Staffer celebrates 50 years of firefighting

Half a century seems like a long time to do anything – let alone an intense, demanding day job. But time flies when you’re having fun.  This summer, Paul Rizzoli marked his 50th year of firefighting – and he shows no sign of slowing down.

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Paul’s career started the second week of May in 1964. The Beatles were big, Dr. Strangelove had just left theatres, and Paul Rizzoli was a bright-eyed 22 year old, eager to help build the Beaver Lake Ranger Station in the Lac La Biche Forest. During his first summer employed with the ministry, he travelled throughout the area repairing and maintaining towers.

Paul went on to become one of the first firefighters trained as part of the para cargo program, delivering supplies and groceries to firefighters on the ground. The planes used to transport the cargo flew with one door open, which required staff to have parachute training – hence, the name. The para cargo program originally began in the winter of 1945 – but it didn’t really get off the ground until 1970 due to lack of facilities and aircraft. In 1973, Paul was one of the first firefighters to get his drop master and parachutist qualifications.

Rizzoli flanked by para cargo course instructor Pete Spencer and assistant instructor John Carson

Paul Rizzoli flanked by para cargo course instructor Pete Spencer and assistant instructor John Carson

The program was discontinued when the province began using helicopters to deliver supplies instead. By then, Paul was already revolutionizing other aspects of wildland firefighting – including pioneering the province’s air attack program. The program began before Rizzoli came on. The first Alberta Forest Service aircraft fleet was purchased in 1957. The first Birddog Officer training course, an airborne position responsible for the coordination of aerial and ground firefighting resources, was held in 1967 and Rizzoli once again pioneered a ground-breaking program with the ministry.

He has faced lots of tight spots – and has seen plenty of change – during his time as a firefighter. According to him, though, the best part has stayed the same: it’s the people he’s worked with. “We were friends first, sometimes even a lot like family.” he says. “It was easy to face such a good group of people every day.”

Here’s to many more years, Paul – thanks for all you’ve done so far.

congratulations Paul

Celebrating Excellence in Parks Volunteerism

The 24th annual Alberta Parks Volunteer Conference Awards Banquet on September 20 brought together the dedicated people who happily greet guests, help maintain campgrounds, coordinate activities and so much more in our vast provincial parks system to salute their efforts.

This was not just a one-night “thank you”. Volunteers were treated to a three-day smorgasbord of activities, including a Friday evening show on animal athletics Friday evening. Did you know that cougars are capable of leaps over 12-metres high and bursts of speed of 70 km/hour? You do now!

The evening’s festivities included a banquet at the Kinosoo Ridge Snow Resort where Genia Leskiw, MLA for Bonnyville-Cold Lake was joined by Cold Lake Mayor Craig Copeland and Alberta Parks Assistant Deputy Minister Graham Statt.

It goes without saying, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be said … a huge thank you to Alberta Parks’ volunteers that contribute their time, energy, passion, knowledge and enthusiasm to our provincial parks system … we couldn’t achieve the “wow factor” without you!

Award Winners

  • Fran and Connie Lavoie, Outstanding Steward Award
  • Tom Partello, Parks and Protected Areas Achievement Award
  • Linda Lefebvre, Parks and Protected Areas Achievement Award
  • Gary Martin, Parks and Protected Areas Achievement Award
  • Jack and Audrey McKee, Host Hospitality Award
  • Judith and Danny Clarke, Host Hospitality Award
  • Harry and Annie Wit, Green Shield Award. Sadly, Harry passed away this year.

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Facts about Alberta Parks Volunteers

  • More than 2,500 citizens and 75 non-profit organizations contribute more than 100,000 hours of their time annually to enhance Alberta’s provincial parks.
  • Voluntary contributions provide an estimated economic benefit of $2 million annually to Alberta Parks.
  • Since 1990, 132 Albertans and 37 organizations have been recognized with provincial awards for their outstanding contributions to Alberta Parks.
  • Each site and volunteer placement is unique so duties vary. Generally, hosts welcome visitors, assist with public education and interpretation, and provide information about facilities, services, activities, rules and regulations.

We’re always looking for a few good men and women - click here to find out what it’s all about.

Whether it’s fall, winter, spring or summer … Alberta’s provincial parks are great places to visit.

Looking Out for the Little Guy – Part 2

This is part two of this series. You can check out the first part here.

In the depths of the boreal forest, amidst century-old trembling aspen, balsam popular and white spruce trees, you can find me…at least when I’m not wintering in Mexico and Central America.

My friends and I are only about 11 cm long, but what we lack in size we make up with our natural good looks. A bright yellow face, black throat and tail, and an olive green crown, back and wings – I hate to brag, but we are quite the lookers.

No one really knows exactly how many of us are left. Habitat loss and fragmentation, both here and in my winter home, have caused me and my pals to get closer in the last few years but that’s not our only problem. Small mammals steal our eggs and cowbirds lay their eggs in our nests, resulting in us having to feed them – sometimes at the expense of our own babies.

As you can see, it’s not all fun and song for a black-throated green warbler like me.

