If the late Hunter was looking down at nature renewal efforts in Ontario that day, he had a variety of choices. The Rouge planting was one of five Nature Guardians events taking place across the province. On the other side of the Greater Toronto Area, a team of young conservationists was setting off into Mississauga’s Rathwood Park to plant trees. At Lemoine Point near Kingston, a crew was engaged in shoreline cleanup along Lake Ontario. At the Minesing Wetland near Barrie, another team was restoring a stretch of the North Simcoe Rail Trail. Near Thunder Bay, yet another gang of young volunteers was preparing a site for tree planting in the Pine Bay Nature Reserve.
“Pine Bay had been clearcut,” explains Lupine Habib, one of four members of the Youth Council who are Nature Guardians in the Thunder Bay region. Through her affiliation with the Thunder Bay Field Naturalists, Habib had sought volunteers to help restore the area to its natural state. “It was a good fit, because restoration is part of conservation,” she says. On this day, the Grade 12 student has mustered 17 volunteers ranging in age from six to 60, armed them with saws and clippers, and put them to work clearing brush in areas where trees were to be planted.
Habib was only mildly interested in environmental issues until Grade 11, when she noticed a poster for EcoSuperior, a local not-for-profit organization that operates green initiatives. She went to a meeting and got involved. The Thunder Bay Field Naturalists had funding to send two young people to the Ontario Nature youth summit in Toronto last June. That weekend proved transformative for Habib. “The people were really passionate about what they did, and they knew what they were doing,” she says. “They could stop in front of a tree and just start talking about how First Nations people used a tree while still preserving it.” There was even political action: some Nature Guardians wrote a postcard to a local MPP to ask for changes to the Endangered Species Act.
A month after the Earth Day events, 15 members of the Youth Council were reunited for a weekend conservation photography workshop in Hamilton. The kids, along with Sarah Hedges and four photography instructors, travelled to a local farm, Plan B Organics. As they stepped off the bus, a gender disparity was apparent: 14 are young women. Moe Qureshi, an 18-year-old Youth Council member from Mississauga, doesn’t see that as cause for concern. “Guys get involved at a later stage,” he says. “There’s a lot of distractions in high school. Generally, boys like to know a lot more before they get involved.” He connects his own enthusiasm to his eco-friendly parents and an early encounter with water pollution. “My teacher announced that we couldn’t eat fish caught in Lake Ontario … We had just finished the water cycle unit, and I wanted to know why fresh rainwater couldn’t clean away the polluted water.” Qureshi didn’t like the answer.
The work of a Youth Council member is never done. In March, some were in Toronto’s Downsview Park helping the Evergreen Foundation remove invasive species and painting bird boxes. A second youth summit is planned for late September, and the Youth Council members are developing the program of events: the theme, the keynote speakers, the workshops, the venue. In a few months, some will probably be back in Earl Bales Park for the Spring City Treeplant alongside the Friends of the Don East and Urban Forestry Associates.
Glanzmann credits the Nature Guardians program’s wide range of partner organizations, ranging from Friends of the Rouge to Friends of the Don to the YMCA, for expanding her knowledge and horizons. “Nature Guardians has really built my confidence but also made me question how I live,” she says. “If I view something one way, they will give me some other facts and change my way of thinking. It’s amazing to see other kids rising up and taking a stand. It has a very big impact, and if we can reach more kids, it will have a still bigger impact.”
It takes imagination to see a forest where there isn’t one. And it takes tremendous effort and planning to make that forest a reality. The payoff is huge for the younger generation. “When you plant a white pine, which is our provincial tree, you’re not just planting it so that you can come back in 20 years and say, ‘I did that,’” says Robb. “White pines can live 350 years. You are giving to five or six generations.”