Local men saluted for conservation efforts

By Mitch Calvert, Fort Frances Times Ltd.

Two local conservationists recently were honoured by the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters for their commitment and long-time volunteerism.
Jack Hedman, in his final term as president of the O.F.A.H., was presented with the Jack O'Dette Conservation Leadership Award at the group's 81st-annual general meeting last month in Mississauga while Henry Miller, current president of the Fort Frances Sportsmen's Club, received the Larry Wallace Memorial Volunteer Award for a second time. "That was really something that meant an awful lot to me," Hedman said of the award.
"Unlike a lot of other awards that are usually handled by a committee where the winner is chosen out of applicants, this one was chosen on by all 41 members of the board," he noted.
"To win something like that, especially knowing that it's coming from the people you've worked with for a number of years, is really the icing on the cake."
Hedman began his climb up the O.F.A.H. ranks some 26 years ago after moving to Fort Frances from Sudbury. He had first gotten involved with conservation after meeting Miller.
"I met Henry when I moved here in '68, and he was doing this sort of thing for 14 years already by that point," Hedman noted. "He's always been a conservationist, and a role model, and his efforts speak for themselves."
The Jack O'Dette Conservation Leadership Award is given annually to an O.F.A.H. director in recognition of their hard work and dedication to the federation.
Hedman served two years as second vice-president, two years as first vice-president, and now is closing out his second year as president.
He isn't stepping away anytime soon, however, as he has two years yet to serve as O.F.A.H. past-president and then two more as past-past president after that.
"It's a 10-year process," Hedman noted. "You have four years to train, two years in the saddle, and then there's two people with a lot of experience as past presidents to help you out."
Hedman was in elite company at the head table at the annual meeting sitting alongside Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
"The security was unbelievable," Hedman recalled. "They had what looked like SWAT team members and secret service all dressed to the nines with their shirts and ties and a handgun on the belt all over the hotel."
Hedman might have to get used to that security presence-as he may or may not have had an offer to be a guest of the prime minister at his summer retreat.
"Earlier he had talked about how he is trying to get more comfortable fishing, and wanted to learn how to use a spin cast reel," he recalled. "Our emcee had said anyone from the O.F.A.H. would be more than happy to help him out, and when he was getting applause after his speech, he leaned over towards me and whispered at that moment, 'I think you should come to my cabin and show me how it's done.'"
"I wasn't sure if he was talking about me and my wife or the O.F.A.H. in general," Hedman admitted. "I think it was the O.F.A.H., but it was a very special moment and one I won't forget."
Miller didn't attend the annual meeting, although Hedman read Miller's acceptance speech on his behalf to rave reviews and resounding applause.
The Larry Wallace Memorial Volunteer Award, which Miller first won 14 years ago, goes to the O.F.A.H. member who has best ensured the future of conservation by sharing their knowledge and love of the great outdoors with today's youth.
Miller continues to go to great lengths to educate children on the rich wildlife enjoyed in these parts.
He was the founder of the O.F.A.H.'s "Get Outdoors" Club here in Fort Frances, and had run a local junior conservation club until 2001 before it amalgamated into the "Get Outdoors" Club.
Miller plans outings for both adults and children-from snowshoeing to monitoring bird houses in the summer.
"I work in the schools a lot, go in and build bird houses with the kids, and tell them about the birds that might go in them and where to put them in your yard," Miller explained.
"We have bluebird trails with 437 birdhouses out all the way from here to Stratton, and it takes hours and hours to do it," he noted.
"The kids take so many trails, and there's been some other people helping out, too, but it's a lot of work.
"This winter I brought three different classes snowshoeing, and we just study wildlife," Miller continued. "I look at their courses and see what they are learning, and then show them out there rather than just by books."
One of those recent snowshoeing trips took an unexpected turn-with unco-operative weather making it even more fun, apparently.
"I had a Grade 4 class out in the morning of that blizzard [last month]," Miller recalled. "The weather reports said it was going to come later that afternoon, but we got caught in it.
"It was fun."
Miller said volunteering in this way was a natural transition after retiring from his day job as an elementary school teacher.
"When I retired from teaching, I got involved with the schools this way," he noted. "When I first started, I'd have about 40 classes out doing different things, but at that time they knew me from before I retired.
"Now there's things like liabilities and those sort of things that make it harder now, and the teachers are all new and don't know me anymore," he laughed.
Miller was quick to credit parents for volunteering to help with the field trips, stressing he couldn't do it on his own.
"The parents come out and become mentors," he said. "They all have experiences and a lot to offer, and help me out with the kids, and they are truly a great help."
Miller also organizes outdoor adventures for adult members of the Fort Frances Sportsmen's Club.
"We just do different outdoor activities. Teach about hunting, go snowshoeing, skiing, sleigh rides, and we do survival techniques," he noted. "Haven't done it for a couple years now, but we used to go out and sleep outdoors for a night in the winter.
"There's more to do in the winter in the outdoors, and I don't like the bugs and the heat in the summer," Miller reasoned.