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The Algonquin Wolf
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The Algonquin Wolf

[caption id="attachment_23299" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Valerie Assinewe Valerie Assinewe,
Guest Blogger[/caption] The howl of a wolf. No other sound instantly evokes that powerful sense of the wild. But there’s much more to the Algonquin Wolf than its iconic call. Where do they live? The Algonquin Wolf is found in the mixed coniferous-deciduous forests of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence regions of Ontario and Quebec. A pack’s territory, which is dependent on the abundance of prey, can be 500 km2. The den and rendezvous sites are always near a permanent water source. What do they look like? The Algonquin Wolf is considered an intermediate-sized canid weighing an average of 24 kg for females and 29 kg for males. Compared to the closest relatives, the Algonquin Wolf is larger than the Coyote and smaller than the Grey Wolf. Their pelage (coat) tends to reddish-brown/tawny. What do they eat? [caption id="attachment_29462" align="alignright" width="483"]Image of Algonquin Wolf by Erika Squires Algonquin Wolf by Erika Squires[/caption] Deer is the primary prey of the Algonquin Wolf, but moose and beaver are secondary food sources. An opportunistic carnivore, it will predate on cow, sheep and even pets. How do they reproduce? Like other wolves, the Algonquin Wolf lives in family-based packs comprised of a breeding pair—the alpha male and female—and their offspring from the current and previous years. The pack leaders mate in February, and 4-7 pups are born ~63 days later. Did you know?

  • Howling allows communication among pack members when they are apart, and warns other packs away.
  • The mother nurses pups in the den for 6-8 weeks. During this period, pack members bring her food. Once weaned, the pups are relocated to a rendezvous site where they are cared for and fed by pack members—initially regurgitated food, and eventually solid food. By autumn, the juveniles hunt with the pack.
  • An important facet of the “pack” lifestyle is cooperative hunting. Members either take turns chasing the prey to tire it, or split up a herd to ambush the selected target.
As a big game hunter, the Eastern Wolf came into conflict with farmers as they settled eastern North America. Over time, the hunting and trapping of the wolves caused the extirpation of the American population and significantly reduced the Canadian population. However, there are now wolf management regimes that protect the wolves. For example, the seasonal protection of the  Algonquin Wolf against hunting in and around Algonquin Park introduced in 1994 was extended in 2004 to a permanent ban on wolf harvest in Algonquin Park and the surrounding forty townships. In addition in May 2015, the Eastern Wolf/Algonquin Wolf was upgraded from a Threatened status to a Species of Special Concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Along with hunting and trapping by humans, the loss of habitat due to human activity, e.g. urbanization, road networks, resource development, is the main threat to not just the Algonquin Wolf survival but to all wolves generally. You can do your part to help mitigate those threats by contributing to continuing efforts to protect the wolves and their habitats, and through your ongoing and valued support to the many conservation initiatives of Nature Canada. Human activity has brought the wolf to a point of extinction; human action can ensure that its howls continue to echo through our forests for years to come.
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Liberals And NDP Agree To Speed Up Species At Risk Listings
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Liberals And NDP Agree To Speed Up Species At Risk Listings

[caption id="attachment_22697" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Stephen Hazell Stephen Hazell
Director of Conservation
and General Counsel[/caption] Congratulations to Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna and BC NDP Member of Parliament Richard Cannings for agreeing to speed up listings of species at risk recommended by COSEWIC scientists. Cannings introduced a private member's bill C-363 that would close a loophole that the Canadian government has used for years to delay or deny protection for species deemed to be at risk. Under the Species at Risk Act, the advice to list a species comes from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), and the Minister has nine months to make a decision—to list or not—after receiving that advice.  Unfortunately, previous governments often did not respect these timelines such as for the listings of Barn and Bank Swallows which were delayed for many years until McKenna acted earlier this year. Bill C-363 proposed to amend the Act to make it clear that the clock starts when the advice is received. At a meeting of COSEWIC this week, Minister McKenna announced that the government would be enacting Mr.Cannings’ proposal in government policy. Nature Canada is delighted that the government and the NDP could work together to protect species at risk.

