On February 9, 2019 the 17th Annual Conservation Education W.I.S.E Foundation Awards and Banquet was held at the BMO Centre in Calgary where over 400 people helped us honour two outstanding Albertans who were inducted into the W.I.S.E. Awards Hall of Fame. Despite the frigid temperatures outside, it was a wonderful evening of camaraderie and celebration in the name of Conservation Education.
Among those in attendance were Brandy Payne, Associate Minister of Health and MLA for Calgary-Acadia, and Mr. Eric Rosendahl, MLA for West Yellowhead. Mr. Rosendahl spoke about the positive impact Conservation Education has on the people of the province and his belief that our sustainable natural resources will be available and enjoyed for generations, with our help. In addition to our guests, we received letters from the Minister of Environment and Parks, Shannon Phillips, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and the Honourable Rachel Notley, Premier of Alberta. Premier Notley wrote that she “can think of no other organization in the province that has done more to promote an ethical and sustainable approach to wildlife conservation than the Alberta Hunter Education Instructors’ Association”. She acknowledged the overwhelming success of our programs and thanked us for teaching hundreds of thousands of students with genuine regard for their impact on the environment.
As mentioned, this year at the WISE Awards we recognized two deserving people for their contributions to the cause of conservation education. The following is an excerpt of the presentations made to honour these individuals.
The WISE Public Service Conservation Award
The WISE Public Service Conservation Award recognizes achievements in public relations, conservation ethics and community leadership by federal, provincial or municipal employees who devote time to educate Albertans in the area of fish and wildlife resource use.
This year we were pleased to recognize Mr. Chris Watson of Drayton Valley, Alberta.
From an early age, Chris’ love of the outdoors was encouraged by his mother and father. His family home in Winnipeg was on the very outskirts of the city next to a protected area of tall grasses and bush. He often explored this area and in the summers spent time at his parent’s farm enjoying the countryside and outdoors. When Chris was 12 years old, he had a paper route and one day when delivering papers, he found a deer antler. It was then that his true interest in fauna began.
By the age of 16 Chris began hunting waterfowl with his father and it was also then that Chris was introduced to archery at his school. His class went to a camp where he tried the sport and soon afterwards went to the local archery range to purchase a bow and became hooked on the sport. He was granted permission to hunt deer just outside of the city and has loved bowhunting ever since.
Chris’ childhood experiences led him to pursue studies in Conservation Enforcement. In the summers he worked as a Park Patrol Officer in Manitoba, twice at Whiteshell Provincial Park, and also at George Lake. After college he was successful in securing a position with Alberta Fish and Wildlife. During his employment as an officer with the government agency, he has worked in the communities of Fairview, Oyen, Calgary, Barrhead and Hinton, where he currently lives and has worked for the past 15 years.
While living and working in Hinton, Chris has been a great influence in the community outside of his role as a Fish and Wildlife Officer. He has been very involved with the Yellowhead Arrow Launchers Association and the Hinton Fish and Game Association. Through helping to secure provincial and municipal grants and stakeholder funding support, he and the dedicated volunteers involved have facilitated an investment of close to $1,000,000 into the Hinton Fish and Game facilities in the last decade.
The Range houses an outdoor recreational archery complex which is recognized as one of the best in Alberta, offering 3D targets year-round, and newer 3D targets used for competitive shooting events. Working alongside club president Kevin Guimond, the funding Chris secured helped to build an indoor range, allowing for increased opportunity for youth archery and other programs throughout the year.
With the development of these facilities, the club wanted an accepted archery program and followed AHEIA’s lead with the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP). Chris believes in the philosophy of NASP, recognizing and encouraging all students, athletic or not, through positive reinforcement. As their program evolves under the direction of senior instructors, they have developed a mentorship program for junior instructors who assist the youngest participants, starting as early as 5 years of age. To see these young instructors develop in their public speaking, coaching and mentoring abilities has been every bit as rewarding to Chris as seeing the smiles on the participants faces when they hit their first bullseye.
When the program was introduced, Chris was bombarded with youth wanting to participate. He helped raise funds through raffles to purchase bows, arrows and targets for both the Catholic and Public high schools in Hinton. The high schools now have archery incorporated into their physical education curriculum. The younger students in the community are trained at the indoor range through the Yellowhead Arrow Launchers, where Chris can often be found every week teaching skill development.
Chris is also involved with the Wild Sheep Foundation who recently granted $10,000 towards development of a youth trap shooting program at the Hinton Fish and Game ranges. With these funds, firearms, shells and targets were purchased, which will allow the youth league participants to shoot all summer long for free other than a small fee for insurance. He has also submitted grant applications for improvements to the clubhouse and hopefully they will be awarded soon so renovations can begin this year.
