I want to begin by giving recognition to our out-going President, Hugh Armstrong, who has diligently served an unprecedented 4-1/2 year term in his role. I’m sure no other president of Grassland Naturalists has devoted so much time and effort to this position. Hugh leaves our society in a strong position. We are strong financially, reputationally (is that a word?) in the community, and we can look back on a string of accomplishments that leave us all proud. The body of natural history knowledge for southeastern Alberta continues to grow every year in part because of the contribution of our society’s membership efforts. Jan Scott is a fine example of what just one member can accomplish in her field of interest.
Whether it’s environmental issues, quality programs both indoors and outdoors, creation of new publications, or building civic awareness over the environment, Hugh has given strong steady leadership that gives us all pride in being a member of GN. Please join me in thanking Hugh for his unprecedented dedicated service. We have other members on our board who have put in years of faithful service as well.
During these covid-19 times, we are faced with significant challenges in carrying on our club activities. Our venue for indoor programs is too small to allow for social distancing and maybe we have to look at temporarily finding a larger room in which we can meet and safely social distance while wearing masks. Outdoor programs can possibly resume with certain limitations but we will have to proceed carefully, fully cognizant of the fact that a second wave of covid-19 might once again bring limitations on our ability to congregate. Pandemic health regulations also play a big part in how we are able to proceed.
These are challenging times for many reasons besides covid-19. For people of our generation (mostly baby-boomers because of our club’s present demographic) we are living in unprecedented times. Between covid-19, climate change, and general degradation of the environment, we are hearing the word “apocalyptic” being voiced by many. The current wildfire situation in western United States on top of other natural calamities and on top of covid-19 are all contributing to universal angst.
Unquestionably we are moving into a future with a new normal and none of us are really sure what that will look like. The times are changing…and quickly! Where does that leave the Grasslands Naturalists? What does that mean for our environment? Those are one of the serious questions that we need to address.
While we all enjoy the pleasures of the natural world, the fact is that the natural world continues to be under unprecedented threat. Just one example is the worldwide decline of songbirds. Their overall population decline averages 60% since the 1960’s. My own documented birding observations reflect this disturbing trend. Just this week the beautiful Red-Headed Woodpecker has been added to the threatened species list by our Federal Government.
Our environmental future looks grim on many fronts. But in spite of that, our civilization has developed the strongest awareness of environmental issues than ever before. More people than ever want to do recycling, want to support sustainable practices, and more people than ever (thanks to covid-19) are beginning to discover the joys of nature and the outdoors.
As a society we need to capitalize on this newfound interest in our parks and natural world. And we especially need to find new ways to inspire the younger generations to take up the torch that we baby-boomers have been carrying for so long.
One avenue that might help us build new membership is the current interest in climate change among the younger generations. This issue seems to have ignited youth into a role of engagement on environmental issues. This may serve as a natural recruitment tool to build our society and to create broader interest in all aspects of the natural world.
When I joined the Manitoba Naturalists Society in 1969, membership in that organization exploded because baby-boomer youth got involved. The catalyst was the need for activism that our generation perpetuated. Previously, the Manitoba Naturalist Society was a small group of older adults numbering in the few hundreds. After the 1960’s, their membership increased to over 3000. That change was not without controversy. I can well remember the emotional debates that took place over whether the MNS was an organization devoted to the study of nature or a lobbyist organization. Ultimately it became both just as we are today.
Today’s naturalist societies all over North America are in need of the younger generation to get involved. That may be our biggest challenge going forward. We all need to look for every opportunity to invite young people to participate in what we do. Somebody my age should not be the one assuming the Presidency because I won’t be able to do it for the next five years like Hugh.
We also need a Vice-President. We need a vision that is going to capture the interest of young people and we need to face the challenge of this quickly changing world. A stronger focus on climate change may help to attract younger generations to what we do. In our province that is probably more controversial than some others. But climate change is not going away. I look to all of you for ideas and help. This society has been a vital part of this community and we have made a huge difference and our natural world would suffer great loss without the Grasslands Naturalists Society. In fact somebody should be writing a book on the history of our past 38 years.
Those are just a few of the things that will be on our agenda as we continue to study and advocate for the natural world we love. I look forward to working with an experienced and supportive board. We have great people in our society. And together we know we can accomplish much going forward, because of our knowledge of what we have done in the past.