Protecting the cranes, one sign at a time

Protecting the cranes, one sign at a time
Ronnie Schaefer is the man behind the new signs on Salt River First Nation land aimed at protecting whooping cranes that have landed outside of Wood Buffalo National Park. The signs map out the vulnerable birds’ nesting territory.Photo by Meagan Wohlberg.

When an endangered species like the whooping crane decides to nest outside of its protected area, it becomes vulnerable to all sorts of human threats.

That is what made Salt River First Nation (SRFN) member Ronnie Schaefer nervous when he first encountered the famous “Lobstick pair” of whooping cranes nesting on SRFN land outside the boundaries of the Wood Buffalo National Park 18 years ago.

“People still don’t even know they are back there,” he said, referring to an area of land between the park and the Fox Holes prairie.

Unaware of the vulnerable cranes, people often go joy-riding on quads through the nesting area, or worse, hunting.

So Schaefer decided to do something to protect them.

Two summers ago, he began doing work through the NWT Species at Risk program to educate the public about the nesting area on SRFN land and post signage that would stop wayward ventures by ATVers and hunters from encroaching on the cranes’ territory.

Last week, with approval from the Chief and Council, the first stage of his campaign came to fruition in the form of large informational signs mounted at the trail-head of a popular quadding site near Fox Holes, as well as smaller signs around the boundary of the nesting grounds.

“For people who want to go out, they have to realize that the area is protected,” said Schaefer. “This way they can learn about the birds and learn where they are nesting so they don’t go there and disturb them.”

A bylaw officer with the Town of Fort Smith by day, Schaefer spends whatever evenings he can out at Salt River, watching the Lobstick pair and another one he has affectionately named Snowball and Snowflake play at a safe distance.

“It’s so peaceful, I’d rather stay out there,” he said with a laugh.

Schaefer plans to distribute the information in the form of pamphlets to different schools and centres around Fort Smith so that word gets out that they need to be protected.

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