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Seven Animals You Can Find in Canada
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Seven Animals You Can Find in Canada

This blog is written by Toby Dean who works on behalf of londonschoolofphotography.com in outreach and content creation and edited by John Stuart. Canada is not only home to breath-taking landscapes, but it also hosts more than 400 bird species, around 200 mammal species and an extremely diverse oceanic life. Read on to discover seven beautiful animals found in Canada. Image of a Vancouver Island Marmot

1. Vancouver Island Marmot

These large squirrels live in mountainous areas as they prefer burrows. The Vancouver Island Marmot can only be found on the Vancouver Island in British Columbia. This species is bigger than others and can weigh as much as seven kilograms and measure between 60 – 70 cm. As one of the rarest animals on the planet, the Vancouver Island Marmot is now part of a recovery program aimed at increasing the marmot count. Marmots are herbivores and hibernate for almost three quarters of the year, from late September to April or May. You can learn more about this species here. 

Image of a Wolverine

2. Wolverine

The Wolverine is a small solitary carnivore animal that can kill prey much larger than itself. Wolverines are mainly scavengers. They follow wolf trails in order to scavenge the remains of their prey. They are known as ferocious and opportunistic, as well, this animal can be found in forests at high altitudes.

3. Eastern Cougar

The Eastern Cougar is also known as the puma or the mountain lion. This beautiful and ferocious feline is notorious for stalking and ambushing its prey. Eastern Cougars main prey is the White-tailed Deer. Agile and slender, the species is capable of leaping more than six meters. They are solitary animals and can travel extremely long distances to search for prey. The cougar is very territorial and will avoid other felines.

image of a Grey Wolf4. Grey Wolf

Grey Wolves have fascinated humans for a long time. They vary in color and can be all-white or gray and black. Grey Wolves live in packs with a well-established hierarchy and are great hunters. They eat small prey such as rabbits and larger animals such as moose and elk. A pack of gray wolves usually has between seven to eight animals. They travel, live and hunt in packs. Each pack includes an alpha male and female (the father and mother) and their offspring. The alphas are in charge of tracking prey and establishing the territory.
[caption id="attachment_29847" align="alignright" width="236"]Image of an American Bison American Bison. Flickr photo by Larry Smith (CC BY 2.0)[/caption]

5. Bison

Bison feed on sedges and grasses. They were on the brink of extinction in the 19th century but their numbers are now growing due to conservation efforts. Since they rely heavily on grazing, Bison had an important role in the past. They created the perfect environment for plants and animals to flourish. Wild Bison don’t have many predators, however they can be attacked and taken down by packs of wolves, coyotes, grizzlies or brown bears.

Image of Canada Lynx6. Canada Lynx

This is a medium-sized feline with a bobbed tail, extra-long ear tufts and large paws that help them walk in deep snow. The Canada Lynx can be found in moist, borest forests where it thrives thanks to its long legs and thick fur. they resemble similarities to Bobcats but it is easily distinguished by the length of the tufts. Lynx feed mostly on Snowshoe Hares but also on squirrels, carrion and mice. They prefer dense forests that serve as shelter. As solitary animals, they travel and hunt alone. They are mostly nocturnal animals and like to hunt by walking and chasing their prey.

