I think we all have places in our hearts that hold us, places that speak to us even when we have left.  Over the last eight years, I have developed such a relationship with the Upper Clearwater Valley–just outside Wells Gray Provincial Park.  Over the last eight years, I have been fortunate to visit this area many times–bringing students from TRU on field trips, collecting specimens for botany labs, or making extended visits to TRU’s Wells Gray Education and Research Centre.  My field journals are full of the images and wonderings that each trip has brought.

I think we all have rituals that accompany our visits to such place.  Mine is small, but always heartfelt.

Each time I go to close and lock the gate of the research centre, typically with students waiting nearby in an idling van, I take a small moment to say thank you.  Thank you to the community members (many of whom still live in the Upper Clearwater Valley) who  donated their time and land to help lay the foundation of our research centre.

Thank you to the diverse group of stakeholders that participated in the land-use planning process that began in 1996 and culminated in a consensus-based agreement between valley residents and BC Ministry of Forests.  This agreement clearly designates much of the Upper Clearwater Valley to be reserved from large-scale harvesting.  It is this agreement that has ensured that the view captured in the painting above remains intact and whole.  It is this agreement that has so increased the value of this landscape as a living laboratory for my students.

It is this agreement which has now been jeopardized by a forestry harvesting plan set forth by Canfor.  Folks much more eloquent than me have provided extensive and well-reasoned arguments about why this proposed harvesting should not be allowed to proceed.  See here and here.   Simply put, such a proposal violates the guiding principles of the land-use agreement signed in 2000, poses great risk for the water quality and road stability relied upon by valley residents, diminishes the ecological value of the buffer that the Upper Clearwater provides for Wells Gray Provincial Park, eliminates the potential of this area to provide critical habitat for threatened Mountain Caribou, and poses a threat for the large influx of tourist dollars that flow into Clearwater each summer.

I believe in balance.  I believe that there are many right places for responsible forest harvesting.  As a professional ecologist, I have worked closely with forestry companies to evaluate the value of adaptive management techniques.  In many areas, I believe forestry operations can occur sustainably.  But not here, not in the Upper Clearwater Valley.  Some places are just the wrong place to begin large-scale harvesting.  This is one of them.

I believe in balance.  Most times, this means I spend my time teaching university students about the natural world, about the ecology that underlies all that we do.  But there are also times to speak out for those places that we hold in our hearts.  This is one of them.

Speak out.


If you do, here’s who should hear your words:

Honourable Terry Lake, Minister of Environment

Telephone: 250 387-1187
Fax: 250 387-1356


Honourable Steve Thomson,  Minister of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations

Telephone: 250 387-6240
Fax: 250 387-1040


Mr. Don Kayne, President and CEO, Canfor Corporation

100–1700 West 75th Ave
Vancouver, B.C.
V6P 6G2 Canada

Tel: 604 661-5241
Fax: 604 661-5253


Field School Excerpts

On August 22, we (nine students and two faculty) pile gear and more gear into vans and then drive the two hours from TRU to the Wells Gray Education and Research Centre 25 km north of Clearwater.  The beginning of field school rests in chaos–bins of field gear to be sorted from personal gear, perishable vegetables that need to find a place in one of our two refrigerators, dry goods that must be organized into plastic totes.  Eventually the chaos diminishes into a semblance of order as we turn a vacant field station into home.  Over the next two weeks, we have the great glory of exploring the natural history of the Clearwater Valley and Wells Gray Provincial Park-venturing from the expansive heights of the Trophy Meadows trail, into the subdued stories of Placid Lake’s unique ecosystem, behind the pounding spray of Moul Falls.

Field school is intimacy in teaching, field school is immersion teaching, field school is the hope that carries me through the arcane traditions of academia, field school is about knowing the little things.  Most importantly, field school is remembering that natural history matters.

Field school is being surrounded by images best captured in a field journal.

Enroute to Trophy Meadows



Looking down into Lake Sylvia over lunch, Aug 27, 2012


The iconic plants of Placid Lake–each with their own secrets that never fail to astound and delight me.


Field school is also about endings when you’re not ready to leave, yet you can already feel the absence of a daily rhythm that has marked your days for the last 10 days.