Project for the birds

Small structure, big job.

It’s not about the size of the 160-square-foot building created by the students of the Okanagan College Sustainable Construction Management Technology (SCMT) program but the critical work that will take place inside it.

Built on a trailer for portability, the solar-powered, energy-efficient unit will serve as a secure environment for the banding work at the Vaseux Lake Bird Observatory.

It will replace the tents which have been used for more than a decade by those who work from early spring to mid-October to help monitor the many species of birds that frequent the marshlands, most of which are on a migratory journey to or from their summer or winter ranges.

The project was the brainchild of college biology professor Sharon Mansiere who is also the chair of the observatory committee of the Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Alliance which is actively involved in the work.

After seeing a similar tiny house built by the college SCMT program students earlier she thought it would be a perfect fit for the banding operation.

“When I started at Okanagan College about 20 years ago I became aware that we are at the north end of the South Okanagan an area that’s known for its diversity and richness of plants and animals,” said Mansiere. “We have almost a third of B.C.’s red-listed species here and we have almost half the province’s blue listed species. This is something our campus has that no other campus in Canada does.

“I just thank the students and the multiple agencies for coming together to have this built.”

One of the key agencies in the project was the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS).

“It’s ground breaking, a shining example of what youth, passionate teachers and committed community leaders with some support from Canada can produce together,” said CWS biologist Wendy Easton. “Design of this banding station is going to be a platform for visitors and Canadians of all ages to connect with nature while fostering our scientific understanding needed to protect Canada’s natural heritage for future generations.

“We take these linkages (banding station), not only the local linkages but across the western hemisphere, very importantly and I think this tiny house is going to be emblematic of that type of commitment.”

Established in 1979, the Vaseux Lake facility is one of 54 national wildlife areas and the largest contiguous one in B.C. with over 17,000 birds having been banded since 2005.

“Birds are the canary in the coal mine, signaling changes in the environmental health of our air water and habitat and birds fuel economies,” said Easton. “This jewel of a place where you live has unique wildlife and bird species including species at risk found nowhere else in the country. This well-designed gathering place is off the charts.

“Migration is iconic to Canada’s landscape and it connects a continent of people.”

Hugely supported by Structurlam, the building is a secure, purpose-built project of solid timber panel enclosed in metal siding with minimal glazing to reduce the environmental impact.

It is well lit with natural lighting to help banders in determining the pigment of birds’ eyes.

Mark Eyjolfson, who will be one of the first graduates of the Penticton campus’ SCMT program, worked extensively on the station’s construction.

“It’s given me such an opportunity to learn and be creative and do something new and unique and innovative,” said Eyjolfson who has already found employment with Structurlam. “It’s been a great opportunity to have so many people support your initiatives and to help the support the community.

“It’s also important to use more natural materials, I’m actually a Métis student and for me it’s near and dear to my heart to respect nature so when you use wood as a building material it’s something that’s grown from the earth. It has a beauty to it.”

He added the key elements during the life of the project involved economics, working with a limited budget, limiting the environmental impact or footprint and social in making the station accessible to everyone regardless of age.

“And to be sustainable you have to use innovation, we all have to learn, not just students, we’ve spent three years learning about sustainable construction, it’s the way of the future,” said Eyjolfson. “That’s how we get over the big challenges that are coming our way because we all get together and we all learn. The more we innovate the better off we’ll be.”

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