Calling all youth – the Rangers program is back!

Submitted by SYR

Boozhoo! Greetings! Heads up high school students! We’re here to tell you about the greatest summer job ever! If you have an interest in natural resources and want to spend the summer working outside on community projects in and around the district, then check this out!

The Ogimaa Binesiiyog Stewardship Youth Ranger (SYR) Partnership Program is an eight-week summer employment program that provides 15 positions for students in the Fort Frances and Kenora districts. We have two teams in Fort Frances and one in Kenora. Each team has a Team Lead, an Assistant Team Lead and 4 Rangers.

It all started back in 2013 when Natural Resources & Forestry (NRF), Shooniyaa Wa-Biitong and the United Native Friendship Centre formed a partnership to create a unique program to provide more opportunities for youth in the Fort Frances District. Based on a shared vision to celebrate diversity, provide technical training and develop youth leadership capacity, the partnership expanded to include the Kenora District and the Ne-Chee Friendship Center in 2018. This program allows for a balance of Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth to work together in gaining valuable work experience, traditional knowledge, and intercultural competence while promoting environmental stewardship ethics in northwest Ontario. We are the 2019 SYRs and this is our story.

Following our first week of orientation and training, we swooped into the season with a visit from the University of Winnipeg, Willis Bat Lab research crew, who were monitoring bats in the district. Research crew members first gave us a presentation about different kinds of bats, research being done at the bat lab and citizen science opportunities, such as, Neighbourhood Bat Watch. We learned that there are over 1200 species of bats worldwide and 8 known species in Ontario. We learned about the White Nose Syndrome (WNS) and gained hands-on experience setting up harp, funnel and triple high mist nets that field crews use to capture bats for tissue sampling. Since putting up a 30-foot mist net is a bit tricky, research crew members stepped in with advice and direction to make sure we completed the task safely whenever we tried to just wing it.

In the third week of July, our teams cast off to the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship live release tournament to get an angle on fish care, spine sampling and community outreach. Our Kenora team worked on a similar project with NRF Fisheries Biologists at the KBI (Kenora Bass International). Following instruction on monitoring equipment and sampling procedures, crews split up between fish care and the SYR outreach booth. We measured temperature and dissolved oxygen, making sure the fish were well cared for before being returned to their home areas of the lake. At our outreach booth we talked about our program and shared information on resource management subjects, such as, aquatic invasive species, safe boating and bear awareness.

Things went swimmingly out at Great Bear Landing during our mandatory Ontario Recreational Canoeing & Kayaking Association (ORCKA) training with certified instructor, James Woods. With Level I & II certification, and all our camping gear in order, we were all ready to set out on one of the highlights of the season – our annual camping and canoe trip in Quetico Provincial Park!

As soon as we arrived in Quetico, we set up our camp and met with Quetico Provincial Park Operations Supervisor, John Bartol, who led us through the projects we needed to complete during our stay. Over the next two days we worked in various locations, clearing and trimming bush infringing on park roads. At the end of each day, we enjoyed swimming in the lake, preparing meals together and cooking in the outdoors. On our last day we put our ORCKA skills to work canoeing around French Lake until storm-clouds forced us off the water and on with the task of packing up to head back to home base.

We buzzed into the next week with a visit to 7 Bends Honey Farm where Rick Neilson taught us a lot about bees. He has thirteen colonies with up to 120,000 bees in each one! We cleared some trails, picked up on some local plant knowledge and took a closer look at some fresh honeycomb. Sweet!

Later that week, we had a chance to visit Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre where we learned about the history of Rainy River First Nations and the significance of the mounds. We even had a chance to work alongside local Elder, Gary Medicine, to construct a traditional teepee.

One of our favorite projects in 2019 was beaver baffling. We learned that beavers cause a lot of problems for farmers and municipalities when they flood fields and roads. We learned that beavers respond to the sound of running water, so, based on that, we also learned how to baffle them. The idea is to lower the water level without having to destroy the beaver or the wetland habitat they create. First, we chopped a V in the centre of the dam to let the water drain. We then constructed the baffler from drainage tile pipe. With a weight on each end of the baffler, the water continues to siphon through the pipe, under the water, where the beaver can’t hear it. That means the beaver can’t find the leak or figure out how to fix it. Dam! Each team is grateful for the chance to be of service to our communities, to help protect our roads and preserve wildlife habitat.

Aside from all the fun and educational projects, this program also gives you a chance to get fired up about future career opportunities. Our Kenora team worked with staff at the Kenora Fire Management Headquarters and the Fort Frances teams met up with two SYR teams from Dryden at the Vedette Lake Forward Attack Base, where NRF Aerial Forest Fire and Emergency Services (AFFES) branch staff showed us what firefighting really entails. We practiced starting a pump, handling, strangling and melon-rolling fire hoses and hauling suppression equipment through the bush. It was so cool that we got to check out the helicopters, but by the end of the day, we were really burnt out!

Our Kenora team worked on a lot of different projects, too, including those at Rushing River Provincial Park, Iggy’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre and the Experimental Lakes Area. A lot was learned about forestry by working with NRF Foresters on permanent sample test plots and by touring local sawmills such as Kenora Forest Products. Teams from both districts spent time with local Conservation Officers to learn about their jobs, had workshops with local Elders and also helped out at local community events throughout the season.

The final week of our program is when the Fort Frances and Kenora teams come together for the annual Ogimaa Binesiiyog Youth & Elders Summit. In 2019 this event took place in the community of Wauzhushk Onigum at Pow Wow Island near Kenora. It is here that our teams present on all the projects they worked on and learned from over the summer. It is a time for the Elders to share stories, give advice and best wishes for the continuing success of our partnership and this program.

So, what are you waiting for? If you want more information, have a project idea or want to find out how to apply to become a Stewardship Youth Ranger, please check out the Ontario Public Service (OPS) job board (Ontario Public Service Careers – Search for Jobs (gov.on.ca)), or contact Ogimaa Binesiiyog SYR Partnership Program Coordinator, Maryam Seid, at 1-800-545-5113 Ext. 200 or by email at: syrcoordinator@shooniyaa.org.