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Well-known Souris watershed champion Fred Cheverie wins national conservation award

A well-known champion for the Souris and area watershed has been awarded a national conservation award.

Fred Cheverie was selected by the Canadian Wildlife Federation as the winner of this year’s Roland Michener Conservation Award.

One of the nominators for the award wrote: Thanks to his “no-nonsense, ‘let’s get it done’ approach,” Cheverie “has influenced the entire evolution of conservation and stewardship on P.E.I.”

Cheverie was nominated by Keila Miller and Frances Braceland, the co-watershed co-ordinators of the Souris and Area Branch of the P.E.I. Wildlife Federation, a job that Cheverie filled from 2005 until 2020.

Before that, he was a volunteer with the organization, starting in the ’70s.

Developed ecology class

Cheverie taught for 30 years in Souris, and many of his courses revolved around conservation and the environment.

“He developed an ecology class. He took the curriculum to the school board, and they accepted it and they implemented it, so that’s pretty incredible,” said Miller.

“I was a former student of Fred, so I did take the ecology class, and it had a long-lasting effect on where my career goals were going, because I was very interested at that age.”

“I’ve talked to many of his former students. And that’s one of the many things that he was known for, was his ecology class, and his infamous, or famous, plant project.”

For the plant project, Miller said, students spent the summer collecting weeds and plants, pressing them in old books, and then presenting them to Cheverie at the start of the school year.

“You put a lot of time into it, and that was the point. You put a lot of time into gathering and identifying and learning,” Miller said.

“The information stuck with you, so that for years to come, you knew that was a fireweed, or the Canadian goldenrod.”

Miller said one of Cheverie’s greatest legacies as a teacher was the students that he inspired.

“Fred always has his eye on the prize, and he knew, at that time, that this sort of curriculum needed to be taught to students at a young age,” Miller said.

“He was building mini-conservationists back in the day. So, over the last 30 years, he’s been doing that.”

Miller said one of Cheverie’s great accomplishments has been the river and stream enhancement in the area.

“There’s prestigious salmon habitat here and there’s really good sustainable salmon populations here,” Miller said.

“That would be because Fred got into the streams in the ’70s and said, ‘We need to make changes, so that in the future they will want to come back here to spawn. They will want to grow and thrive here.'”

‘Redneck engineering’

Braceland, co-watershed co-ordinator, said Cheverie’s attitude and ingenuity are also two reasons he deserved the award.

“His redneck engineering, as he calls it, not me. He has a very good approach to finding cost-effective solutions to problems that we may encounter in our watershed,” Braceland said.

“Like the silt gator. You can buy one of those for quite a lot of money from companies down in the U.S., but we created our own for a few thousand dollars and it’s been very, very effective.”

“He’s a very loud, outspoken and passionate individual, and he’s dedicated a lot of his life toward trying to make things better for people and for the environment,” Braceland said.

“I feel like you can see the work he’s done in Souris. Our watershed group is a large one, and we’ve got a lot of streams we look after and they’re all in excellent condition. We’re very proud of that.”

Shocked and flabbergasted

As for Cheverie himself, he is modest about the award.

“Kind of shocked, flabbergasted. I knew that by the questions that Frances and Keila were asking at the office and a lot of history from me, that something was up and my daughter got involved and she was milking me for information,” Cheverie said.

“They let me know they put in an application, in order to get more information I guess. I really didn’t think I had a chance in hell.”

Cheverie said the watershed group has been a starting point for many now working in the field.

“We had a lot of university students work with us, and it kind of directed them on career paths,” Cheverie said.

“I just kind of opened the door and they had the opportunity to obtain some skills … and they found out they liked that kind of work.”

Cheverie said former summer students with the group have gone on to become wildlife biologists, conservation officers, even the watershed ecologist for P.E.I.

Cheverie said he is also proud of the relationship that the Souris wildlife group has developed with people across eastern P.E.I.

“We see now that fishermen every year donate lobster to us for our annual wildlife dinner, farmers are out there doing pilot tests in environmentally sensitive areas. Landowners give us permission to go on their property to do things,” Cheverie said.

“I think that has done us well in terms of getting things done. And so we’ve got a lot of very successful projects that happen in this area.”

Work continues

Cheverie said he still has some work to do, including his ongoing opposition to wind turbines being proposed for the area.

And he continues with the group, as a board member and adviser.

“I’m called an adviser. I didn’t like the word consultant and since there’s no pay in this, adviser seems more appropriate,” Cheverie said.

“How Souris has been successful, it’s not Fred Cheverie. It’s Fred surrounded himself with good people. If you surround yourself with good people, success is going to happen. Simple.”

Cheverie will receive his award at a ceremony in Souris on July 8.