The world according to Lorne Scott

Lorne Scott, avid conservationist and farmer, checks one of the many bird feeders in his farmyard near Indian Head, Sask.  |  Karen Briere photo

Lorne Scott opens his home office window and pours a few walnuts into a narrow feeder attached to the ledge.

He has barely cranked the window closed when a chickadee alights, snatches a treat and flits away. A nuthatch visits another feeder in the farmyard, and a wood squirrel nibbles at something on the ground.

An early snowfall has blanketed the yard, but Scott is ready.

Pails of grain and sunflower seeds stand in his porch ready to feed birds and squirrels all winter.

This is Scott’s world. It’s where he is most comfortable and to what he has dedicated most of his life’s work.

His 800-acre farm south of Indian Head, Sask., where he farms “with discers and 40-year-old combines,” is a way to generate some income, but the habitat it provides is probably more important.

Scott’s heart has been in conservation since he was a child.

“I began building bluebird houses when I was 15,” he says.

Now 65, his home is filled with memorabilia from a career and volunteer activities dedicated to the environment. Photographs, duck decoys, plaques and awards line the walls and shelves of the house that began its life in the early 1920s as a granary.

His uncle bought the farm after the Second World War, and Scott moved there with his family in 1976. When he undertook an addition in 1983, he discovered walls filled with oats.

The modest home reflects the man who lives there.

Those bluebird nest boxes? He built and set out 2,000 of them over 12 years and is now the longest continuous bluebird trail operator in Canada.

He obtained a federal bird banding permit in 1968 and has since banded more than 30,000 birds, including 8,000 mountain bluebirds and 12,000 tree swallows.

His work with the Whooping Crane Conservation Association has been recognized since 1974, and he has been involved with so many organizations they can’t all be listed.

Scott says he isn’t quite sure how he developed this abiding appreciation for wildlife and the environment.

“At that time you were a weirdo,” he said of his young self.

“But growing up on the farm, there was no TV in the early years, and whether you were getting cows or fixing fence, the birds were always there.”

He applied for a job at what was then the Saskatchewan Museum of Natural History in Regina right off the farm and was hired as an apprentice. The salary in 1967 was a whopping $1 per hour and he collected trees for exhibits.

He became a park naturalist at Wascana Centre Authority in Regina in 1975, a position he resigned in 1991.

The proposal in the late 1980s to build the Rafferty and Alameda dams in southeastern Saskatchewan galvanized him to give provincial politics a try.

He had had success working with the Progressive Conservative government of the day to implement the Wildlife Habitat Protection Act after the previous NDP government had put all the province’s crown land up for sale.

However, the dams were going to flood significant habitat and farmland, and attempts to co-operate on that issue were less successful.

He received death threats for his opposition to the projects and was called an uneducated farmer while appearing at a hearing in Ottawa.

He was elected the NDP MLA for Indian Head-Wolseley in 1991, and after being re-elected in 1995, served as environment minister for four years until his defeat.

Scott lists conservation easement legislation, a new forestry act and including species-at-risk regulations in the provincial wildlife act as his ministerial legacy.

At least two of those issues are now in play after the federal government turned its community pastures over to the province, which is leasing or selling them to patrons.

Scott, currently the reeve of his rural municipality and conservation director for Nature Saskatchewan, says there is never a shortage of issues and sometimes he wonders about the efforts of people like him.

“In reality, we’re far worse off now biodiversity-speaking than we were 40 years ago,” he said.

He might have been credited with the return of the bluebird, but the population has been dropping since the mid-1990s.

Three-quarters of bird species are declining around the world.

He said habitat loss is largely the reason.

Wetlands are drained and farms get larger as shelter belts decline, and Scott worries about the future. He said nearly 80 percent of the natural landscape is gone in southern Saskatchewan.

Memberships in conservation organizations are dwindling. They used to be mostly rural, and that population is declining along with the birds.

“We have a big job ahead of us,” he said. “I don’t have an answer. It’s going to take a whole refocus of society as a whole.”

Scott’s contributions have already been recognized. His awards include the highest honours: the Saskatchewan Order of Merit and the Order of Canada.

“Awards are great, but finding bluebirds is much better,” says the father and grandfather.

He will continue to look, and he will continue to farm.

“I plan to stay here and farm until it’s not fun anymore or until my junk quits,” he said.

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