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Nature NL hopes award will spur conservation efforts in Newfoundland and Labrador

A view of the Codroy Valley in western Newfoundland.
A view of the Codroy Valley in western Newfoundland.

Calling all nature enthusiasts: your passion could earn you a $1,000 scholarship.

Nature Newfoundland and Labrador (Nature NL) is accepting applications for the 2018 Wild Things Scholarship, with the deadline set for March 19.

The Wild Things Scholarship recognizes the volunteer efforts of a student to conserve or enhance nature. Anyone who lives in the province and who will attend a post-secondary program next year can apply.


Scholarship roots

The scholarship is one of the many legacies of Dave Snow, who was well known in conservation circles in the province. When he died in April, Nature NL committed to maintaining the scholarship in his memory.

Snow was a leader in nature-based tourism with his business, Wild Things Tours, which he started shortly after leaving university in the 1980s.

In the early 1990s, Snow approached Nature NL with the challenge of establishing a scholarship for young volunteers who show a commitment to the environment.

To date, the scholarship has awarded more than $25,000 to students.

One of the primary goals of Nature NL is to maintain and continue this scholarship as a way to remember Snow. Funding for the scholarship is provided by Wildland Tours and an anonymous donor.


Past recipients

Snow’s passion for nature continues with a new generation of conservationists who have received the scholarship.

The 2017 recipient, Brendan Kelly, has been interested in the outdoors ever since he can remember.

Kelly, who is completing a degree in wildlife conservation at the University of Prince Edward Island, recalls hunting and fishing with his father as a child.

“It introduced me to the outdoors and nature, and kind of gave me an appreciation for it — a reason to value and protect it.”

Kelly is perhaps best known for his nest boxes. He has over two hundred of them — which he built himself — set up all around the island, and in Labrador. The boxes provide a safe nesting place for several species of birds. They also allow Kelly to learn more about the various birds that nest in the province.

Once he completes his degree next year, he plans to pursue graduate work in ornithology, using the nest box data for his graduate-level project.

“But that will basically depend on whether I’m able to secure a few more scholarships to pay for it,” he said.

This semester, The Wild Things scholarship helped Kelly pay his tuition.

“I literally used the entire thing to help pay for my first semester, and that was a huge help because university is never cheap.”

The 2013 Wild Things Scholarship recipient, Emma Power, also says the funds were helpful as she started university. Power is now in her fourth year of a mechanical engineering degree at Memorial University.

“I decided to pursue engineering with the hopes of being able to contribute to the renewable energy revolution.”

She says receiving the scholarship helped her to land a dream work term in Ontario starting in January. Power will work with Kitchener-based start-up, Borealis Wind, which has developed an efficient de-icing system to tackle the problem of ice build-up on wind turbines.

“I can’t wait to contribute to this great idea that will help push the renewable energy industry in Canada forward. Landing this job was definitely a full-circle moment, and I’m sure that having an environmental scholarship on my resume was helpful.”


Advice for applicants

Kelly says he applied for the Wild Things Scholarship twice before his application was chosen, and he credits his tenacity with finally earning the scholarship. He encourages other applicants not to be discouraged by scholarship rejections, but to just keep applying.

“Obviously, the more stuff you can do, the better,” he adds. “They want someone who’s clearly shown that they’re trying to do things that benefit the wildlife and environment of Newfoundland.”

Kelly also acknowledges that many environmental enthusiasts have one specific interest, but he believes keeping an open mind to a variety of experiences will help a young person earn the scholarship.

“Usually one interest can be broadened to lots of other things, and people could be surprised how rewarding it is,” he said. “For me, I’m usually into animals and birds. But even this past year, I was able to go to Codroy Valley and do tree planting with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, and that was a really fun event.”

He adds that nothing beats a well-written application, because applicant rankings are based solely on those forms.


Empowering future environmentalists

Other than administering scholarships and awards, Nature NL focuses its work on three other areas — an indoor program, an outdoor program and environmental conservation.

Nature NL president Douglas Ballam says the organization also communicates regularly with all levels of government to comment on environmental policy.

“Or lack thereof,” he adds.

Ballam says Nature NL has a lot of work to do in the province, noting it has one of the poorest environmental records in North America. He hopes empowering young people is one way to improve this.

“Most recently, we have seen the (provincial) government allow for oil and gas exploration in marine protected areas, effectively destroy wildlife and parks agencies, break their own environmental assessment laws and remain completely inactive in protecting our province’s natural history.”

Ballam points to litter across the province as an indicator that Newfoundlanders, as a society, have a poor environmental ethic.

“Nonetheless, it is when we engage people through our programs that we have hope for a better, conservation-minded future.”

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