Education and research facility near Candle Lake honoured by UN

Hannin Creek Education and Applied Research Centre focuses on questions of protecting, restoring and promoting sustainable use of the land

The Hannin Creek research and education site on the shores of Candle Lake has been honoured by the UN for its work promoting, restoring and protecting sustainable use of the land. Submitted photo.

A Candle Lake research facility has been recognized by the United Nations for its role in protecting, promoting and restoring sustainability.

The Hannin Creek Education and Applied Research Centre, an equal partnership between Saskatchewan Polytechnic (Sask. Poly) and the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation, won a 2020 Global Regional Centre of Expertise (RCE) award for its role in addressing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 15, Life on Land. The goal is to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems.

The recognition comes from the United Nations University, which headquarters the Global RCE Service Centre.

Hannin Creek was nominated by RCE Saskatchewan. Sask. Poly is a founding partner of RCE Saskatchewan since it was formally acknowledged by United Nations University in 2007. It’s the second consecutive year Hannin Creek won a Global RCE award.

The centre is the only boreal forest field station in the province and one of just two in Canada. According to a press release, it is a “unique place to study and conduct research” in diverse programs.

Currently, the centre is addressing issues such as climate change, overpopulation, deforestation, urbanization and economic austerity through its research and education programs. According to the award, conservation, education and research are critical to mitigate those challenges.

The camp at Hannin Creek has been around for over 50 years. It has operated in collaboration with Sask. Poly and the SWF for the last eight. In the last few years, work has been done to upgrade some facilities and to establish a wet lab that allows for researchers to work year-round. The facility has 12 hectares of boreal forest, creek and forest, expanded from 1.2 hectares in 2013, and is surrounded by a game preserve.

It’s a very broad and diverse facility in terms of people using it for hands-on learning relating to the overall focus of protecting, restoring and promoting sustainable use of land for Saskatchewan and beyond,” said Jamie Hilts, the Saskatchewan Polytechnic dean for the Schools of Mining, Energy and Manufacturing and Natural Resources and the Built Environment.

“We do a lot of research in the areas of forestry, fishery, wildlife, programs related to natural resources, environmental law, environmental engineering, civil engineering and water (resources).”

He added that other programs, such as human services, use its camp facilities for therapeutic recreation. The University of Saskatchewan uses the site for research done by the Global Institute for Water Security. The Ministry of Environment uses the site for wildfire management training, the federal environment ministry uses it for research and training and the Prince Albert Model Forest uses it for its Stewards of the Land land-based learning program.

Within SWF, there are courses, youth camps and work and education training conducted at the site.

According to the Regional Centre of Expertise network website, the centre allows visitors to connect with natural ecosystems, helping them return with a deeper understanding and value for natural systems and the sustainability issues that threaten them. Meanwhile, lab facilities offer data collection, sample analysis, research and hands-on learning. Several hundred students attend the centre annually.

Submitted photo
Saskatchewan Polytechnic students from the Natural Resource Technology programs in the outdoors at Hannin Creek.

 “It contributes to formal, non-formal and informal learning through the educational processes about sustainable development,” said SWF director of communications and marketing Chelsea Walters.

“Our programs introduce youth to these concepts through our youth camps and conservation programs.”

Hilts said Saskatchewan Polytechnic and SWF are working to continue growing the centre. The past three years have been focused on making the facility as user-friendly and adaptable as possible. Now they’re looking at establishing an Indigenous encampment and at opportunities to enhance applied research and learning in other areas.

“We want to be able to work with memes of the First Nations communities around the facility to establish this learning experience and camp,” he said.

“We feel we can do some significant work there in terms of education and training related to an understanding of the issues and concerns related to truth and reconciliation and also good stewardship from a First Nations and Indigenous perspective as well.”

As for other research areas, Hilts said the hope is to look at alternative energy sources such as solar, wind and biomass in a boreal forest setting.

“That has applications into smaller northern or rural communities where you can establish what different energy systems can be created that will provide a good and dependable power source but at the same time be environmentally friendly. We’re going to be doing some work on that.”

He also said that as it grows, the centre will continue to improve to meet the needs of the students, researchers and others who use the facility annually.

The award, he said, is a big honour.

“It means quite a bit,” he said.

“It provides an example that we take the concept of sustainability seriously and want to improve upon that. It gives some evidence that we … walk the talk.”

This is the second time the facility has won an award.

“It’s a huge honour for us,” Walters said.

“Everybody has been pretty excited around our office. We are really proud of our partnership with Sask. Poly.”

Hilts agrees. The award, he said, provides an example of a strong, “symbiotic” relationship between the SWF and Sask. Poly.

Beyond that, he said, it gives the facility recognition provincially, nationally and internationally, especially as it works to find solutions to sustainability and conservation.

“We do have the facilities. We do have the people we do have the resources that lend themselves to an international l audience and we can do it right here in Saskatchewan. We don’t have to go elsewhere.” he said.

“Those are the kinds of things which lend themselves to saying we have a made in Saskatchewan solution to made in Saskatchewan problems.”

— With files from Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, Daily Herald