Order of the Bighorn recognizes local environmentalist

Jim Smith recognized for his volunteer work, including helping to found Legacy Land Trust Society

MOUNTAIN VIEW COUNTY – Conservation work was not always on the mind of a local resident who was recently named a recipient of the Order of the Bighorn Award, which is awarded to Albertans who have contributed to the protection of natural areas.

“I grew up in a community of first generation farm families where nature always seemed pretty much endless when I was young and growing up,” said Jim Smith, a resident of the Olds area. , who was among four other people to receive the award which includes a bronze medallion and bust of a bighorn sheep.

“I guess it occurred to me somewhere along the line as a young man, that I saw nature convert quite quickly and that nature was indeed not endless. “Smith recalled in an interview.

“I kind of came to the conclusion that maybe it wasn’t necessary to convert all of the natural habitat to feed the world or to ensure the survival of the family farm,” he said. The Albertan.

This revelation inspired him to embark on the path of conservation.

With a multidisciplinary doctorate from the University of Calgary hosted by the Haskayne School of Business, Smith said the post-secondary path he chose combined environmental science, rural sociology and business.

“As I became a dad, I said, ‘My God, can I do something on my small scale to help ensure that we leave a decent environment for those who follow? “”

Over the years he has strived to apply his knowledge professionally to a multitude of activities, some more than others related to land conservation, in which he developed a particular interest along the way.

Little by little, Smith eventually found himself putting his experience to good use by getting involved in the volunteer effort in Mountain View County to found the Legacy Land Trust Society, of which he served as president for about five years.

Although the company was recognized in 2013 as a registered nonprofit in Alberta, it was not until 2015 that it received charitable status and was able to begin conservation projects.

Having since left the company in the capable hands of other like-minded individuals, Smith expressed confidence in the group’s continued efforts as well as gratitude for the continued dedication of volunteers.

“It makes me happy to see that a lot of the projects that started when I was there have been completed and a bunch of new ones have been brought in,” he said.

“I think we are helping to make a difference in our communities.

Over the years, Smith said he often heard from farmers and ranchers who, with the benefit of reflection and hindsight later in life, realized that they might have preserved a more much of their natural systems intact as part of their operations.

In fairness, he added various policies and incentives, coupled with the human need to maximize income to feed his family and educate children, factors always considered in making decisions that impact the land.

Thinking back on those many sincere conversations, he reflected on some options that might give landowners other choices.

“I came to think about the notion of voluntary conservation of private lands,” he said.

This approach allows a company to work with landowners who wish to preserve at least part of their property for posterity by helping to shoulder some of the financial burden that accompanies dedicating some or all of the land to their own. ‘an owner for non-profit use. .

Among those who donated land to the company were Smith and his wife Hazel, who provided a 140-acre conservation easement on their property northwest of Olds between Eagle Hill and Red Lodge Park.

“Over the years you build a kind of conservation ethic,” he said, and that was one way the couple did it.

“The Little Red Deer River runs through the place. Rivers tend to be the threads of life across just about any type of landscape, ”he said.

Along the way, taking the time to carefully observe the features and wildlife of their lands, Smith said he has counted more than about 80 species of birds on their property or within a radius of about a mile. and a half, not to mention a myriad of other types of animals, amphibians and plants.

“We just felt it was something we could do to contribute to, respect and continue to use agricultural components, but also to always ensure that natural areas remain natural areas no matter who follows,” he said. he declared. .

But until he heard the news of his nomination as the recipient of the Order of the Bighorn award, Smith said he had absolutely no idea.

“It came to me out of the blue – I had no knowledge of it. So it was a delicious surprise, ”he said. “I’m really touched by this, it’s a pretty special honor.”

The importance of land conservation speaks for itself.

“From my perspective, there are so many values ​​that flow from the land,” he said. “Land offers an incredible array of benefits and services to societies and our communities. “

From food and clean water to wildlife, including birds, animals and even insects, all life depends on a healthy environment, he said.

“I look at pollinators, and we have to remember that probably about a third of every bite we take on our plate is probably a compliment in some way, from a pollinator,” he said.

Yet nature can also offer people different perspectives as well as a spiritual connection to the world around them, he said.

“Nature can encourage, stimulate, foster art, creativity and inspiration,” he said, adding that the wild lands still have a lot to teach humanity from a scientific point of view.

“More and more, it is recognized for its role in climate mitigation, whether it is for floods, soil erosion, loss of wildlife or climate change itself,” he said. he declares.

When speaking with landowners and helping them achieve their goals, Smith said these factors come up frequently.

“They feel really good to help do what they can to be part of the solution rather than the problem,” he said.

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