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Remembering old lessons PHOTO: CAMERON WHITE


he heat coming from the wood stove is causing heads to nod among the 12 men

crowded into a snug cabin on the shores of Shoe Lake. At least it’s the last day in the classroom. Te largely Aboriginal audience listens pa-

tiently, but most have done their learning on traplines and fishing boats, and they appear eager to be somewhere other than at this Pow- erpoint presentation on risk management. Te men are River Stewards, seasonal em-

ployees of Manitoba Conservation who live near the rivers they will patrol. Tey are the lat- est recruits in the battle to protect Manitoba’s busier wilderness rivers. Teir beat extends from the untrammeled boreal forest east of Lake Winnipeg to the shores of Hudson Bay. Te program has grown since its inception

[ CoNservatioN ]

Homeland Security

Manitoba locals go on patrol

in 2003. Last year the Stewards patrolled the Hayes, Berens and Manigotagan rivers as well as Whiteshell Provincial Park where they counted wildlife, maintained portages and campsites, removed garbage and sur- veyed canoeists. As the program expands, the Stewards will become involved in registering historical and cultural sites and assessing the impact of eco-tourism. Tis training week on the river is part of

a Paddle Canada certification. Te prospect of swimming rapids as part of safety train- ing daunts a few Stewards. One confides that he has not swum for 20 years, and others haven’t paddled since they were children.

A few view the canoe with the suspicion of those accustomed to stable aluminum run- abouts; most retain the cautiousness of un- familiarity while recalling distant lessons taught by their fathers. Local involvement is the greatest asset the

Stewards bring to the job. Charlie Simard is the senior Steward. Over the last four sum- mers, Charlie and his crew have paddled the busy Manigotagan River to help blunt the impacts of paddler traffic. With pride, he ex- plains how the Manigotagan is now a better and safer place, and how that will now spread to new rivers and communities. Earl Simmons, the resource officer in charge

of the training program, points out that regu- lar Conservation staff now have little time for actual wilderness patrols, as many resource officers spend their days responding to for- est fires or behaviour complaints in the busy campgrounds of the southeast. He says the Stewards fill a vital roll as the watchful eyes of the backcountry. But could this be mere window dressing

for Manitoba Conservation? Not according to Mervin Weenusk of Norway House. As a father and husband he has mixed feelings about this, his first job. His wife is worried about the week-long absences, but he insists he is proud to be doing something that will benefit the historical and environmental treasure that is the Hayes River—which also happens to be his home. » CAMERON WHITE

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