Hinton hosting regionals as Envirothon grows

Masha Scheele photo
Masha Scheele

Teams from Hinton and Edson were the only competitors in the Envirothon during the past two years, but they’re about to get a lot more competition with three more teams joining in 2019.

Up to 15 teams of high school students have competed in the environmental education competition in the past from Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the North West Territories, but this changed when there wasn’t an official provincial board to run the event.

Originally, the Alberta government took part in organizing the event, but after some internal changes organizers didn’t have the capacity to host the event anymore, according to Chantelle Bambrick, who joined the Envirothon board in January of 2018 and is now the president.

“The board was left with key positions being vacant and nobody really to take that workload. The board sat and did what they could to support Edson holding the regional event,” explained Bambrick.

Schools in Alberta were open to host regional events but only Edson organized an Envirothon in 2017 and 2018, said Bambrick.

“Parkland High School has a really good person there who really loves this program and really works towards this program and so she wanted to keep it alive. It has kind of fallen away and so she didn’t know how to keep it alive other than try to get people that she knew around her to compete,” said Jennifer Wotton, science teacher at Harry Collinge High School.

Without any teams for Edson to compete against Wotton was asked if she could put in a team.

“Envirothon used to be actually quite large and huge and Hinton never ever competed and I don’t know why,” said Wotton.

This year, Wotton registered her team for the third year in a row. The provincial board gathered together in 2018 for a strategic workshop in an attempt to get more people involved in the board and manage the workload.

“We were very successful. We have a really good core group of 12 to 14 board members over the last year planning this event. And that’s why we were able to host the event in Hinton again,” Bambrick said.

Teams from Edson, Hinton, Morinville, Whitecourt, and Grand Prairie will all take part of this year’s Envirothon, said Bambrick.

Competitors are judged in two separate challenges; a presentation on a given scenario using science and research to solve environmental issues and; field exams based on five core topics. Teams of five students are led by a teacher advisor or volunteer and meet throughout the school year to learn about soils and land-use, aquatics, forestry, wildlife and a the current theme, which is Agriculture and the Environment: Knowledge & Technology to Feed the World.

“We’ve been going out with people from West Fraser. They’ve been coming out with us after school and teaching us forestry,” said Wotton.

Students were given the scenario in March, which they must research and prepare an oral presentation on.

“It’s pretty intense for these five high school kids to be standing in front of adults who are all professionals of a particular thing they are

presenting on. There’s a forestry professional, there’s an aquatics professional all sitting there,” said Wotton.

The top three teams win cash prizes and individual trophies, and the winning team is eligible to compete at the North American Envirothon finals, being held in North Carolina this year.

“I feel like we are better prepared this year. We actually went out and did more stuff like measuring the height of a tree and going out looking at plants, where previously we hadn’t had the chance to do that beforehand,” said Grade 12 student, Shané Pretorius of her third time participating in the Envirothon.

Pretorius and Jamie Rahn are returning members to the Hinton Envirothon team, while three students are new this year: Ronan Tew, Colton Rowley, and Ethan Jahnke.

“I think this [uses] a lot of problem solving skills, you get a scenario and you don’t get a lot of background information. So you have to figure out how to solve these problems in a short amount of time, which is I think a helpful skill to use in the future,” added Pretorius.

Bambrick hopes that the competition pushes more students to seek out further environmental education.

“I hope that we get some kids who are really passionate in caring for the environment and learning how things kind of all work together so that we can have more kids going off to school to become foresters, or wildlife biologists or whatever it is. I think it can really spark a career interest in kids,” said Bambrick.

Alberta’s Envirothon was established in 1997 as an annual provincial competition, aiming to increase students’ knowledge of environmental science and natural resource management.

The symposium and competition takes place at the Hinton Training Centre (HTC) on May 23 and 24.

Learn more about the competition on albertaenvirothon.org.

Room to improve for mental health supports

Masha Scheele

The first Rural Mental Health (RMH) input session in Hinton took place on April 29, in which community stakeholders determined that Hinton is not a mentally healthy community and there are things that need to be addressed.

The session was organized by Charlene Sitar from Hinton FCSS leading up to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) mental health week from May 6 to May 12.

Sitar has worked as the regional elder abuse prevention coordinator at FCSS for the past three years and has now taken on a new additional role as the community animator for the RMH project.

In attendance at the input session were representatives from BRIDGES, AB Supports, Alberta Health Services, Hinton Employment Learning Place, Burden Bearers Counselling Centre, Yellowhead Emergency Shelter for Women, Options HIV, and Grande Yellowhead Public School Division.

Through discussions, they found that not everyone is accessing the opportunities available in Hinton, more support is needed for early childhood trauma, and more information needs to be available for parents on children with mental health diagnosis like Autism, and FASD in order for them to have a better understanding about assessing the needs of their children.

