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March’s GIS Ambassadors: Julie Henry and Jacey Moore

This month’s honourary GIS Ambassadors are Julie Henry and Jacey Moore from Alderville First Nation’s Black Oak Savanna Ecology Centre on Alderville First Nation, Ontario. Discover the work they are doing to educate students about the endangered ecosystems in the region and the integration of ArcGIS in their educational programs.

Julie Henry and Jacey Moore are March’s honourary GIS Ambassadors from Alderville First Nation’s Black Oak Savanna Ecology Centre located on Alderville First Nation, Ontario. In an area of endangered ecosystems, they are working towards educating students and the public about the ecological importance of the region.

Julie is the Natural Heritage Coordinator at Alderville First Nation’s Black Oak Savanna (AFNBOS) responsible for the development and management of the educational programs. She has over 15 years of experience in the Environmental Field with an Honours Environmental Science and Physical Geography degree (H.BSc) from Trent University and a Post Graduate Diploma from Fleming College in GIS Applications.

Julie Henry

Jacey is the Garden and Outreach Coordinator at AFNBOS. Her role is to promote events and raise awareness of the Alderville Black Oak Savanna. Jacey develops programs for schools, post-secondary institutions and visiting groups. She has a passion for the outdoors and Ontario plant species which led her to study Ecological Restoration and achieve a Bachelor of Science from Fleming College/Trent University.

Jacey Moore

We had the opportunity to work with both Julie and Jacey in the last year in supporting their work and provided them technical support on their projects. They shared with us background info about AFNBOS and their most recent K-12 program offerings that include the integration of ArcGIS.

Why is the Alderville First Nation’s Black Oak Savanna (AFNBOS) ecologically significant?

The AFNBOS is the largest intact tract of Tallgrass Prairie and Oak Savanna ecosystems in Central Ontario and is located on the south shores of Rice Lake. In 1999, over 100 acres of land was slated for development, and local biologist, Elder, and artist, Rick Beaver noticed a mix of rare plant species on site that are specific to these two endangered ecosystems. He brought this information to the Alderville First Nation Chief and Council, who then declared the area a natural history site and protected it from development. What was then a series of old agricultural fields has been transformed over the past 20 years into a thriving grassland restoration site with an abundance of plant and animal species. The site plays a key role in the future restoration of this unique eco-region by acting as a pristine source for native plants and seed.

Grassland species: A wonderful sunny fall day on the prairie in September 2019.

These ecosystems are extremely important because, just like forests and wetlands, grasslands have decreased dramatically. In fact, less than 3% of these habitats survive today in Ontario and throughout North America. Also, tallgrass ecosystems are highly effective carbon sinks. Carbon sinks are natural areas that absorb large amounts of carbon (CO2) from the atmosphere and store it through a process known as carbon sequestration. Tall grass ecosystems sequester on average 1.7 metric tons of CO2 per acre, per year.

Tell us about the work at the centre and some of the things you are doing to educate the public and youth about these ecosystems

Our mission at the AFNBOS is to preserve, restore, and expand these rare grassland habitats, educate, and extend related environmental information to the public and community members and provide a high-quality and diverse research site. The bulk of our ecological restoration work centres around three main activities: prescribed burning, planting native species, and invasive species control. There are many factors that are contributing to the destruction of grassland habitat including fire suppression, agriculture, development, invasion of non-native species and inappropriate recreational use. Most of the research done on site includes long-term monitoring of ecological restoration to assess our restoration effort on the land. Our team monitors plant communities, burn management, herptiles, birds and pollinators.

Prescribed burning is part of the ecological restoration work on the Black Oak Savanna in 2017.

Education and outreach include hosting events for the public to learn about the complexity and importance of grassland ecosystems. We also host class trips and tours, both in person and virtually for any age group to foster a life-long interest in nature. Through working on the site, we enhance our knowledge and understanding of grassland ecosystems.

What are some student learning opportunities you offer at AFNBOS?

Starting this month, the AFNBOS will have three virtual learning opportunities available for K-12 students:

  1. Where Fires Dance!
    This resource on the Alderville Black Oak Savanna is presented in an ArcGIS StoryMap. The purpose of this resource is for classes to learn and explore the connections between Anishinaabe culture, fire, and tallgrass ecosystems. These ecosystems are unique and contain rare flora and fauna and incorporate Traditional Ecological Knowledge in all aspects of restoration. Grassland ecosystems act as a carbon sink and are vital in mitigating the effects of Climate Change. The presentation is about 45 minutes in duration with time for a question-and-answer section.

    AFNBOS story map that explores the connections between Anishinaabe culture, fire, and tallgrass ecosystems.

  2. Where Has All the Grassland Gone?
    Use a survey created with ArcGIS Survey123 and an interactive ArcGIS Online web map, to identify, explore, and learn about native plants collaboratively! With unique activities to accompany “Where Fires Dance” book or presentation, students will investigate the importance of native plants, spread their own Grassland seeds, and learn how to identify native flora in their backyard. There are 3 levels, K-3, 4-8, 9-12; students in grade K-8 will receive a copy of “Where Fires Dance” book to read with the class, a seed packet, an identification resource, required instructional videos, and an activity guide with an activity for each grade. Those in grades 9-12 will receive everything stated above, with a story map presentation in place of the book.
  3. Gitigaan (Garden/ Gathering Place)
    An exciting chance to engage your students by creating their own Grassland focused garden and field study using ArcGIS. A custom experience for your group to explore plants native to the area. Identifying and incorporating native plants into the landscape creates more adaptable greenspace to store carbon and adapt to a changing climate. Students will develop a story map that can be added to year after year for all disciplines, building the Gitigaan through time and sharing with other classes/schools. This experience is limited to one school per year. 

Why are ArcGIS tools valuable to your educational programming?

This is an exciting educational opportunity for teachers and students. The AFNBOS offers an exceptional opportunity to learn about the cultural significance of grassland ecosystems, their role in climate mitigation, and the restoration practices required to maintain them.  ArcGIS tools provide an accessible and interactive platform for communicating the research, restoration, and outreach work, and to engage students in learning collaboratively. ArcGIS allows us to guide participants through the Savanna remotely and provide education packages/experiences focused on curriculum targets (K-3, 4-8 and 9-12). In addition, Survey123 has allowed us to develop an online application form that educators can use to select an educational program to participate in.

How can educators sign up for programs?

They can contact Jacey Moore directly at, and/or visit the Alderville First Nation's Black Oak Savanna information page on the educational programs.

We look forward to continuing our work with Julie and Jacey at AFNBOS.

If you are interested in getting started with ArcGIS Online, request your account today. Find resources to get started on Esri Canada’s K-12 Resource Finder. The following are suggested for beginners:

This post was translated to French and can be viewed here.

About the Author

Angela Alexander is a K-12 Education Specialist in the Esri Canada Education and Research group. She has over 15 years of experience working with educators across Canada. Angela focuses on producing geographic information system (GIS) and curriculum-specific resources, and conducting and creating custom workshops for educators. She manages the GIS Ambassador Program and is the Technical Chair for the annual Skills Ontario GIS competition. Angela also writes monthly posts for the Esri Canada Education and Research blog, highlighting K-12 educators and partners, new ArcGIS resources and GIS-related events.

Profile Photo of Angela Alexander