Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
May 2, 2006
Submitted by Pauline Donaldson, MVFN Public Relations Chair
Cliff Bennett wins 2006 Wildlife Festival ‘individual’ award for excellence in environmental conservation
Most days, local naturalist and former Ramsay Township Councillor Cliff Bennett, is out of doors in a canoe or out on a hiking trail or curling rink. Last Wednesday night (April 19) however, he was thrilled to be in attendance as the 2006 Ottawa Wildlife Festival (OWF) Awards for Excellence in Environmental Conservation were handed out at the Museum of Nature in Ottawa. The OWF awards are given annually to those who have “taken action to promote and enhance the conservation of nature and whose efforts will be sustainable for the future”. Cliff, who lives on Clayton Road in Mississippi Mills, was the winner in the “individual” category for “sustained commitment to protection of the environment and for tirelessly working over many decades to help people enjoy, understand and respect the natural world”. Cliff and the winners in the other 2 categories were each presented with a ‘chickadee statue’ award carved by Rick St. John
One could place into two broad categories, Cliff’s many contributions to environmental conservation in the Lanark County area. First there are the many activities Cliff undertakes to nurture love and respect for the natural world, elements which are essential in a conservation-minded community. As expert canoeist, knowledgeable birder and naturalist, Cliff leads educational outings on our local waters and trails, imparting his love of nature to others. Many of these are conducted as part of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists outdoor program. On MVFN’s website he has described many routes he explores, so that others can find them too.
Cliff has also written about birds for many years, and while being better known locally for his Lanark Era column “Speaking of Birds”, he is also active behind the scenes. He organized and led MVFN’s ambitious 5 year effort to gather data for a square in the new Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas. He also organizes the Carleton Place Christmas Bird Count, joins others such as the Baillie Birdathon fundraiser for Bird Studies Canada, and leads bird call and related workshops. As a retired teacher, Cliff has always been dedicated to children and, when cutbacks reduced environmental education in the schools in the 1990’s, he initiated MVFN’s highly praised Environmental Education Projects (EEPP) program. It secured funding through external grants and club events and continues to bring specialized nature programming to area school children. He and other long-standing members of MVFN are passionate about children’s education and extremely proud of the EEPP initiative.
A second important contribution Cliff makes to conservation is his inspiration and support of local voices for environmental issues. It is partly due to Cliffs’ efforts that Lanark County is home to two of the relatively small number of Ontario Environmental Advisory Committees (Lanark Highlands and Mississippi Mills) which advise Municipal Councilors. Cliff was also a founder of the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust Conservancy and helped achieve the establishment of the new Lanark County Municipal Trails Corporation.
In accepting the award, Cliff graciously gave credit to the strength of MVFN in making many of his achievements possible. Cliff is a founding member of this non-profit naturalist group, and through his dedication, passion and humor he has inspired many to volunteer, both with the group and in the community. He has served as MVFN’s President and currently sits on three committees including the new Climate Change Awareness committee. Prior to this he worked for 3 years as MVFN’s representative on the Town of Mississippi Mills Community Official Plan Steering Committee to encourage inclusion of environmental considerations in the new Official Plan. The Plan is presently under review for approval by the province. In June of 2005 Cliff began perhaps his most challenging role as a Director on the Board of Ontario Nature, representing 18 Eastern Ontario naturalist clubs, “Friends of” groups and other organizations committed to the conservation of nature in Ontario. Our congratulations and sincere thanks go to Cliff!