7. Beluga Whale

Beluga Whales are social animals known as opportunistic feeders. They eat anything from Salmon, Rainbow Sole and Arctic Cod to crabs, snails, mussels and octopus. Belugas are never solitary and they congregate in groups that can be as small as two to three or as large as a few hundred. They communicate with each other using whistles and clicks. Belugas can dive to depths of up to 700 meters but they usually forage for food at depths of 300 meters. Their gestation period lasts 15 months and they give birth to one calf at a time.
Spotting these seven animals in the wild can be rare. As a photographer, when they do show up, you have to be quick on your feet to snap the perfect pictures. If you’re travelling to find these animals and to take photos of them, you should be well-prepared and informed. To perfect your photography skills before the journey, consider attending a professional photography workshop that will give you the needed tips and tricks for photographing wildlife.
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Losing Control And Gaining Ground In New Brunswick
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Losing Control And Gaining Ground In New Brunswick

Losing Control And Gaining Ground In New Brunswick Nature Trust Embraces Engagement Organizing Since its founding in 1987, the Nature Trust of New Brunswick has historically been run through grassroots efforts, with volunteers incorporating the organization to conserve and steward critical natural areas of New Brunswick and to educate New Brunswickers about the importance of these spaces. Prior to 1992, all Nature Trust work, including volunteer coordination, preserve acquisition and communication, was done in private homes and offices until a dedicated office space was found, which brought about growth in both volunteer and staff capacity. As time went on methods of volunteer organization and data management had shifted which left the organization falling behind. When Renata Woodward became Executive Director of the Nature Trust in 2009, database software called GiftWorks was in place and multiple spread sheets were used to follow up with supporters and volunteers. At the time, only certain staff managed the data and there was with no system for sharing information between staff. Over the years, Renata recognized that the organization needed a new, modern management system that not only would keep track of volunteers, supporters and donors, but that would also address their individual efforts and needs within the organization. In 2014, the Nature Trust team was invited to join other environmental non-profits in Toronto at an engagement organizing gathering run by the Gosling Foundation. They immediately accepted. “When I attended this gathering, I realized that it wasn’t just about introducing a management database to the organization, but it was about transitioning to a whole new way of involving people on their own time and at their own level and about opening the door to new demographics that we hadn’t been engaging before.” Says Renata. Engagement organizing is an approach that marries organizing, technology and a culture of developing leadership in others. This includes a shift to a model that focusses on relationship building and mobilization of supporters at the heart of the work to create a resilient, effective organization. The Nature Trust, keen to begin restructuring, began using a customer relationship management software called Salesforce, which would act as a well-rounded database for all staff and board members. Having seen the positive impact engagement organization can have on an environmental non-profit, the organization made the decision to create an Engagement Organizer position to manage the database, engage with volunteers, and to train staff. This was a bright new beginning for the Nature Trust which has changed the organizational culture For years, the organization’s successes were driven by individuals, with one staff member taking the lead and the credit in projects. The shift to engagement organization took the ‘me’ out of tasks and focused on a ‘we’ approach, which was sometimes hard to do. “Everyone felt like they were losing control,” says Renata. “Our staff were used to being able to say, ‘I accomplished that,’ and with this shift, celebrations instead turned to ‘we accomplished this by working together’.” The Nature Trust staff have used this restructuring to further develop relationships with volunteers and give them shared goals and responsibility within the organization. This ‘distributed leadership’ model has helped greatly with the Nature Trust’s “Friends of…” stewardship groups, located throughout the province. These community volunteer groups are trained and given clear job descriptions on how to manage a specific nature preserve. They are responsible for the stewardship of their nature preserve, including cleaning, trail maintenance and monitoring among other things. The group leader reports back to the Nature Trust on a frequent basis with any information or needs for the property. “Distributed leadership continues to grow and flourish within our organization. Some groups take leadership in fundraising for their preserve by themselves, and others take leadership in training. Recently, we had a team leader who had to leave, and she found and trained her own replacement, which shows how fully functioning they can be,” say Renata. The Nature Trust has also created a ladder of engagement through this new model, where donors and supporters are engaged based on their relative level of involvement. The ultimate goal is to help them up the ladder to reach their goal within the Nature Trust. The organization is also focused on engaging with individuals who do not have an environmental background and who have different interests and skill sets. A recent example of this comes from their Conservation on Canvas project. In 2013, the Nature Trust was approached by an artist who wanted to paint portraits of 33 of their preserves to raise awareness about the natural biodiversity in New Brunswick. In working with the organization and learning more about their work, he “climbed the ladder” of engagement from an observer to an ambassador who now speaks at events on behalf of the organization. This in turn, has helped the organization reach new supporters and spark interest in people who may not be aware of the trust’s work. “Don’t get stuck on one group of people,” says Renata. “Go talk to artists, students, IT people, corporations. Talk to office workers who want to get outside. Don’t just engage with the same people over and over.” Through trial and error over the past two years, the Nature Trust of New Brunswick has become one of Canada’s leaders in engagement organizing and is now called on by other groups and government agencies to explain how it operates. Renata acknowledges that the Nature Trust board and staff are in a constant state of learning with this organizational shift. “We struggle and experience failure every day, from data entry to sending the wrong message, to not engaging people enough or engaging too much,” she said. “But we don’t just fail – we learn from these mistakes and use them to help improve our systems and communication.” Next steps in engagement organizing for the Nature Trust include working to help increase land conservation in New Brunswick through their first advocacy campaign, Conserve our NB. The Nature Trust is also working on the creation of a new department, through merging the Communications and Engagement Organizing departments. [caption id="attachment_37135" align="aligncenter" width="721"] The Nature Trust of New Brunswick has a three-step process for setting up local stewardship groups.[/caption]

