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‘Enviro’ watch spreading along river

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“The Rainy River First Nation’s way of life obligates us as stewards to take care of the Rainy River. Through our way of life, we have preserved knowledge which we will share and pass on. It is everyone’s responsibility to project, conserve, and revitalize the river.”

—Community Environmental

Watch Framework statement

The Rainy River First Nation’s “Community Environmental Watch” program has taken a strong root in many communities along the river on both sides of the border—and Jennifer Mercer is intent to see it continue to grow.

Mercer, ecological projects co-ordinator for the band, has been working on the watch program since June. And after a busy summer collecting data, her emphasis has turned to getting other communities on board.

She’s already spoken to councillors at La Vallee, Emo, and most recently, Fort Frances.

“La Vallee has agreed to adopt a section of the river [for clean-up],” Mercer said, adding Emo has written a “wonderful letter of support” for the program.

“I’ve been totally thrilled with the reaction I’ve gotten from municipalities,” Mercer said. “And I’ve been visiting people on the U.S. side of the border and they’ve been highly supportive providing information [and] agreeing to be partners in certain activities.

“I’m very, very pleased,” she enthused.

This past year, the First Nation has implemented several programs within its community, including a composting and recycling program, Mercer noted.

“Seventy percent of all houses have blue boxes,” she said. “And 94 percent of them recycle on a regular basis.”

The community also has cleaned up nine km of shoreline from Manitou Rapids to the Manitou Mounds, compiled habitat data for the Ministry of Natural Resources, and did some erosion control work.

It even checked for E. coli contamination from Locking Creek to the Long Sault on both sides of the border, with plans to expand the sample area to one quarter of the river next year.

“This is not a small project,” Mercer stressed. “Our initial plan is three-five years. I’m pretty certain it will continue long past that.”

Rebuilding spawning habitats will continue to be another big focus for the program next year, Mercer said, specifically on the Pinewood and Sturgeon rivers.

Another issue that will have to be tackled is a review of the supplementary order on outflows issued by the International Joint Commission earlier this year for Rainy Lake and Namakan.

“No one has looked at how it will affect the river in any way at all, not even a stitch of data until now,” Mercer charged. “I’m going to be starting a new push when I get back to look at the impact it will have on fish populations.”

But the true success of the program will be to get people who live along the 130-km (80-mile) stretch of river shoreline involved in the project, Mercer said. That’s what’s meant by “community” in “Community Environmental Watch” program.

“Our mandate is not the reserve,” she stressed. “It’s the entire watershed. And that’s the drainage basin for the entire river from Lake of the Woods to Rainy Lake.”

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