Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority

Award winners van der Laans

Mels and Ruthanne van der Laan, Conservationists of the Year receive award

Denfield-area couple Mels and Ruthanne van der Laan, of Cold Stream Ranch, are Conservationists of the Year 

Ausable Bayfield Conservation honours award winners at event held at Ironwood Golf Club near Exeter on March 16, 2017; filmmaker, microplastics sampling co-leader Jennifer Pate spoke

The Conservationist of the Year Award winners in Ausable Bayfield watersheds are described as a couple who “have given back to their watershed community for many years.”

Mels and Ruthanne van der Laan live on McEwen Drive, RR 3 Denfield, Ontario, in the Municipality of Middlesex Centre, Middlesex County. The van der Laans have planted trees, added habitat and forest cover and wetlands, hosted public tours of their Cold Stream Ranch farm and planting projects, and involved young people in tree planting on their property.

Shown in photo: Shown at the Conservation Awards evening, held at Ironwood Golf Club near Exeter on March 16, 2017 are, from left to right; George Irvin, Vice Chair, Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority (ABCA) Board of Directors; Rachael Scholten, Stewardship Technician with ABCA; Conservationist of the Year Award winners Mels and Ruthanne van der Laan; and Ian Jean, Forestry and Land Stewardship Specialist. 

More than 60 people attended a conservation awards evening held at Ironwood Golf Club, near Exeter, where Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority (ABCA) announced the winners on March 16, 2017. “This honour was unexpected but appreciated,” said Mels van der Laan, in accepting the award. “Thank you very much.” In accepting the award, he recalled the days when there weren’t many trees on a 60-acre property he owns. After phoning local stewardship staff he was able to get some help with planting windbreaks. That support also included taking care of the paperwork. The award recipient said he wanted to thank the people who helped with his planting projects as well as Ausable Bayfield Conservation. 

George Irvin, Vice Chair of the ABCA Board of Directors, presented to the winners a print of the Latornell Tree, by Bonna Rouse, one of 310 made for a special limited edition by Conservation Ontario. Ausable Bayfield Conservation will also make a donation towards a tree and plaque at a Commemorative Woods site. In addition, the award winners have received scrolls of recognition including from Lambton-Kent-Middlesex MP Bev Shipley and MPP Monte McNaughton and Huron-Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson.

The winners were introduced by ABCA staff members Rachael Scholten, Stewardship Technician, and Ian Jean, Forestry and Land Stewardship Specialist. “It’s an honour to introduce the recipients of this year’s Conservationist of the Year Award,” said Scholten. “Wetlands specialist Angela Van Niekerk and I have been lucky enough to work with Mels and Ruthanne van der Laan over the past years with the ongoing restoration and stewardship projects at their property.” She said the landowners have been “very welcoming and, most of all, extremely proud of their projects.” The stewardship technician said the couple’s restoration work has been appreciated by neighbours and has inspired at least two other wetland restoration projects. “It’s been a pleasure to work with Mels and Ruthanne,” she said.

Jean said Mels and Ruthanne are very deserving award recipients as they are great people to work with and do positive things “not just on their property but in their community.” Their tree planting and wetlands projects are examples to others of what they can do and that’s “very valuable,” he said.

In 2007, Mels and Ruthanne van der Laan achieved ecological benefits through restoration by retiring a 3.5-acre parcel of former pasture lands. They planted a mix of Pine, Spruce, Soft Maple, Oak, and Dogwood seedlings. Most of those trees grew well but in some of the wettest spots, where there was poor drainage and heavy clay, some trees did not survive. Subsequently, in 2014, they constructed a wetland. This new wetland basin is about half an acre in size and has been an oasis for native vegetation, wildlife, and waterfowl.  

The Ailsa Craig Girl Guides planted 300 wetland plants around the site in the spring season of 2015 and more trees were planted around the wetland. Mels and Ruthanne have hosted tours, invited community groups, and posted an information sign to let people know about this project. 

Present at the ceremony for presentation of scrolls and personal congratulations were John Fraser, Constituency Assistant to Monte McNaughton, Lambton-Kent-Middlesex MPP; Huron-Bruce MP Ben Lobb; and Huron-Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson. 

Mels van der Laan is also a past winner of the Ontario Outstanding Shepherd Award from the Ontario Sheep Marketing Board (OSMA) in recognition of being an Ontario shepherd who “exemplifies the values of leadership and responsible sheep husbandry.”

Wetlands benefit both water quality and quantity, according to Ausable Bayfield Conservation stewardship staff. Wetlands help to filter water, restore groundwater sources of water, and store and slowly discharge water, reducing flooding and runoff during storm events.

Also announced at the awards evening was the presentation of Student Environmental Award $1,000 scholarship. Via video shown at the event, Bob Radkte, Chairman, Ausable Bayfield Conservation Foundation, presented the award to winner Samantha Bycraft of Lucan.

Years of Service Awards were presented to directors and staff at the Conservation Awards event east of Exeter. Service award winners went to: Six Years – George Irvin, Director; Six Years – Mike Tam, Director; Ten Years – Ross Wilson, Water and Stewardship Technologist; Ten Years – Angela Van Niekerk, Wetlands Specialist; Ten Years – Aaron Clarke, GIS Specialist; Ten Years – Abigail Gutteridge, Healthy Watersheds Technician; Ten Years – Hope Brock, Healthy Watersheds Technician; Five Years – Jeff Van Niekerk, Field Services.

Acknowledged at the event was a donation of $850 to Jessica’s House Residential Hospice Campaign from ABCA staff members who contribute to a casual Fridays’ Staff Dress Down Day Fund.

Geographer and filmmaker Jennifer Pate, BA, MSc, was keynote speaker at the March 16 event with a message about loving and protecting the Great Lakes called ‘Love Your Greats.’ The Bayfield woman has co-led eXXpedition Caribbean, conducting the first-ever sampling for microplastics in the Caribbean Sea, and has also co-led eXXpedition Great Lakes, the world’s largest simultaneous sampling for microplastics in history. She spoke about how harmful microplastics and microfibres from plastic products are heavily concentrated in the Great Lakes. She also provided a message of hope and said solutions are coming from individual citizens who are motivated to join together and develop initiatives such as shoreline cleanups, water sampling, and making positive changes in their personal purchasing decisions.

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