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Field naturalists look to future of the club

The Echo, Haliburton County

By Angelica Blenich

April 19, 2011.

Since its inception the Haliburton Highlands Field Naturalists club has provided events and opportunities for nature lovers throughout the area.

The organization is constantly looking to improve its programming and attract new members.

On April 14, Barbara Mackenzie-Wynia, central and northern regional coordinator for Ontario Nature Network, spoke to members of the club on the various initiatives Ontario Nature is involved with.

Formerly known as the Federation of Ontario Naturalists, ON Nature oversees various chapters of the organization such as the HHFN.

Originating in 1931, ON Nature is a charitable organization that appreciates and advocates for nature.

Some of the organization's success stories include the creation of a wilderness area in Algonquin Park in 1934.

Currently, ON Nature protects 22 significant natural reserve areas, which total almost 6,000 acres.

"We've been protecting these areas since 1961," said MacKenzie-Wynia.

Projects the organization is involved with include compiling an atlas of reptiles and amphibians discovered within Ontario.

"This is to improve our knowledge. We need any sighting of any species from any year."

So far the organization has collected 161,000 observations, which will be added to a pre-existing database.

"We developed an online atlas in 2010 and updated the range maps in February of 2011," she said.

One of the goals of ON Nature is to get more youth involved, said MacKenzie-Wynia, a task Haliburton is already targeting with the development of a young naturalist club.

"You're already ahead with that and I'm so glad."

Attracting younger members and building club capacity are two of the foremost challenges within the various chapters of ON Nature.

Members of the HHFN speculated that similar challenges were faced in Haliburton.

"Why are club numbers dropping off?" asked Barry Withers. "Why are people losing interest?"

As far as she could tell there were a number of contributing factors, said MacKenzie-Wynia, including age and a lack of new people joining.

"There's a big gap with youth, they're not interested in the clubs."

Logistics also played a role, she said, with most clubs meeting on days and at times not convenient to a younger demographic.

"The older population has more time to dedicate to a club," she said.

This year ON Nature will be celebrating its 80th anniversary and will be celebrating at its annual general meeting, held in Port Hope from June 10-12.

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