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Ontario Stewardship Rangers get hands-on experience in environment

“I tagged butterflies, monitored fish and wildlife, planted trees and met some really cool people…it was a memorable summer!”

September 22, 2009 – Like many of their friends, 17 year-olds Andrew Naylor from Puslinch and Natalie Taylor from Brampton have spent their summer vacation working. Both have a passion for the environment and worked as Ontario Stewardship Rangers through the Ministry of Natural Resources’ Ontario Stewardship Ranger Program.

The Ontario Stewardship Ranger Program is an eight-week program for youth in their 17th year who are interested in the environment and possibly pursuing a “green” career. Helping to fund the program is Trees Ontario, a not-for-profit tree planting organization who also administers the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources’ 50 Million Tree Program – the single largest commitment to the United Nations Billion Tree Program.

Trees Ontario provided $120,000 to fund four of the 2009 Ontario Stewardship Ranger teams. These teams, including the one with Andrew and Natalie, worked on a variety of forestry-related projects including assessing tree planting sites for the Ministry’s 50 Million Tree program and maintaining tree seed orchards.  They also tagged butterflies, tracked and monitored fish and wildlife populations, restored lake, stream and wetland habitats, built boardwalks and trails, supported species at risk and assisted with community events for kids.

Recently, their group was on the property of Manfred and Penny Conrad in Wellesley, Ontario (near Kitchener-Waterloo) for tree seedling survival assessments. The Rangers were checking seedlings planted in 2008 as part of the 50 Million Tree program. As part of their day, the Ontario Stewardship Rangers team walked through the 2008 planting site and assessed the tree seedlings. The Grand River Conservation Authority will then follow-up with the Conrad’s to replace any tree seedlings that did not survive.

Both Andrew and Natalie knew as Rangers they would learn about forestry stewardship but they did not expect to have the summer experience of a lifetime. “I came into this job with pretty high expectations and even they have been exceeded,” said Andrew, who travels from Puslinch each day to participate in the program. “I never thought working could be this much fun – each day I learn something new and work on a project that will improve our environment!”

The Ontario Stewardship Rangers work in teams consisting of one experienced Team Lead who teaches and mentors a team of four Rangers.

“This is my third year leading a group of Rangers and every year it amazes me at how quickly the group comes together and how much they grow as environmentalists and people,” said Beth Anne Fischer, Andrew and Natalie’s Team Lead. “It is so rewarding for me to help mentor these teens and guide them in their environmental careers.”

For Natalie, who commutes from Brampton with her dad each day, the summer has been a life changing experience. “I have been able to spend more time with my Dad and that has been great. As well, at school everyone seems to be focused on their appearance. After sweating it out all day in the wilderness, working on the land and learning about things like trees, birds, fish and waterways, your priorities quickly change to how you can make your environment better.”

Natalie is interested in applying to the University of Waterloo’s Physical Geography program with the goal of a career as a meteorologist. “I have always been fascinated by the weather and how it affects our lives,” said Natalie. “It got me interested in geography and the outdoors. My Girl Guide troupe was at a tree planting event in Etobicoke where Donna Cansfield, the Minister of Natural Resources, asked me about my interests and suggested I apply to this program. I am so glad she did. It is one of the best decisions I have ever made.”

Growing up on the family farm, Andrew’s interest in the environment started with the Jefferson Salamanders that have been protected by Ontario’s Endangered Species Act. Andrew and his family have spent years preserving the natural habitat on their land to ensure the ongoing survival of these reptiles.

Andrew will be applying to Guelph University to pursue a career in Landscape Architecture. “Good landscape architects understand how their work will affect the local environment. The Ontario Stewardship  Rangers program has given me a great understanding and appreciation for how to manage waterways, protect forests and ensure local ecosystems flourish.”

Both Andrew and Natalie agree that any eligible student who has an interest in pursuing a career in an environmental field should make sure they apply to the Ontario Stewardship Ranger Program. “It will be one of the best and most rewarding experiences of your life. The friends you will make and the experiences you have will last a lifetime,” continues Andrew. “You will learn a lot about yourself and the environment and your self-confidence will soar,” added Natalie.

The Ministry of Natural Resources’ Ontario Stewardship Ranger Program is offered each year to youth in their 17th year. They can work across the province on a variety of natural resources management projects. Next summer’s participants must have been born in 1993.