Internships and employment programs have meant that youths are no stranger to the Fort Frances office of the Ministry of Natural Resources throughout the years, and the establishment of the Ontario Stewardship Ranger program locally this summer is providing new opportunities for them.
“The program is about teaching youth natural resource management skills and getting them involved in community stewardship projects,” explained Susanne Brielmann of the MNR, who is supervising the four local youths, aged 17, who were selected for the eight-week summer job program.
Originally developed by the province back in 1998, the Ontario Stewardship Rangers were created to support the MNR’s Ontario Stewardship program that has been establishing community-based councils throughout the province to direct local stewardship projects.
While this stewardship program began in 1995, it only recently expanded to this area with the formation of the South Kenora-Rainy River Stewardship Council over the past year.
“The stewardship council has a list of projects,” explained Brielmann, referring to how the rangers are directed over their two months.
“Then the rangers will go out and complete most of them.”
So far this summer, the rangers have been involved with a number of resource and awareness projects, Brielmann said, including working with the local Rainy River Valley Field Naturalists to construct new cedar walkways along the Cranberry Peatlands’ Interpretive Trail in Alberton.
They also learned about invasive species monitoring, such as checking for rusty crayfish within local waterways.
“[The rangers] built quite a few nesting structures for bees and then monitored them, checking to see if the bees actually are using them and how they’re doing,” said Brielmann, citing another project.
Other activities have included planting trees along the riverbanks to help prevent erosion and water quality monitoring.
“Most of them are projects that would not have been completed if the rangers weren’t around,” Brielmann stressed.
“And they’re kind of designed to provide a direct benefit to the environment, and to provide the youth with an understanding of environmental importance and progress and also natural resource management,” she added.
“I just liked it all around because we were doing something different every day,” commented Meagan Empey, one of this year’s rangers, who added her favourite part so far has been butterfly catching and monitoring for invasive species like the rusty crayfish.
Catching the crayfish and butterflies was one of the best parts so far about the program, agreed Marek Willemsen.
“I learned different things,” he added—everything from how to use a screwdriver to how to plant trees.
“Probably getting to know the people here at work, having fun doing different jobs, not just one job all the time,” echoed Luke Clifford about what he liked best about being a ranger for the summer.
“[We] got a lot of variety. I enjoyed that,” he enthused.
The youths also had the opportunity to tour various MNR facilities, including the fire bases, noted Brielmann, as well as educational days with different parts of the district—something they also enjoyed.
These type of activities helped develop a better understanding of the MNR and what it does, she explained, along with the importance of natural resources and how they are managed.
“It’s important to involve the youth in the MNR because they’re going to be future leaders,” Brielmann remarked, noting the program emphasizes community leadership skills in the teens.
“It’s also providing jobs for the young people who may not have had one otherwise,” she added. “The exposure will also continue to be with them for all their lives.”
As well, it opens up different fields of study the youths may not have otherwise considered.
“[The MNR’s role in firefighting] is quite interesting—I think I may want to go into that,” noted Clifford.
While the rangers support the stewardship council’s initiatives, the program also means they branch out to other local groups and “kind of bring the community together,” Brielmann explained.
The rangers have had the opportunity to work with various organizations throughout the district, she noted, including the Rainy River First Nations watershed program, the Fort Frances Sportsmen’s Club, the Rainy River Cattlemen’s Association, the Emo Agricultural Research Station, different municipalities, and the Rainy River Soil & Crop Improvement Association.
“They’re getting exposure to all the different groups within the district so they’re broadening their horizons, broadening their knowledge, and what they could be doing and what’s available in the district,” Brielmann said.