Chris participates in the annual Fish & Game Winter Magic Festival, a fishing fun day at Gregg Lake where, in uniform, he speaks to people about fishing and conservation, and gives pointers to the anglers.
Although its unsure where he finds time, Chris is also an executive member of the local Trappers Association, member of the Wild Sheep Foundation, provides countless presentations at schools and community events, and teaches AHEIA’s Hunter Education Certification Courses.
In his role as a Fish and Wildlife Officer, Chris spends many hours in a public relations capacity with respect to sheep hunting in the Cadomin Mine area. This area is a haven for Bighorn Sheep who feed on the lush grasses of the reclaimed mine property and surrounding region. A very limited number of tags are issued each year and Chris spends many hours patrolling the area, marking the hunting area perimeter and getting to know the sheep hunters, ensuring that rules are followed in a fair and ethical way during sheep season.
Chris believes that, from the perspective of the Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Branch which is responsible for monitoring and regulating hunting activities, the Government understands the value of conservation education and must trust these efforts. He knows the damage that can be done to hunters and stakeholder groups connected with hunting, when significant numbers of offenders are found every year who have bypassed informative and educational teachings. He is very supportive of AHIEA’s online Hunter Training program, noting that this particular access to training is “more than a home run, it is a grand slam for AHEIA and a win-win for Albertans.” He also appreciates the inter-agency cooperation with AHEIA, helping to identify hunters taking short cuts in obtaining licenses.
Early in his career, Chris worked with Officer Lyle Lester in Oyen, who encouraged him to teach a Fly Fishing seminar for younger students. His enjoyment of that experience has led him to a lifetime of mentoring, teaching, working with youth and sharing his skills and passion with men, women and children of all ages. It is very apparent that he embraces conservation education and is dedicated to the many work related and volunteer roles he has in the community, in which its citizens have surely benefited.
The WISE Volunteer Instructor Conservation Award
The WISE Volunteer Instructor Conservation Award is designed to acknowledge outstanding leaders who are engaging, willing to help others, enthusiastic, committed to conservation education and one who is determined to make a difference within his or her community.
It was our pleasure to Award the WISE Volunteer Instructor Conservation Award to Mr. Lucas Wun of Calgary, Alberta.
Lucas is an avid hunter and outdoor enthusiast, who is dedicated to sharing his expertise and experiences with all Albertans but in particular, the Chinese community in Calgary.
Born in China, Lucas moved with his family to Hong Kong at the age of two years, leaving behind the recently ended civil war and new communist government. As a young man Lucas enjoyed many outdoor activities such as camping, mountain climbing, ocean fishing and hunting birds and wild boars, a very privileged activity on the island. Firearms are prohibited in Hong Kong but after a lengthy and strict application process to even be considered as a firearm owner, Lucas was successful in being approved at the age of 21 and quickly developed a passion for hunting and shooting. He participated in competitive shooting sports including Palma Shooting, which involves hitting a 20” target from 1000 yards. He also attended rapid fire pistol competitions and smallbore rifle marksmanship competitions.
In 1982 hunting was banned in Hong Kong due to development. At that time in Guangdong, a coastal Province of China which borders Hong Kong, 40% of the crops were being destroyed by wild boars. China invited a culling team of 10 people to help with the problem in which Lucas participated and volunteered regularly until 1992. In 1992 hunting was banned in China as well, however at that time the wild boar problem had grown in Hong Kong and measures had to be taken by the government. From 1992 to 1999 Lucas and his team were asked to assist with reducing the wild boar population to manageable numbers.
Following his retirement in 1999, Lucas emigrated to Calgary and shortly thereafter contacted Thomas Schwanke, a long time Canadian Firearms Safety Course Instructor with AHEIA. Lucas was taught the program which allowed him to obtain his firearms licence and retrieve his personal firearms.
Over the next few years Lucas was often approached by people at his church who heard his stories and learned of his passion for the shooting sports and hunting in Alberta. They were interested in taking the Firearms Safety Course as well, so a course led by Jim Roberts, another long-time AHEIA Instructor, was held for approximately 30 people. Interested in introducing the Chinese community to his love of shooting and hunting, he was enrolled in an AHEIA instructor class taught by President Bob Gruszecki, and became a Firearms Instructor in 2003. Since then Lucas has trained approximately 2000 Chinese students the Canadian Firearms Safety Course.
Lucas is also a Hunting Education facilitator and mentor in the Chinese community. He is always encouraging people who are interested in hunting to take the AHEIA home study Hunter Education Certification Course but might be hesitant due to the language barrier. He spends dozens of hours interpreting and helping students understand the program and will then schedule a day at AHEIA’s Calgary Conservation Centre for Excellence to interpret the course material and exam to them.