It was also said that more support is needed for mental health referrals, there is a struggle to get people into a qualified therapist, there is a need to address self-medication to deal with mental health struggles, and more media involvement is necessary for awareness and reducing the stigma.

The RMH project is not a “fix all” solution to barriers and weaknesses regarding mental health in the community, stated the session notes.

Initiatives addressed during the session included developing a plan to bring more awareness regarding mental health and wellness, garnering media attention for the project and mental wellness, and seeking initiatives for the general public regarding mental health training and awareness.

Some ideas included faster access to treatment, a 24-hour walk-in clinic, designated mental health beds, an outreach worker, focusing on children’s mental wellness as well as adults, and community addiction treatment.

CMHA Alberta Division is undertaking the RMH project to enable and support rural and remote communities to improve mental health outcomes.

RMH is a three-year pilot project in which animators in select participating rural and remote communities are responsible for using the training and tools that are part of the project to bring together a community coalition, which in turn will create a transformational roadmap and action plans through a community engagement process.

According to CMHA, animators are not coordinators or mental health experts and must work with coalition peers.

Animators will focus on catalyzing the expertise and wisdom within the community coalition to collectively set the direction for the community and encourage other champions in the community to share in leadership and influence, according to CMHA.

Local stakeholders like community members, elders, agencies, educators, and community associations collectively scan the current mental health and addictions landscape and work to address issues.

“The funding comes from the Canadian Mental Health Association for the first year only. It is not fully funded, but covers the costs for the animator training, travel and facilitation of meetings,” stated Sitar.

According to CMHA, funding also covers time by the animator to facilitate and catalyze community coalitions.

“Participation with the project does not end after one year. The Rural Mental Health Network will continue indefinitely. Animators will get oriented and familiar with the network throughout the training, so it can be used as a resources from the beginning and become a familiar and useful tool,“ stated the CMHA website.

CMHA planned to select between 15-20 communities to take part in the project during year one to learn, refine, and adapt the project’s training, network, and processes.

“While the pilot project started in November of 2018, we didn’t get notice that we were chosen as one of the FCSS offices to participate until February of this year,” stated Sitar who has completed most of the online training and two of the four days of in-person training with the CMHA.

Boardwalk cougar is collared and being studied

Tyler Waugh

A cougar reported near the Beaver Boardwalk last week is collared and her movements have been tracked and studied by researchers at the University of Alberta.

Chris Watson, fish and wildlife officer for the Hinton district, says that the research shows how the cougar in question is an example of an animal successfully adapting to human activity.

“Not only has she been able to successfully live within town and not cause problems, over the past year and a half she has successfully reared three kittens to adulthood all within a very small home range,” said Watson.

Casey Hore was walking with her friend and two kids and were around 15 metres past the beaver lodge when they heard a woman scream ‘Cougar, keep your kids close!’

Hore said she looked down the pathway and the cougar went right across about 30 metres away with a dog on its tail. 

“It just went up and I heard all the trees just cracking all the way up. We stood still hoping the cat wouldn’t make a turn and come back,”

said Hore, adding that the group made its way back to the Town trail.

“The dog came back too – the dog’s name is Pepper. The cat was there looking at a lady, don’t know who she was. The cougar was twice as big as the dog.”

Hore said it was her first time seeing a cougar in the wild and felt ill prepared for an encounter, in hindsight. She said she will be bringing her bear spray, a big stick and a bell with her on walks in the woods now. She’s also going to research how to react during a cougar encounter.

Watson said there is a large billboard that exists in the area with some valuable information on cougars and other large animals.

He says there is insufficient information to suggest that Fish and Wildlife officers need to action this complaint further than posting signs and creating general awareness that cougars are in the area.  

“Over the years we have had a multitude of sightings and encounters with cougars reported within our community. These incidents have ranged from both deer and elk being preyed upon by cougars near Maxwell and Thompson Lake, to a cougar den site being utilized along Maskuta creek, or maybe just a fleeting glimpse of a cat as it crosses an establish hiking trail,” Watson said.  

“An animal that shows interest in pets or people or one that approaches in a crouching manner while intently starring at a pet is obviously far more concerning than a cougar which flees or departs when encountered on our trail systems.”

He went on to say that as deer and elk continue to reside within town limits, predators which depend of these animals to survive are likely to visit and travel through our community as part of their established territories. He also pointed out that whenever officers are compelled to remove an animal from an area that the action can have unintended consequences.

“This often opens up a territory which these former animals once fiercely defended.  It may in fact open up an area to a juvenile animal that may present far greater challenges for officer staff and the community’s safety as a whole,” he said.   

For more information on cougars in Alberta please visit our website https://www.alberta.ca/cougars.aspx

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