Watershed program getting new co-ordinator

There are changes in the air at the Rainy River Watershed Program with the resignation of program co-ordinator Martin Nantel, effective in two weeks.
Nantel, who has been overseeing the program for nearly two-and-a-half years, is stepping down July 9 to take a position with Environment Canada in Thunder Bay.
He certainly brought a great deal of expertise to the watershed program. The Montreal native has a B.A. in anthropology and environmental studies as well as a master’s degree in environmental studies, with a minor in aboriginal affairs and natural resource management.
Before taking up his position here, Nantel spent a year working for the United Nations in Kenya.
In the time he’s spent here, Nantel has seen—and overseen—a number of changes.
“There have been a lot of changes within the watershed program itself,” he recalled last Thursday from his office at Manitou Rapids. “Because of the way it’s funded, there’s always a lot of uncertainty.”
Funding for the program comes from a number of sources, including Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), FedNor, the provincial ministries of the environment, natural resources, and agriculture and food, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Rainy River Community College in International Falls, and various municipalities throughout the district.
Obviously, working with such a large number of groups—some of which have their own agendas—required considerable organizational skill.
“Perhaps one of the strengths of the watershed program is we have been able to avoid duplicating the efforts of the partners,” Nantel remarked. “Instead, we often collaborate on projects.”
One of the best examples of that collaboration is the sturgeon hatchery at Manitou Rapids.
Working with the MNR, the Rainy River First Nations trap sturgeon every spring and hatch thousands of eggs in the special nursery set up for that purpose.
Nantel said about 10 percent of the fry are released back into the Rainy River while the rest are distributed to various agencies throughout Canada and the United States to replenish the wild stock in these depleted areas.
Furthermore, the breeding adults are tagged before they, too, are returned to the river.
Looking back on his tenure, Nantel said he feels the greatest achievement of the program was the effective partnerships forged and the success in putting it in the public spotlight.
Although not all the program’s initiatives have been completed, he noted more than half are either finished or well underway.
“Thirteen months into the implementation phase, we have completed 56 of 99 objectives,” Nantel remarked.
Among those objectives are the site naturalization plan for Manitou Mounds, an environmental management plan for Manitou Rapids (including a recycling, composting, and stream rehabilitation), as well as the hatchery program.
In addition, the eagle nesting and monitoring program is doing well.
One area that requires additional work is landfill diversion. Nantel said Manitou Rapids currently is diverting roughly five percent of its solid waste from the landfill.
The goal is to achieve at least 50 percent diversion by 2007. “We still have a long way to go,” he acknowledged.
There have, of course, been some minor disappointments along the way. For one thing, financial support always is a concern since there are so many partners involved with their own financial issues.
“I would have liked to ensure the program is financially sustainable,” Nantel said.
He added he’s also disappointed his successor won’t be coming from within Rainy River First Nations. And considering the academic requirements for the position of program co-ordinator, it could be some time before a qualified individual emerges.
Still, Nantel said he can see the day when that will happen.
“We have to keep involving the youth and, hopefully, capture someone’s imagination,” he stressed. “We need someone who will stay in school and get the education they need to do this.
“To that end, we have to look at a longer timeframe. Getting the community involved will be a constant challenge,” he concluded.
Nantel won’t be leaving everything behind, however, saying he will be working closely with his replacement over the first few weeks to ensure a smooth changeover.
Besides, he noted, Thunder Bay is not that far away and he has made a number of friends locally. Furthermore, his new position is similar to the one he is vacating—just on a larger scale.
“It is similar to what I’ve been doing here,” he explained. “For the past few years, they [Environment Canada] have been increasingly involved with First Nations.
“I’ll still be working with Rainy River First Nations and others in the north.
“I hope to be able to accomplish with other communities some of what we’ve done here,” he added.
(Fort Frances Times)