After successfully completing AHEIA’s Canadian Firearms Safety Course, AHIEA’s Hunter Education Certification Course and after receiving their Firearms Licences, Lucas will arrange for students to practice shooting at clay targets. Many have never had an opportunity to fire a gun and Lucas has found that these days of safety, mentorship, shooting and practicing helps people gain confidence and develop more of an interest in the shooting sports and hunting. He provides the training and firearms and helps people become comfortable with handling a firearm. For those interested, he takes them on a waterfowl hunt and in September you can often see him mentoring students at his favourite locations. In October and November interested students can also join him hunting big game.
Bringing the training full circle, for the last ten years after hunting season has ended, Lucas and his wife host about 120 students, their families and friends to a wild game dinner. If any of his students have had a successful harvest, he asks that they provide some for the event. When the food is served, he acknowledges the students so that everyone can offer their thanks. Any of the meat that Lucas has harvested himself is kept for the banquet, where it is also served to his students and their guests. It is important to Lucas that his students appreciate and are thankful for the gifts that their hunt provided.
As a mentor, Lucas has worked with almost 1000 students. He feels very privileged to be able to mentor the Chinese youth and young adults in Alberta to hunt. Children are traditionally introduced to hunting by their fathers or a family member, but because it wasn’t allowed in China and Hong Kong, he fills that role and is rewarded with a thankful community. Lucas has never charged money for his mentorship or training – his services are free. He only asks that his students pass on their experiences to others and after practice and confidence, become mentors as well.
Whether it is being available to home study students, training people to safely use firearms, assisting youth and adults with developing their shooting skills or passing on his passion of hunting, he wants to share with everyone his knowledge and experience to help them be successful with their outdoor pursuits. He will always bring others to his favourite hunting areas, offering a better chance of success, simply because he feels extremely fortunate to be able to pursue his passion, and in turn hopefully spark the same reaction in others.
Lucas believes he is very lucky to retire in such a beautiful part of the world, or as he calls it – paradise, and presently shows no sign of slowing down. This coming year he will not only be regularly be teaching the AHEIA Canadian Firearms Safety Course and the Hunter Education Certification Program, executing his mentoring program, but will he also be assisting with the translation of a number of AHEIA’s safety videos into Mandarin for the Alberta Hunter Education Instructors’ Association, providing an even greater opportunity for the Chinese people in our province to understand and appreciate our abundant natural resources.
Looking back at 2018, it was another record-breaking year for AHEIA, with over 110,000 students graduating from all facets of conservation education. Last year we introduced the nation-wide, online Pleasure Craft Operator Training Course, added to our Essentials series with the online Bighorn Sheep Essentials program, modified the Fishing Education Program to be the best of its kind in North America, celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Outdoor Women’s Program and added new smartphone apps to an ever-increasing mobile learning environment. We also continued to deliver our in-class programs, leagues, camps and seminars assisted by thousands of hard working and dedicated volunteers throughout the province, who are committed to combining skilled instruction with safety, responsibility, ethics and respect. It is with their tireless efforts that we are able to offer such a diverse and extensive slate of programs to deserving Albertans – and for this we are thankful.
2019 is anticipated to be even busier, with the development of new educational programs, special events such as the Provincial Trap Shooting Championships at the Calgary Firearms Centre, and the release of our highly anticipated online Fishing Education Program this spring. As always, we endeavour to provide the public with all of their outdoor educational needs. If there is a course or workshop you would like to see, please let us know!
Although the economy is starting to show signs of improvement, people are very watchful of their finances and yet, despite this, our programs continue to grow. Revenues from donations are down across the board for charities and we are no exception. We continue to be diligent at raising funds for our cause and gratefully accept any and all donations while faithfully applying them to our programs. Along with our many terrific raffles, this year we will be focussing on some new fundraising projects to help us deliver these highly valued programs. Keep an eye on future Conservation Education Magazines and our social media feeds for announcements of these exciting new initiatives. We also invite you to attend the 6th Annual Spring Fling Banquet in Edmonton which is a lot of fun, and also helps raise much needed programming funds. We look forward to your support as we endeavour to continue producing the quality programming and exciting events for which AHEIA is known.
With the cold weather finally behind us, we encourage you to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors. Perhaps join us at one of the scheduled events at the Calgary Firearms Centre, join a shooting league or attend one of the camps at Alford Lake this summer. With all of our offerings, we are sure to have something to attract your interest.
Have a wonderful spring and summer, and we hope to see you soon.