A Summer With The Huron Stewardship Council

Over the past summer I had the pleasure of accepting an internship with the Huron Stewardship Council (HSC), and it was a great learning opportunity! My work first began with HSC a few years ago in high school where one inspirational teacher introduced me to reptile conservation and the HSC. Over the summer months of 2017 working with HSC, I met a lot of new people in the field of environment studies and natural resources and learned so much information on projects the organization runs, equipment that I have never had the opportunity to work with before (such as telemetry units, which are radio tracking devises), how to properly take blood samples from a snake, and how to properly insert a pit tag (also called a microchip)- which helps scientists ID a particular specimen by a unique number, just to name a few.

The Endangered Queensnake found in the Maitland River (photo by Jory Mullen)

One project I was involved with over the summer was queensnake surveys. Queensnakes are an Endangered Species meaning they are under severe pressures in their environment and are at potential risk of extinction. Luckily for these snakes the Huron Stewardship Council has got their back! Something I learned about the species is that one of the main reasons this species is a “Species At Risk” is because they need very particular habitat and food requirements: the snakes only eat freshly molted crayfish. This is a very cool fact about the snakes, but also why they are so vulnerable.

Educational outreach at community farmers markets, festivals, and other events around the County was another large part of my summer internship. This outreach, using live native reptiles, gave people an up close and hands on look at some of Ontario’s species at risk reptiles and gave the public the knowledge to be able to step in and take action. Having an opportunity like this for the public is absolutely amazing. Children and adults alike get a very personalized experience at these outreach events and the feedback is very positive, which makes for a very rewarding experience overall. The main focus of outreach is to educate the public on Ontario’s turtle and snake populations and the risks they face, as well as give information and materials necessary for a person to feel comfortable stepping in and helping a reptile in need. I even have my mom moving turtles across the road now! Having live species at outreach events helps desensitize people and show how harmless these reptiles really are, along with how crucial their roles in an ecosystem truly are.

One thing for sure, the work experience I achieved this summer will be very invaluable in my future careers as I am currently enrolled in the Fish and Wildlife Technician Program at Fleming College. This summer the internship with HSC gave me an extremely broad understanding of what true field work is like in the environmental sector. I gained experience with tools and equipment that is common in this line of work. I became very comfortable with outreach and public speaking, which is a huge part of the environmental sector and a very important skill to obtain. The experiences I had over the summer with HSC will never be forgotten. The connections made in this field will hopefully last a lifetime and I hope I have the opportunity to continue to grow my knowledge of species at risk, in particular, reptiles. I hope to continue my passion in this field in my future work.

I thoroughly enjoyed working with the Huron Stewardship Council and I would encourage everyone to get involved by volunteering and learning about Ontario’s reptiles……..and remember, always brake for snakes!

-Evan Skinn is a recent graduate of F.E. Madill High School in Wingham and is currently enrolled in the Fish and Wildlife Technician Program at Flemming College