Photo courtesy RED DEER AND DISTRICT ARCHIVES A group of birdwatchers scan the trees at Gaetz Lake Sanctuary on Dec. 27, 1977 during the annual Boxing Day bird count. Eighteen species were spotted in and around the city that day. The bird count continues to be co-ordinated by the Red Deer River Naturalists.

Red Deer River Naturalists history older than Alberta

Group has played key roles in protecting natural areas

The roots of Alberta’s oldest nature conservation group — today known as the Red Deer River Naturalists — go back to even before Alberta became a province.

Today the organization is mainly focused on education today. Over the decades it has played important advocacy roles in Red Deer, Central Alberta and beyond, with such local developments as Dickson Dam and Gaetz Lake Sanctuary, but also with regional and provincial policy surrounding geographical areas such as the Eastern Slopes.

Information gathered by Rod Trentham, Michael Dawe, and the late Michael O’Brien shows that before the Red Deer River Naturalists, there was the North West Entomological Society, founded in Blackfalds 1898. When that body ceased to exist, the Alberta Natural History Society in Innisfail was formed in 1906, one year after Alberta became a province. Then in 1976, it became officially known as Red Deer River Naturalists (RDRN).

Over the decades, RDRN has also been involved closely with the planning of Red Deer’s green and natural gemstone, the Waskasoo Park system. It also helped push for the Kerry Wood Nature Centre. Instead of using chemicals, RDRN encouraged the City of Red Deer to take a different approach, and the biological mosquito control program was eventually embraced.

Part of RDRN’s mandate is “to encourage Central Albertans to increase their knowledge, understanding and appreciation of natural history; to work towards conservation of natural areas and of species native to Central Alberta; to help prevent abuse of the natural resources.”

Judy Boyd, a well-known local bird enthusiast and expert, has been on the RDRN executive for most years since she first became involved in 1996. RDRN doesn’t do as much advocacy as they used to, although often individual members will take on a particular issue, she said.

The biggest focus of RDRN now is education, she said. That ranges from guest speakers to such things as the bird and flower focus groups and field trips. Some years ago RDRN started the Nature Kids program, which has since been picked up by Nature Alberta.

RDRN gets a lot of people — members and non-members — at their nature talks, she said. One recent one talk was by a scientist who has studied bighorn sheep. Another one was about bats.

“Any way shape or form that we can educate people about wildlife I think is very important, and the RDRN does an excellent job of that.”

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