A Passport To Success
Photo of a maple tree
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A Passport To Success

A Passport To Success Couchiching Restructures Its Engagement Mark Bisset had a problem. Each year his organization – the Couchiching Conservancy located near Lake Simcoe, Ontario – put on a big nature festival. It was a major undertaking for a relatively small group of people, needing significant amounts of time and resources. In early years it seemed worth it, but over time attendance shrank. The cost-benefit was no longer worth it. The Conservancy still wanted to get people out on its properties, appreciating nature and engaging with its organization. So, it simplified things, and came up with a great package – a “passport” to nature. Instead of one big event, Couchiching started offering a series of smaller events throughout the year. Each event would be led by a volunteer who would do things like lead a group on a hike. The dates were decided in advance, and published in a booklet, the passport, along with information about the properties to be visited and about the organization itself. Now that there was a passport with a shelf-life of at least a year that was of interest to a wide variety of people who may want to participate in at least one event, the Conservancy was able to sell advertising space in the booklet to local businesses. Many stepped forward, not just with money (over $50,000 to date), but with offers to distribute the passports themselves, giving the organization a higher profile. "Our Development Coordinator Tanya Clark really took the ball and ran with it, turning this into a kind of multi-tool with the help of some very dedicated volunteers," says Mark. "It's one of our biggest annual fundraisers. It's a community billboard for our work. It's an entry point for new people. It's a game-changer." The Conservancy’s passport program is part of a more robust approach to public engagement. Couchiching participated with several other groups in the Better Organizations for Nature program hosted by the Sustainability Network and sponsored by the Gosling Foundation. There, groups shared their experiences using an approach called “engagement organizing,” a way of systematically recruiting and empowering people to be part of your mission. Couchiching uses a “pledge” of support for the Conservancy that people are asked to sign at events, on the doorstep through canvassing, or by taking a clipboard to the properties themselves to talk to people hiking there. People’s emails are added to an e-newsletter which now has over 2,000 subscribers. The e-newsletter is used to tell people about events, as well as to ask people to volunteer or donate. The Conservancy is still working to improve its program – indeed, it’s never done. It is still working to identify and train volunteers who can then help manage other volunteers, which is a key part of scaling any organizing program. Data entry is also still a challenge, to be able to quickly get pledges entered from paper into its database. [caption id="attachment_37132" align="aligncenter" width="800"] The Couchiching Conservancy has had good success restructuring its outings program[/caption]

Green Teams Of Canada
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Green Teams Of Canada

