2013 Owl Award
Tony Blake

For many years Tony worked as a conductor for the CPR. While plying the rails between Red Deer and Edmonton, he would keep an eye peeled for plants that “shouldn’t be there” along the right-of-way. Stands of invasive weeds were reported to the appropriate county officials and I suspect that if reasonably prompt action was not taken, follow-up calls were made until the offending weeds were removed.

Away from work, Tony found time to join the Red Deer River Naturalists. He took on the job of President for two years and is waiting in the wings to be reintroduced to that position.

He is an avid advocate for the parks in Red Deer and of the natural and protected areas of Alberta. He does not back down before engineers and politicians that would desecrate or give away even a small part of the parks. In fact, he is one of the few people I know who will look a planner, an engineer, or a politician straight in the eye and say, nicely but firmly, and I am paraphrasing, “You really haven’t a clue what you are proposing or doing.”

He has kept a watchful eye on the Maskapatoon Park and was a staunch critic of “stabilization” of the river bank undertaken a few years ago. He took a very critical look at the development proposals near the Lions’ Campground. Tony has actually read the City of Red Deer’s Environmental Master Plan and other plans which lead the direction the city will move in the future. He is not adverse to appearing before City Council to voice the environmental perspective and to point out where new initiatives do not meet even the basic requirements of the planning documents.

Tony has been an advocate for the establishment of a provincial database for the purpose of keeping track of where flora and fauna are resident now, so that there will be a benchmark in the future. To this end he has been a supporter of, among others, the Weaselhead Foundation, the Alberta Native Plant Council, the Alberta Wilderness Association, the Alberta Rare Plant List, and the Alberta Stewardship Organization. For several years, he acted as a “steward-at-large” for the Government of Alberta natural areas, creating inventories and erecting signage at a variety of sites. A few years ago under the sponsorship of RDRN, he created a weed map for the parks in Red Deer. He used a few environmental studies students to assist, thus allowing them to gain valuable field experience.

Tony has worked with farmers along Highway 54, west of Innisfail, to protect the water running into the Red Deer River from further gravel pit development. He advocates for support of the Environmental Law Centre, an organization that provides legal advice and action for environmental protection. He has in recent years been RDRN’s representative on the Nature Alberta Board.

When he retired from the railway, Tony did what perhaps many of us should do, but never get around to it, that is go back to college and take some courses, specifically, botany and geography. Armed with his new knowledge and credentials, Tony has embarked on a second career working for and with the Nature Conservancy of Canada. He is making more inventories of plants and checking on the progress or, more likely the lack of progress, in reclaiming abandoned oil well sites.

To go for a walk with Tony is an educational experience. Tony will tell you the names of plants, which ones are invasives and which are native species. If you do not recognize a plant he will show you how to identify it. He will also explain who is responsible for controlling the different kinds of weeds. He has also been known to swear at some plants although it doesn’t seem like it does much good.