute explained that in the age of social media and mobile devices it’s becoming increasingly easier to share photos of species, which can even help scientists track migration, locate endangered animals and even lead to the discovery of new species.

Zoë Arnold presenting Denise Harris with the Golden Glove Award (Photo by NCC)

Zoë Arnold presenting Denise Harris with the Golden Glove Award (Photo by NCC)

NCC also offers ways in which the public can participate in hands-on conservation efforts. From property cleanups to restoration projects and species surveys, our volunteers are essential to our ability to care for our lands. The expression “many hands make light work” is exceptionally true in this instance, as more than 19,000 Canadians have participated in NCC’s Conservation Volunteers (CV) programs since they began in 2006. Each of these events addresses objectives from our property management plans, and are essential to being able to care for these small slices of the natural world.

Every year, Alberta’s CV program recognizes the individual who has attended the most volunteer events across the province and awards them with the Golden Glove Award. Zoë Arnold, Alberta’s Conservation Volunteers program manager, wrapped up her talk by presenting the award to Denise Harris, a valued volunteer who attended an amazing 14 events last year.

NCC closed the night talking about their new campaign, aimed at supporters looking to invest in a cause close to home. NCC has been active in the Beaver Hills since 2002 and has recently ramped up efforts with the recently announced Beaver Hills Conservation Campaign. This five-year campaign has an ambitious goal of raising $20 million, which will go toward expanding and connecting this protected landscapes.

There are many paths along the journey to conservation, and by working together and creating a network of like-minded people, we can all help protect our natural world. There are many reasons people connect with nature, and the purpose of this NatureTalks event was to encourage people to share their stories and inspire others.

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