New course to educate USS students on wildlife

Local high school students are about to be educated on the wildlife that surrounds them.

Ucluelet Secondary School’s about-to-be-launched Community Wildlife Monitoring Program will put students alongside local biologists in the classroom and in the field to learn about local wildlife, according to USS principal Carol Sedgwick.

In a letter to Ucluelet’s municipal council, that council reviewed last week, Sedgwick said the program is scheduled to kick off in February.

The program will utilize three heat and motion sensor cameras to track wildlife activity.

“The cameras will be installed along a well-known wildlife corridor that runs through the middle of our community. The students will be taught about wildlife safety and follow wildlife safety protocols when in the field,” Sedgwick wrote.

“The students will be taught how to collect and analyze data collected from the cameras, and help develop scientific protocols specific to this project.”

She added that the students will hone their budding technical skills through weekly data collection and analysis and will submit a report and presentation on their findings in June.

“There is hope that Feb-June 2015 is only the first phase of this project and that it will become a longer term project to help track wildlife activity over the course of the year (or multiple years),” she wrote.

Sedgwick’s letter explained that the three cameras needed for the program cost about $800 each and she asked the district to cover the cost of one of the $800 cameras.

Coun. Mayco Noel suggested that council should hold off on making a decision until more clarity could be obtained around what exactly the district’s money would be used for.

“I think it’s needed but I’m not quite comfortable with just saying ‘yes,'” he said.

Coun. Sally Mole responded that she, along with Coun. Marilyn McEwen and Mayor Dianne St. Jacques, had recently met with Sedgwick who explained the $800 would purchase one of the program’s three cameras.

Mole said she would normally be reluctant to approve a spending request ahead of the district’s budget process but the program’s timeline required a quick response.

“I think this is something that kind of came out of left field so there wasn’t a lot of preplanning,” she said.

“Given that their timeline is so short… I don’t want to stall it.”

Coun. Randy Oliwa acknowledged there are instances where council must make quick decisions but suggested this was not such an instance.

“The Ucluelet Secondary School, Clayoquot Biosphere Trust, all the other societies and organizations in the community are very clear on our procedure for Grants in Aid and our budgeting process,” he said.

“I think it would just be disrespectful to those other organizations at this time, so close to budget, to allow for one camera for the price of $800…It’s just too quick.”

Mole noted the program’s scheduled Feb-June timeline and said referring the item to Ucluelet’s budget process, which will not be completed until May, would cause a crippling delay.

“If we put it off to the budget process then we’ve got one month of monitoring and, to me, that’s not worth the expenditure of $800,” she said.

Mayor St.

Jacques agreed with Mole and said the wildlifemonitoring course was timely.

“Given all the animal activity that we have had, and what has happened as a result of it, I have to agree with Coun. Mole,” St. Jacques said.

“It would be really good for us to support this. It not only educates the kids but it can play a big role in educating all of us as far as what’s going on out there.”

Oliwa suggested a possible compromise would be for the district to purchase the camera for its own use and loan it to the school on an as-needed basis.

“I know for a fact that we could utilize this (camera) in other locations around town for security,” he said. “I could absolutely accept it to be used for this project and we could utilize it at Public Works or around the municipality as we see fit for security purposes.”

Mole agreed with Oliwa but said she also liked the idea of using the camera to obtain seasonal wildlife data.

Council agreed to purchase the $800 camera with the intent of loaning it to USS for the Community Wildlife Monitoring Program and then using it for district related activities.

reporter@westerlynews.ca