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Students at MHC study amphibians and birds for insight into ecosystem health

Environmental Reclamation Technician students doing field study
May 3, 2021

Endangered amphibians and the migratory patterns of birds are just some of the field studies included in Medicine Hat College’s (MHC) Environmental Reclamation Technician (ERT) diploma program.

EREC 240 Environmental Assessment and EREC 220 Environmental Sampling and Monitoring are courses that introduce learners to the process of planning, organizing and collecting information for environmental assessments. Students are able to look for environmental contaminants during reclamation, industrial sampling and monitoring processes.

The Northern Leopard Frog is one of the amphibians that students learn to monitor, which according to program instructor Allison Campbell, provides significant environmental indicators.

“This amphibian, due to its sensitive skin, can often tell us if there is a disturbance in the area, whether that be water contaminants, habitat degradation and fragmentation amongst other things,” says Campbell. “We teach students how to hear a frog call, build a safe pitfall trap, release and make estimates – information that is critical for protecting and assessing the land.”

This experience is not only fun, adds Campbell, but a sought-after skill by employers looking for environmental technicians.

Tahnee Darmanin, an ERT student, explains that a healthy eco-system depends on plant and animal species as their foundation.

“When a species – like the Northern Leopard Frog – becomes endangered it is a sign that the ecosystem is slowly falling apart. Each species that is lost triggers the loss of other plants and animals – humans depend on a healthy ecosystem to purify our environment.”

Darmanin and her classmates also took part in bird counting at Police Point Park in Medicine Hat, Alberta.

“The migratory pattern of birds is a great indicator of environmental change. They have patterned behaviours in terms of where they migrate, timing of events in their life cycle as well as food sources. We collect and provide this data to a study that is happening from North America to Mexico.”

By counting the number of birds that migrate, questions on climate change and how it affects the populations can be answered.

“The more data that we can gather, the easier it is for scientists to track patterns and similarities across the board for these bird species,” says Darmanin. “As part of this project I learned to identify everything from the American Tree Sparrows and Black-billed Magpies to the Blue Jay and Northern Flickers.”

For Darmanin, these skills will help her achieve her career pursuits.

“As a small child I always said, ‘I’m going to be a biologist when I grow up.’ I’d say my dreams are pretty close to being true. The skills I’ve developed will help me in my career as I work towards my goal of consulting as a wildlife biologist.”

For more information on the Environmental Reclamation Technician program visit