Green Teams Of Canada Mastering The Volunteer Experience Lyda Salatian picked up the donated muffins for the first Green Teams event at Campbell Valley Regional Park near Vancouver, but feared that nobody would show up. Several years later, thousands of people have driven her fears away by volunteering at hundreds of such events and inspiring the creation of the charity Green Teams of Canada with chapters in the Lower Mainland and Victoria. “People want to get out in nature, but sometimes need a reason for doing so,” says Lyda. People also want to feel like they are contributing, so Green Teams partners with local parks, nature groups, land conservancies, and non-profit farms to do things like remove invasive species, do beach cleanups, and plant vegetables. The key for Lyda is putting the volunteer experience at the centre of everything. “We’re unique because we focus on the volunteers. We love that we restore green spaces, but we love it even more that we are instilling an environmental ethic, which we believe will lead to responsible environmental behaviour,” she says. Great effort is invested in making the experience easy and fun for volunteers, including thanking them with personalized photos of them at the event. Green Teams relies heavily on digital channels for recruitment. From day one it used Meetup.com, an online forum where people with common interests find one another and arrange to get together. Lyda and her team complement that with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and its own email list that it has developed over time. Volunteers are also encouraged to bring friends and relatives out to future events. As a result, Green Teams finds that it taps into the 18 to 45-year old demographic often missing from traditional nature outings that tend to skew older, or else younger with school groups or scouts and guides. As the initiative has matured, about 70 percent of participants at events are still first-timers, and many haven’t done anything like this before. Some repeat participants are given more responsibility during events to help run things. Data is important to Green Teams. It recently invested in using Salesforce as a database and has participants fill out a brief online form to get a sense of their experience. People sign into events either on Green Team’s tablet, or on their own phones so that there is a record of who showed up. Participants are given a 20-minute training at the start of events along with all the necessary equipment, and off they go. Despite its great work, Green Teams still finds fundraising a challenge. It has two staff members including Lyda in Vancouver and Amanda in Victoria and finds that there isn’t enough core funding available. As a result, Green Teams seeks partnerships with both public agencies like parks managers and private bodies like land trusts who are seeking greater public engagement on their lands. For Lyda, it’s all about giving people an opportunity to participate so that they themselves can become changed. “You can plant a tree, or you can plant a seed in a person, and if we plant enough seeds in people we are going to see a big cultural shift,” she says. “We want people to realize they can make change and have an impact.” [caption id="attachment_37126" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Green Teams of Canada engages thousands of people with work-based outings[/caption]

Art Therapy: Connecting Art and Nature
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Art Therapy: Connecting Art and Nature

[caption id="attachment_35298" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Raven Wilkins Raven Wilkins, Guest Blogger[/caption] This blog is written by art therapist and guest blogger Raven Wilkins. As a child, I never went anywhere without art supplies. I brought an art kit that contained markers, pencil crayons and watercolors around with me everywhere I went, spending hours using the materials I had with me to create drawings and paintings. I was an incredibly shy kid, except for when it came to showing off my creations. As quiet and introverted as I may have been, I was always confident in my artistic skills. It wasn’t until much later in life that I realized the important role that art had played in my childhood and what it meant to me. [caption id="attachment_35299" align="alignright" width="207"]Image of Raven Wilkins Artwork Raven Wilkins Artwork[/caption] At the age of 23 I returned to school and began my journey towards becoming an art therapist. It was here that I learned that for me, art during my childhood had been my version of a security blanket, it made me feel comfortable, safe and confident. It was my way of communicating with people; if I was too shy to start a conversation with someone I didn’t know very well, I would draw them a picture, or show them something I had created, letting the art speak for me where words could not. Some kids carried around teddy bears, I had my art supplies. At the end of the program we were asked to photograph each piece of artwork, and create a presentation that discussed themes and symbols that were reoccurring in the art we had made over the course of sixteen months. Going through each piece I found that trees were a constant theme in my artwork. I used them to represent my family, painting a picture of a blue spruce tree that my grandfather had picked out and planted for me when I was born. A pencil drawing of a tree in the middle of a large field where I grew up, a tree I would sit under with my dog and work on drawing assignments for my high school art classes; to me this symbolized a safe space. The same tree was drawn a few more times, as well as the forest behind my house. These drawings of nature were meant to depict my happy place. All these years later trees became the symbol for comfort, safety and security, the same way that art once had. [caption id="attachment_35300" align="alignleft" width="388"]Image of Raven Wilkins Artwork Raven Wilkins Artwork[/caption] These days, I like to tell people that I work with that art therapy is not about creating “pretty artwork”, it’s about the process, the thoughts feelings and intentions that go into creating the artwork, but if you end up with something pretty that’s just an added-bonus! Art created during art therapy is personal; it can tell a story of the person who created it using symbols and pictures. Often-times where words fail, art speaks to us. Nature is often used as a metaphor to depict these symbols; a pathway to represent a journey, a stormy day to represent unpleasantness or trouble, a flower to represent growth, a butterfly to represent change. Like art, one’s experience of nature can be deeply personal, and is unique to that individual. We’re lucky to live in a place like Canada, someone once said to me, because “In a place as pretty as this, a person could never run out of pictures to paint.”

