COVID-19 and funding cuts affect Boreal Centre

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

The Boreal Centre for Bird Conservation (BCBC) is in a time of change. Pre-COVID-19 funding cuts to Alberta provincial parks mean it will become seasonal. At the moment, it is closed because of COVID-19. Bird migration studies are delayed because of snow. The annual songbird festival, May 30 and 31, is postponed.

BCBC closures
BCBC is in Slave Lake Provincial Park, northeast of Slave Lake. The building is owned by the Slave Lake Provincial Park. A local non profit, the Lesser Slave Lake Bird Observatory Society (LSLBO), has an operational agreement to run the centre.

Patti Campsall, executive-director of LSLBO, gives a breakdown of what this means.

Alberta Parks, she says, covers the costs of running the building. LSLBO provides the people who teach the programs and interact with visitors.

About a month ago, the Alberta budget slashed funding to provincial parks across the province.

For LSLBO, this means 50 per cent less money to provide programs at the Boreal Centre. This is not the only funding that LSLBO has, but will have an impact.

At this point, the most likely way to run the centre on less money is to only have the building open seasonally, from May to September.

However, the fall and winter, says Campsall, is when LSLBO connects with the local community. LSLBO offers free snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing at the Boreal Centre.

January to March tend to be busy times for field-trips, says Campsall.
Having a nice warm building makes it easy for local and groups from outlying communities like Wabasca and Sandy Lake to come down. For many this is the classes’ big field-trip for the year. With the building closed, it will be possible to make shorter field trips for local schools, but harder for those groups that have to travel from far away.

LSLBO is working out ways to continue to offer year-round programing.

Bird monitoring
LSLBO started monitoring bird migration in 1994. Lesser Slave Lake is on the southern end of the boreal forest. Its eastern lake shore and nearby Marten Mountains create a funnel, which results in a higher than normal concentration of birds migrating to the boreal forest.

LSLBO has two other year round staff – an educator, shared with the Lesser Slave Lake Forest Education Society, and the bander-in-charge. The society also hires seasonal staff for the centre and banders for the migration research.

The bird migration study was tentatively scheduled to start on April 15, but with the snow this has been pushed off. The visual count of birds flying overhead, however, has started. Bird monitoring will be going ahead, but the banding station is closed to visitors.

Having no public access is hard, says Campsall, because “it’s always so fun sharing our world.”

Online content
One way that LSLBO is sharing its world is online. In partnership with other non profit nature groups it recently offered Watershed 101 and Bird Migration.

“Mystery of the extra egg” was a popular new feature on its website lslbo.org.

These groups are also working closely with teachers who were scheduled to come for field-trips to build online resources.

The LSLBO staff are quite busy, says Campsall. They are adapting educational program and coming up with plans A through F, so whenever and however the park and centre reopen they’ll be ready.

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