Keeping Watch with Natural Resources Canada: A Partner’s Take on Grenfell Research

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Dr. Brian Eddy

Dr. Brian Eddy of Natural Resources Canada’s Canadian Forest Service (CFS) has worked with Grenfell Campus on research for almost ten years and is happy to see this partnership continue. Brian – whose work encompasses geospatial analysis, sustainability, land use and ecology – has extensively explored the connections between people and their environment, looking at how these connections can be understood in an integrated way, and what these connections mean for the wellbeing of communities.

He, along with many others at CFS, collaborates regularly with Grenfell Campus on projects in these fields.  Together, CFS and Grenfell contribute to research that helps provide foresight for planning in many communities and regions throughout Newfoundland and Labrador and the rest of Canada.  This research also acts as an early warning system for future environmental and social issues, such as climate change, which is of increasing concern.

“As researchers, we function like canaries… we’re relatively small in comparison to communities, industries and the government agencies that we work with,”

says Brian,

“but we’re the ones that keep a look out for where things seem to be going. We can provide advice and work with these communities and groups to help with planning for the future. It’s very important we keep our feet on the ground, which is an essential part of integrated research; having research that people can understand, whether they’re in communities, or industries, or NGOs, or elsewhere.”

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Photo by Dr. Brian Eddy

Fostering Collaborative Research

Brian’s first collaboration between CFS and Grenfell centered on the Humber River Basin (HRB) Project, which aimed to foster applied research in the region, create an integrated framework through which to take an all inclusive, multi-disciplinary approach to land management, and generate a knowledge-based workforce in the region. As Brian explains, this involved addressing some initial hurdles while the two organizations, and other partners, learned to work together:

“It had some challenges; it was the first time we had tried to collaborate between a government-based research facility and a university-based research facility. Most of the challenges were administrative, coordinating the transfer of funds and things of that nature. But there was a lot of enthusiasm on the research side of things.”

The goal was to bring together researchers from multiple disciplines and find the connections in their work that were relevant to the management of the ecological, economic and social wellbeing of the Humber River area.

“We produced some useful research from the HRB project, and developed many productive collegial relationships between the two organizations. Since then it’s really just been a matter of Grenfell researchers and CFS researchers working together on projects under the same auspices of forestry-related research, and together we are making progress in many areas. Our Memorial colleagues are able to cover areas that are normally outside of the scope of CFS research, while CFS researchers are able to provide more in-depth expertise in areas of forest-related research. We complement each other very well.”

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Photo by Dr. Brian Eddy

Grenfell Students Making an Impact

Grenfell not only provides funding and facilities as part of its ongoing research relationship with Natural Resources Canada, but also provides additional staff and faculty expertise, and student researchers. Many students from both undergraduate and graduate programs at Grenfell, such as the Master of Arts in Environmental Policy program (MAEP), end up working on research projects with the CFS.

“We’ve had very positive experiences with students from that program [MAEP]. CFS researchers often co-supervise Grenfell students, whether it is a project or a thesis,”

notes Brian.

“CFS has provided opportunities for work-place assignments, either here in Corner Brook, or in Ottawa with our colleagues at the policy branch, and they always worked out really well. Our Ottawa colleagues would often say ‘do you have any more of these students?’”

CFS researchers also give invited lectures at Grenfell, adding their skills and knowledge to the learning community at the campus. Research being done through this partnership is ongoing and is expanding rapidly in scope to include other economic sectors such as agriculture and fisheries. Rural social and environmental vulnerability is also a key area of ongoing study. Brian’s own current work is focussed on mapping human settlements as ‘human habitats’, and studying their social, economic and ecological relationship to forests from an ecological perspective.

“I’m involved in mapping the ‘forest ecumene.’ An ecumene is the physical area of human settlement and infrastructure within a region or a landscape. It’s sort of a natural way of looking at the spatial distribution of human activity in relation to the forest, on national-down-to-local scale. We use it to look at things like the pattern of human settlement, why we settled some areas and not others, and what relationship different areas have with their surrounding environment and resources. There’s a social science aspect to it, and also the physical setting that tells us a lot about our relationship to our environment.”

Brian notes how this type of research provides an opportunity for integration between the natural sciences and the social sciences, as well as humanities:

“Historically, mapping the social and biophysical aspects were usually done completely in isolation of each other, so social science data would often be portrayed in administrative frameworks by province, or census areas, with everything analyzed in square boxes. But the natural world does not live in square boxes, so the ecumene maps human settlement areas like a natural habitat; we look at ourselves like we are another species in the landscape.  You get very different information about human-environment relationships when you map things this way.”

This way of analyzing data is lending new insight to key issues affecting communities across Canada, Brian states, particularly resource-dependent regions like Newfoundland and Labrador. It is also showing us how we can plan in a way that fosters integrated solutions to both environment and local economic issues, rather than treating the two as being separate.

“One of the things that has come up is that when you look at rural and remote communities it raises a lot of questions about issues such as sustainability, and environmental, economic and social vulnerability. Very often economic issues are seen as distinct from environmental issues; but we know this is a false dichotomy, and the two need to be integrated for more effective decision-making.  The prefix of both economics and ecology is the word ‘eco’, which means ‘house’ or ‘home’.  With ecology, we study how the house works, and economics we study how to manage the house. So the two are not separate, but necessarily complementary. It is this type of thinking that we are trying to advance through our collaborative research with Grenfell and other partners in the region.” 

Written and edited by Conor Curtis and Brian Eddy; Additional editing by Pamela Gill

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