For Jenna MacEachern, few things can compare to being outdoors, especially when it offers an opportunity to help preserve vital habitat in the Bras d’Or Lakes watershed.
Jenna is one of eight first-year Natural Resources Environmental Technology (NRET) students who conducted an extensive baseline survey of the Mary Harper Nature Reserve during fall 2016. Drawing on her GPS and mapping training at the Wagmatcook Learning Centre, Jenna gathered data about the 24.3 hectare property that will aid the Bras d’Or Preservation Nature Trust in its efforts to conserve the land for future generations.
“For example,” Jenna says, “we came across a black ash tree, which is on the province’s endangered list. That was particularly exciting for us, because by finding it, we might help this threatened species to survive.”
Although the Bras d’Or Preservation Nature Trust has cared for and regularly monitored the reserve since Harper bequeathed it in 1991, no baseline survey had ever been conducted until NRET instructor Minga O’Brien reached out to the board of directors.
Preserving the flora and fauna
“I was looking for a plot of land where students could apply the skills they were learning in class,” Minga explains. “The Trust came back and suggested the reserve. An undertaking like this is expensive for a volunteer organization like the Trust, but without it you don’t know the flora and fauna that are there, or the risks they face, making it difficult to preserve the property.”
Minga was amazed at the progress the students made over the course of the project. “Soil sampling; creating maps; identifying, aging and determining heights of trees; identifying ground vegetation; downloading GPS information to Google Earth—all of this is still relatively new to them. To see them out there doing that independently was rewarding, particularly knowing that this experience will appeal to employers when they graduate.”
Now that the survey is completed, Minga is reviewing the students’ findings and preparing a composite report for use by the Trust. Board of directors member Henry Muggah is looking forward to seeing the results, and is already thinking of further opportunities to partner with NSCC and NRET.
“We have other lands that would be ideal for surveys, depending on the educational needs of the students,” Henry says. “We think this has been a wonderful venture, and we are looking at making an in-kind contribution that could be used for a scholarship or a class project to show our gratitude.”
As for Jenna MacEachern, she says it has been a rewarding experience, particularly knowing that her work will contribute to the protection of the reserve.
“That’s the main reason I took the course—to pursue a career where I could be outdoors helping the environment. It gives me a real sense of pride to have been involved with this.”