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Vol 39  No 1
Aug. 10, 2006


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Visit to Grenfell College strengthens partnership with UK university

By Pamela Gill

Drs. David Rafaelli and Piran White, both of the Environment Department at the University of York, examine plant biodiversity in Gros Morne National Park.
(Photo by Wade Bowers)

The visit of two internationally-renowned environmental scientists from the United Kingdom has further cemented Grenfell College’s relationship with the University of York.

Drs. Dave Raffaelli and Piran White, both from that university’s Environment Department, visited Memorial’s west coast campus this month.

“There are lots of opportunities for our graduate and undergraduate students to participate in projects,” said Dr. Raffaelli. “It will be mutually beneficial, a fantastic experience for our students. The work being done here is similar to work done at York.”

Dr. Raffaelli’s research focuses on ecosystem ecology and uses a framework recognizing that people are part of, not separate from, the ecosystem, and that human well-being ultimately depends on how well the environment is managed. That means understanding what motivates social, economic and cultural behaviour, he said.

“The appointment of a new chair in ecological economics at Grenfell will help address many of these areas in the Newfoundland context,” said Dr. Raffaelli, referring to Canada Research Chair Dr. Murray Rudd, who arrived at Grenfell in June.

“I’ve been working on a river basin in Scotland, looking at the diverse activities there ­ economic, social and environmental,” he explained. “We’re trying to find a way to allow people to carry out activities without damaging the abilities of the system to continue to support those activities for future generations.”

It’s an all-encompassing, holistic approach to sustainability that can be used to reconcile tensions and conflicts between various activities. The goal is to increase long-term sustainability of an ecosystem.

Dr. Raffaelli cited Deer Lake as a local area where the framework could be applied. The many uses of the lake ­ watershed management, forestry, tourism, anglers ­ all influence the ecosystem.

“They are all activities which depend on a healthy ecosystem but they also all have an effect on the area.” Dr. Raffaelli has also conducted similar research in areas of Mexico and Portugal. “Deer Lake is a rapidly developing area ­ we can help to build up the research base needed to ensure its sustainable management.”

His views on natural systems are shared by Dr. White, a wildlife ecologist with special interests in wildlife pests and diseases, ecosystems health and wildlife management.

“There are cultural traditions and economic factors in management of certain species, such as moose and caribou. I’m interested in the holistic view of how they’re managed,” said Dr. White.

He believes it is important to involve local people who traditionally use a species: “We want this to be a participatory process. We want to get the people on the ground involved ­ not just policy makers, but those who are actually interacting with the ecosystem.”

During their visit, the scientists toured Gros Morne National Park, including Memorial University’s Bonne Bay Marine Station in Norris Point. They also had constructive discussions with the Aquatic Centre for Research and Education (ACRE) in Hughes Brook, and the Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Science (IBES) and Natural Resources Canada-Canadian Forest Service, both located on the Grenfell campus.

“It was an orientation to look at the landscape and to understand the area’s research needs better,” said Dr. Raffaelli. “It also gave us a chance to meet the individuals we’re going to be partnering with.”

The next step, he said, will be to return to the University of York and discuss potential projects for next summer with colleagues and students. And, of course, there will also be opportunities for Grenfell faculty and students to travel to York University to conduct similar research.

“As momentum grows to build the research agenda at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College and to move the partnership to establish Corner Brook as a Centre of Excellence for Environmental Education and Research, it’s important that we have access to advice and co-operation from international leaders in the environmental sector,” said Grenfell Principal Dr. John Ashton. He added that Drs. Raffaelli and White are among the major figures in their fields.

“We welcome the opportunity to partner with them and benefit from their expertise,” he said. “Their participation and that of their graduate students will bring added value to the environmental research program we are building for the Humber River Basin and indeed the entire western region of the province. It is encouraging that scholars of their stature were impressed not only by our natural landscape and surroundings but also by the potential for this region to become a centre for leading edge research in the environmental sciences.”

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