   

Discover pieces of art that have been inspired by nature from incredible Canadian artist in this years Art for Nature online auction!

Nature Canada has partnered with Canadian artists who donated extraordinary art pieces with nature as their muse. Each artist has used their own personal style and preferred method to create artwork infused with an aspect of nature they find inspiring. Be inspired by nature outside and inside your home! Bid on an Art for Nature Piece and make a conscious choice to purchase something that will have a lasting impact to protect the nature that inspired it. Holiday season is right around the corner- purchase a beautiful piece from the Art for Nature online auction as a gift for that special someone.
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15,000 Scientists endorse Nature Canada’s Strategic Plan (more or less)
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15,000 Scientists endorse Nature Canada’s Strategic Plan (more or less)

[caption id="attachment_30818" align="alignleft" width="150"]Jill Sturdy Jill Sturdy, NatureHood Program Manager[/caption] Earlier this week, over 15,000 scientists issued a “Warning to Humanity” in an effort to raise the alarm of increased environmental destruction of the planet, and what we can do about it. Published in the scientific journal BioScience, the scientists led by William Ripple revisited the 1992 “Warning to Humanity” and collected data and identified trends over the past 25 years. The story is bleak. Most of the environmental indicators measured in 1992 have gotten worse, and globally humanity has failed to curb environmental destruction from increased deforestation, rising GHGs from burning fossil fuels leading to climate change, unsustainable fisheries, mass extinction of species, and uncontrolled population growth. But…All is not lost. There is still hope.Image of a Canadian River In their “Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice”; the scientists  cite actions humanity  can take to help offset environmental destruction including three key areas Nature Canada is actively working on:

  1. Protect large intact ecosystems on land and ocean;
  2. Maintain nature’s ecosystem services by halting the conversion of forests and grasslands; and
  3. Promote outdoor environmental education for children, and overall engagement in nature.
Canada has an incredible opportunity to be a leader in global biodiversity and nature protection. Nature is part of our core and Canadian identity. We are so fortunate to have access to nature all around us. We need to ensure our children get the same opportunities to explore in nature so they grow up to be future nature advocates. At the same time, the federal government has committed to an international target of protecting at least 17% of our lands and 10% of our ocean by 2020, and politicians  need to be held to the fire to meet these critical targets. Let’s take this warning as a challenge to be better stewards of the planet and to act more sustainably. What can you do:
  1. Get outside! Take your kids out into nature on a daily basis. You don’t need to go far to explore nature. Learn more about Nature Canada’s NatureHood program on ways you can connect to Nearby Nature;
  2. Talk to your local Member of Parliament about nature conservation and your desire to see more biodiversity protected;
  3. Learn more about what Nature Canada is doing to push the federal government to meet its targets for increased protection; and
  4. Donate to Nature Canada and help us continue to be a strong voice for Nature.
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2017 Nature Inspiration Award
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2017 Nature Inspiration Award

