Cancellation of environmental studies by Laurentian University concerning for Manitoulin Streams

MANITOULIN – The stream rehabilitation work being accomplished by Manitoulin Streams on the Island has garnered international attention and is held up as being best in class when it comes to revitalizing watersheds. Much of that work has its foundations in research and development that has taken place at Sudbury’s Laurentian University. News of the loss of environmental programming at the university as it struggles through the restructuring process strikes near and dear to the heart of Manitoulin Streams program manager Seija Deschenes.

“It’s unbelievable that they have cut this program,” said Ms. Deschenes. “Sudbury is renowned for its environmental recovery due to the foresight of the professors at Laurentian University. I work in stream restoration today because of jobs I had as a youth with professors like Dr. Peter Beckett and Dr. Dave Pearson through the Environmental Youth Corps program and working for the Co-operative Freshwater Ecology Unit now known as the Vale Living with Lakes Centre.”

“Students depend on working with these academic professors to gain knowledge and experience for their field of studies,” said Ms. Deschenes. “These professors are brilliant and their research has been responsible for the environmental and economic recovery of Sudbury.”

The loss of the programs of study at Laurentian has carved a huge hole that will be next to impossible to fill and has ramifications that reach out to a global scale.

“Who is going to be there to help with the challenges we face moving forward with climate change in the North?” asked Ms. Deschenes. “The environmental recovery of Sudbury is studied globally and its environmental practices utilized around the world.”

The transformation of the Sudbury landscape from its reputation as one of the most devastated environments on the planet to a poster child for what can be accomplished through remediation and innovative environmental practices is now at risk, she noted.

“These scientists are the canaries in the coal mine that have allowed us to move from a dangerous environmental disaster to what we know and love about Sudbury today,” she said. “Other biology department research conducted by my father, Dr. Frank Mallory, at Khon Kaen University in Thailand has resulted in improving human health in that country as they develop a treatment for liver fluke disease.”

Aside from the personal impact the layoffs are having on Ms. Deschenes’ own family, it is the loss of a generation of experience that is alarming.

“The knowledge base that Laurentian University is losing is immense,” she said. “It’s shameful and saddens me. I know I am grateful for the knowledge I have received from all of my former professors in the biology department at Laurentian University. I hope the community of Sudbury comes together and acknowledges the great contributions that these professors have given the community and all of its graduating students.”

Sudbury’s Climate Risk Institute president Al Douglas characterized the Laurentian University cuts as “troubling,” but it is clear from his comments that is an understatement when it comes to his thoughts.

“We have lost a lot of capacity,” he said. “There is a long history of fantastic work there in environmental studies—strong, great research in both aquatic and terrestrial systems.”

The loss of the corporate memory contained within the minds of the terminated staff will be felt not only in Sudbury and Manitoulin, but will ripple out across the globe to tarnish what was once a great environmental brand built up over generations.

“To lose that capacity, these folks that have been doing work pass on their knowledge through subsequent students,” he said. That process was so abrupt and sudden it magnifies the impact of those losses. “There really hasn’t been any succession planning,” said Mr. Douglas. “There wasn’t any time to do any of that.”

The tarnishing of the Laurentian University brand will be felt deeply, long after the initial impact of the cuts. “Students are attracted to the university’s reputation to study,” he said. “When they come here to study, many will choose to remain in the North, finding jobs not only in Sudbury, but on Manitoulin and the North.” The cuts will mean “there is not as much attraction for those students now.”

The loss also strikes home at a personal note for Mr. Douglas. “Some of these people were colleagues of mine,” he said. Even though Climate Change Institute is affiliated with Laurentian University, it operates on an arms length basis so it remains “safe” from the cuts; the institute was born out of the passion and dreams of many of those cut.

“As I sit at my desk at the university and look out the window, I see car after car pull up to doors and people loading up their personal items,” he said. “It’s tough to see that.”

Many of those colleagues have given unstintingly of their talents and expertise to advance environmental projects across the region, the Climate Risk Institute itself was established in 2001 based on the work being done at Laurentian University.

Climate Risk Institute is a non-profit, academically affiliated organization focused on advancing practice and delivering services related to climate change risk assessment, adaptation planning, policy evaluation and resiliency. It runs programs and develop and co-ordinate projects to mobilize knowledge, improve capacity, and deliver results for climate resiliency.