Derek Fiddler, a recent alumnus of the MER program, at Widgeon Marsh in Pitt Meadows.

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Rethinking ecological restoration through community-engaged research

January 25, 2021
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Craig Orr

By Courtney Lust

The United Nations declared 2021-2031 as the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. This declaration is timely as Canada urgently needs ecological restoration professionals.

The joint BCIT/SFU Master of Ecological Restoration program (MER) combines critical thinking and experiential learning in order to meet this need. Through community-based projects, students assess degraded ecosystems and design sometimes unconventional restoration programs.

The first of its kind in Canada, the MER program also allows students to connect directly with local communities to address their unique concerns regarding degraded ecosystems.

These connections do not happen by chance. Craig Orr, a professional ecologist and adjunct professor in the Faculty of Environment has more than 30 years of experience working with communities on restoration, conservation and natural resource management. Orr plays a significant role as a co-supervisor on projects by mentoring students and helping them secure projects with First Nations and city partners.

Recent MER program alumnus Derek Fiddler in Oregon.

“It just makes sense to pair students with First Nations I work with who are looking for help,” says Orr. As co-supervisor, Orr works with students to identify their interests and connects them with local First Nations with matching needs. Upon completion of their community projects, many secure full-time positions working within these communities after graduation.

“The MER program provided a foundation of knowledge and network of contacts,” says Derek Fiddler, a recent alumnus of the MER program. “After graduation, it was the contacts that I had made throughout the program that ultimately led to me working for the First Nations Fisheries Council.”

During his master’s at SFU, Fiddler attended a lecture of Orr’s. “He provided guidance about how to properly engage with First Nations and the types of projects and initiatives that Kwikwetlem First Nation had an interest in. His lecture is, in part, what motivated me to begin thinking about the needs of my own community,” says Fiddler.

Making meaningful connections with First Nations communities when taking on issues of ecological restoration is key, and the MER program prepares students to be fearless and ready to take on any challenge.

<Read more about the MER program here.>

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