[caption id="attachment_34859" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Sarah Cooper Sarah Cooper, Project Manager - Keep Cats Safe & Save Bird Lives[/caption] Nature Canada’s Keep Cats Safe and Save Bird Lives program is the proud recipient of the Nature Inspiration Award (Not-for-Profit Organization (Small and Medium) category) from the Canadian Museum of Nature! Huge thanks to the Canadian Museum of Nature for this recognition. And huge thanks to all our partners, supporters and especially our volunteers, for their outstanding contributions to our campaign on behalf of safe cats and safe birds. We couldn’t do it without you! The Awards recognize individuals and organizations that, through their work or specific projects, encourage Canadians to [caption id="attachment_22401" align="alignright" width="248"]Magnolia Warbler, birds, perch Magnolia Warbler perched on a branch.[/caption] • take an interest in natural history • create links with nature • contribute to the preservation of nature. Nominees are assessed against the following criteria: Leadership Must have demonstrated initiative in the fields of natural sciences, environment or nature protection at a local, national or international scale. Innovation Must have used novel approaches in the implementation of actions or programmes for the benefit of nature. Inspiration Must have encouraged other people or organizations to get involved for the benefit of nature. The Canadian Museum of Nature wrote, “Your application truly demonstrated how you encourage people to take an interest in natural history, create links with nature and show leadership in contributing to the preservation of nature.” Jurors cited are innovative, positive approach and our wide partnerships with nature organizations, cat-care organizations, and “even author Margaret Atwood."

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I Belong Here – How Nature Supports a Sense of Belonging and Wellbeing
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I Belong Here – How Nature Supports a Sense of Belonging and Wellbeing

[caption id="attachment_34602" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Sherry Nigro, Guest Blogger Sherry Nigro, Guest Blogger[/caption] This blog is written by guest blogger Sherry Nigro. Chances are, when you think about your "happy" place, it is somewhere in a natural setting. Why is that? Research shows that exposure to nature is correlated with improved wellbeing and a stronger sense of belonging. Both of these factors contribute not only to our quality of life, but also to our morbidity and even mortality! [caption id="attachment_34889" align="alignright" width="340"]Image of flowers Photo by Sherry Nigro[/caption] Time in nature has quantifiable physiological effects, including changes to brain activity, reduced stress hormones, improved immune function and less muscle tension. More difficult to measure are the intangible effects, such as personal perceptions and feelings. However, with sample sizes of thousands of people, scientists have been able to validate the link between nature and feeling a sense of connection. Amazingly, this happens whether one is in the no-cell-service wilderness or looking at a tree out of a window. While the response is proportionate to the quality of the green space and the level of immersion, it is still remarkable that one just needs to see nature to have an effect. That said, there are still questions about how the pathways of response function and whether there is a chicken-or-an-egg causality. There is a need for continued research to better understand the relationships with obvious implications for health care, education, land use planning and public policy. Connectedness is fundamental to the human condition. When someone is exposed to nature, there is a sense of connection to nature, of belonging that scientists have named "nature-relatedness". Tools to measure the depth of an individual's "soft fascination" with and interest in nature have been able to demonstrate links with pro-environmental attitudes and behaviours as well as higher levels of wellbeing. [caption id="attachment_34890" align="alignleft" width="357"]Image of a lake Photo by Sherry Nigro[/caption]

We not only feel more connected to the natural world, we also feel more kinship with our human community. Exposure to nature increases social cohesion which consists of shared norms, positive relationships with others and feelings of belonging. Studies on populations, such as public housing residents, show that those who have access to green space and green views have more social ties with their neighbours and a stronger sense of community. We know that attachment to a place or a group is highly protective for positive mental health, especially for youth and older adults.

Reports by respected organizations including the World Health Organization, the American Public Health Association, Canadian Parks Council, and Toronto Public Health, have all documented the positive impact nature has on our personal sense of belonging and wellbeing. But I think perhaps Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) said it best: "I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees."
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