Wolverines and wetlands were among the big winners in the second round of Shell Canada’s FuellingChange program.
Ordinary Canadians, given the power to vote on their favourite environmental projects by gassing up their vehicles at Shell filling stations across the country, selected the grant recipients to be given a share of $1 million in funding.
The Alberta Conservation Association (ACA) topped the list when it was announced on May 25 that they would receive one of two $100,000 grants for their plan to gather information about wolverines in that province in the interest of protecting the elusive creature and its habitat.
“We’re ecstatic about the news,” said Doug Manzer of ACA.
ACA had been working closely with the Alberta Trappers’ Association throughout the winter to develop a protocol for collecting hair samples from across the province for the purpose of DNA sequencing.
The grant will immediately be used to start the next phase of the project, which includes conducting the actual DNA analysis as well as purchasing remote camera equipment.
Relatively little is known about the wolverine, said Manzer.
ACA and the Alberta Trappers’ Association will continue to collaborate to learn about distribution, habitat and behaviour, as well as identify conservation concerns, thanks in large part to the FuellingChange support.
The project is one component of the Wildlife Habitat Initiative in Low Disturbance Zones (WHILDZ) initiative focusing on important wildlife habitat where human activity or disturbance is still low.
“The wolverine is an iconic species,” said Manzer, offering his perspective on why the project received so many votes.
“And I think it does represent something to Canadians – maybe Canadians in particular – about wilderness. And maybe a quest to try to figure out what’s happening to wilderness.
“And so I believe that wolverines really are representative to Canadians of something that Canada stands for,” he added. “And I think it really hits home with them when they feel like there’s not enough information to figure out whether or not wolverines are doing okay.”
One of the four $50,000 grants went to the BC Wildlife Federation to fund their province-wide wetland mapping and planning project.
“It’s going to keep me really busy for the next few months,” said Neil Fletcher, Wetland Education Program Coordinator.
“With that funding,” he continued, “we’re purchasing an outreach trailer to educate people about wetlands. And then also we’re offering twelve free workshops around the province that trains them to use GPS technology to map wetlands and to evaluate the wetland assets.”
The outreach trailer likely won’t be on the road until next summer, but the workshops will get underway immediately.
“When we applied,” said Fletcher, “we said there would be a two year window for spending this funding.”
That is partly due to the large dollar value of the grant, but also because the voting only concluded on April 30 and the lucky recipients were just announced at the end of May.
“We have a lot of stuff already planned this summer,” Fletcher explained. “Some of the workshops will occur this year. But I have a feeling they do want to make a really cool outreach trailer. And just getting all the pieces together [will take time].”
BC Wildlife Federation is offering the workshops to communities where there is both an interest in learning about local wetlands and a need to do so.
“We provide training and build awareness about the wetlands and then try to find a number of them that we can visit,” said Fletcher.
“I’ll be using local contacts to help me navigate the area and find out where some of the ones that are important to the community are,” he added.
The organization will then train communities on how to get those wetlands on the BC Wetlands Atlas, an initiative of Community Mapping Network BC.
“Another component of this is working with planners – city planners and regional planners – to ensure that this information isn’t just sitting on a shelf somewhere after it’s collected,” Fletcher continued, noting the value of the collaborative effort between those planners, wetland habitat experts and local citizen groups.
“Wetlands are a tremendously valuable habitat for B.C. and it’s great to receive a grant like this to help us further its cause,” he said.
The two projects that received $100,000 grants – ACA’s wolverine project and an initiative by Friends of the St. Clair River to remediate an area of concern along that Southern Ontario watercourse – earned over 280,000 total votes, which accounts for about ten per cent of the all votes cast during round two.
“It was exciting to see these two projects in action in the last voting days,” said Lynn Byers, Manager of Social Investment with Shell.
Byers explained that Shell developed the FuellingChange program to “empower customers and let them have a say in which projects receive funding.”
The response from Canadians – over 3.1 million votes since the initial launch of the program – has been better than the company expected.
“Judging from the level of participation by Canadians in FuellingChange,” said Byers, “Shell believes this program can help increase interest and awareness of Canadians about their environment.”
An interesting facet of the program for both Manzer and Fletcher is that it can increase that environmental awareness through projects that have a very local or regional impact, far away from the hometowns of many voters.
“I really do like the fact that people from across Canada can vote on this,” said Manzer. “And you can appeal to people that are either in Alberta or from Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. So, I’m really excited about that, and the fact that so many Canadians would get onboard with a program that may not be happening in their backyard.”
Byers echoed Manzer’s assessment of the program.
“Feedback received from one of the $100,000 grant recipients [said] that FuellingChange provided an avenue where smaller environmental organizations can reach out to a national audience and gain exposure, not only for their organization, but for their local environmental work,” she said.
“Almost all of them had a local focus,” Fletcher said of the projects competing in FuellingChange.
“I’d like to think that them voting for us shows that there’s a deep concern and interest in wetlands,” he added.
Fletcher recognized plenty of value in many of the other projects, too.
“I feel bad for the ones that didn’t get in, because we were all … trying to really push for our own projects,” he said. “It is a long haul. And they all had very worthy projects.”
That competition is a good indication of the difficulty conservation groups face when trying to secure funding for their projects.
“I think most environmental non-profits will tell you that funding can be scarce at certain times and it is hard to find opportunities to push programming forward,” said Fletcher. “And having access to funding is definitely a huge help.”
Shell will be keeping tabs on the grant recipients as they continue with their initiatives.
“All winning projects are required to send an interim report to Shell on the results of their project on year following the receipt of their grant,” said Byers.
“A final report is required within two years of receipt of the grant.”