Redberry Lake Biosphere Reserve – It’s a Big Deal!
Photo by Pat Fennig
Okay, if it’s a big deal, why haven’t we all heard about it? Why haven’t we all visited this one-and-only provincial attraction? Why aren’t tourists flocking to the little regional park and Biosphere Reserve just outside Hafford?
Truly, Redberry Lake is one the best kept secrets in Saskatchewan!
This little lake located approximately forty minutes from North Battleford is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. It received the designation more than seven years ago under the United Nations Man and the Biosphere Program. It’s a big deal. There are only fifteen such sites in all of Canada and only one in Saskatchewan.
“The best time to visit is a time from June 20th to the end of August,” said Pat Fennig, coordinator of the Redberry Lake Biosphere Reserve. “That should give the visitor a good opportunity to see the pelicans.”
Three to four hundred pairs nest on an island in the middle of Redberry Lake – an island appropriately called Pelican Island. The bird has a long, wide orange bill and black wing tips. Its wing span is ten to eleven feet. In comparison, the wingspan of the Canada goose is five to six. The American white pelican is the largest bird in North American by wingspan.
“Visitors are not allowed to approach the islands or land on them,” Fennig added. “The young, born without feathers, are totally dependent on their parents. If their parents are spooked, they will not return to the nest and the young will die.”
For most Saskatchewan residents, the robin is the harbinger of spring. At Redberry Lake, the arrival of the pelicans signals the end of winter. The birds arrive during the first two weeks of April from their wintering grounds in California, Mexico, and along the Gulf Coast.
The Reserve is a birder’s paradise. Colonies of the Double-crested Cormorant and the Great Blue Heron nest on the islands found in the lake. Piping Plovers, an endangered species, lay their eggs along the Reserve’s sandy beaches. Because the birds are easily disturbed, visitors are urged not to interfere with their nesting sites. The white-winged scoter, a duck whose numbers are in decline, find a home within the safety of the sanctuary. During the fall, Whooping Cranes fly through the Reserve during their annual migration south.
In total, visitors and staff have sighted more than 188 species of birds at the Reserve. Founded in 1926, Redberry Lake is one of the oldest bird sanctuaries in Saskatchewan.
“Michael Finley of the Saskatoon Nature Society has identified and keyed every plant within the Reserve,” Fennig said. “We have some rare species, too.”
One of the most interesting is the twayblade or fen orchid. It is a small plant with greenish-yellow flowers above a pair of lance-shaped leaves. Although very rare throughout its range, large patches sometimes grow in marshes along the shore of Redberry Lake.
“Redberry Lake is unique, too,” Fennig continued, “because it is a saline body of water. Two streams flow in, but none flow out. As a result, the lake is becoming saltier. Redberry has a salinity of 2.1%, while the ocean has a salt content of 3.5%. Not a whole lot of difference.”
But the key to its uniqueness in the Saskatchewan tourism industry is its designation as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. According to the Biosphere Reserve website, this term includes all of the land, water and atmosphere that support life – all life - plant, reptile, bird, animal and human. A biosphere reserve has three components: the core area, the buffer zone and the transition zone. In this case, the core zone is Redberry Lake and the islands contained therein. To preserve the integrity of the core, cottage construction is limited in number. The buffer zone is an area of one-half to one kilometer around the lake. It is a zone set aside to preserve the natural vegetation around the core.
The transition area is an area where a full range of human uses occur. Cattle and grain producers are encouraged to adopt practices to preserve the banks of streams and lakes from negative environmental impact. The goal is to preserve the uniqueness of Redberry Lake for future generations. In Canada, the transition zone is often termed the zone of cooperation.
In 1989, some thought was given to the establishment of a resort village along the shores of the lake. On further investigation, it was found that such intensive human activity would have too great an impact on the ecology of the area. As a result, the group developed the Redberry Lake Pelican Project. In 1995, members of the Project group realized that with the establishment of the three zones, Redberry Lake met the criteria for UNESCO designation. In 2000, official notice came from Paris. Redberry Lake was designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Redberry Lake and its neighbouring regional park provide a wide variety of summer activities: hiking, swimming, camping, berry-picking, golfing, and bird watching. But most importantly, the tourist’s first stop is a visit to the Stuart Houston Ecology Centre, an interpretive and activity facility.
Yes, Redberry Lake is a big deal – a very big deal. And yes, it’s worth a visit – individually, as a family with children and grandchildren and perhaps, let me suggest – as a group from the Yellowhead Flyway Birding Trail Association.
Map to Redberry Lake