Photo of a black-throated green warbler

This Saturday was World Animal Day – a day to remember me and other species at risk. But don’t forget about me during the other 364 days of the year. You can be a part of my story – and those of others like me – by learning how to minimize the impacts of your activities on Alberta’s plant and animal habitats.

Check out Alberta’s Species at Risk Guide to read about species like me – and read Alberta’s Strategy for the Management of Species at Risk to learn what’s being done to help us. Knowing about our province’s most vulnerable species and how to minimize risk to them is the first step to ensuring they will be around for generations to come.

Looking Out for the Little Guy

This is part one of this series. You can check out the second part here.

They say it’s not easy being green – and that is definitely true in my case.

People who know me say I am adaptable. Not just to the cold but also to the places I call home. You can find me in the mixed grasslands of southern Alberta. I’m most at home along the edge of a pond, in a marsh, stream, or river – but like many Albertans, sometimes I like to relax on lakefront property. As long as the water is clear and clean and there are some lightly wooded areas, I am a happy camper.

Though I’m only about 10 cm long, I am considered larger than most others like me – but I’m not bothered by that at all. My size makes it possible for me to travel further away from my moist habitat in search of food – give me rain or heavy dew and I can go for miles. Continue reading

SSRP in Review: the Castle region’s new conservation areas

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This is part one in a series about the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan and how its implementation will address the feedback we heard from Albertans. You can view the full list of posts here.

Alberta’s Castle area, nestled in the Rocky Mountains where Alberta, British Columbia and Montana meet, contains some of the most beautiful – and sensitive – ecosystems in all of Alberta. These landscapes are favourite recreation spots for many outdoor enthusiasts, but they also need to be protected. The new South Sask Regional Plan (SSRP) strikes a balance between these goals – and one of the ways it does so is by establishing conservation areas. Continue reading

We let the dogs out! Meet Alberta’s four-legged partners in the fight against invasive mussels

This summer, we asked Albertans to voluntarily have their boats checked for invasive mussels when they crossed our borders. If you stopped at an inspection station (there are four, located on major highways entering the province and two roving crews), you likely saw our friendly Government of Alberta watercraft inspectors. These folks thoroughly inspect each and every watercraft that stops – but to do a really complete job, they get a little help from some furry friends.

Boats are full of nooks and crannies that can’t be seen by the naked eye. Invasive mussels can catch a ride in these areas – and remain undetected by human inspectors. But sniffer dogs rely on their noses – not their eyes – to locate mussels. Check out the video to see for yourself. Continue reading

City of Calgary Calls, ESRD Answers!

It was a September snowstorm Calgarians will never forget. Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) firefighter Troy Meier remembers waking up on September 10 to his own neighbourhood covered in unseasonable whiteness. “Watching trees break in front of my house was definitely scary.” Once Meier got to work at the Wildfire Management Branch’s Calgary Fire Centre, it wasn’t long until his and other crews were sent into the city to provide support. “The best part was how fast we responded. It feels good to help out!”

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Follow the beetle: crews gear up for another year fighting Alberta’s most ‘invasive’ species

Ah, September. All over the province, students are heading back to school, the first leaves are falling…and ESRD crews are combing our forests for the evidence that will help us mount this year’s fight against the mountain pine beetle.

Each July and August, beetles leave the trees they’ve infected, and travel to new lodgepole pines. Tracking where these beetles have gone gives us the best possible chance of fighting them.

Photo of damage caused by the mountain pine beetle.

When beetles flee dying trees, they leave trademark red needles behind.

To conduct the first stage of this survey, our crews take to the air. Using helicopters, our staff fly over the forest and look for the telltale red needles that indicate a tree dying from mountain pine beetle damage. Staff on the ground follow up, combing the areas around these dead trees for signs that beetles have invaded live, healthy ones. Continue reading

Ride the new Nordegg bike trail to see how FireSmart works up close

We tend to think of wildfires and clear-cutting as destructive, but both have great significance in renewing forests. Alberta has a fire-dependent ecosystem and nature uses wildfire to clear out older trees, which are more vulnerable to disease and insects.

Our data shows that in the last 100 years, the forest in the Nordegg area would have naturally seen two or three wildfires if it weren’t for humans putting them out, making the forest unbalanced and at greater risk for larger, faster-burning wildfires. FireSmart helps us minimize the risk of these fires. And now, a new mountain bike trail in Nordegg provides a unique opportunity to see how these techniques look up close.

Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Develop help build new FireSmart Ecology Trail

Alberta firefighters help build new FireSmart Ecology Trail west of Nordegg.

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Cave closures are helping to protect Alberta’s more ‘bat-brained’ residents

For most people, picturing Alberta brings to mind majestic mountains and rolling plains – caves aren’t high up on the list. But we’ve got lots of them – and the wildlife populations that go with them.

Photo of a little brown bat

The world’s second oldest bat on record – dubbed ‘the old guy’ by ESRD staff – lived in Alberta. Photo credit: Chuck Priestly.

Bats are definitely in this category. Although they tend to stay out of sight, nine different species of bats call our province home – and the second oldest known bat in the world lived in Alberta as well (the oldest known lived in Russia).

Bats prefer to hibernate in cool, dark and moist spaces, which makes our cave systems perfect winter homes for them. But these caves also appeal to many other species – including human beings. Continue reading