Indigenous Lake Monitoring Program: Learning and working together with Indigenous communities to monitor lakes across Alberta

“Water is essential to our culture, which is why our people always camped by the water. Without the land and water, there is no people”, Troy Stuart, Lands Manager, Bigstone Cree Nation.

Water is of cultural and spiritual importance to Indigenous peoples and is seen as the interconnection among all living beings.

Indigenous communities across the province have questions and concerns about their local water bodies. What are the impacts of industrial and recreational uses on lakes? Is it safe to eat the fish and drink the water? “It is in the best interest of our people now and the people of the future to secure our water,” Troy Stuart, Bigstone Cree Nation.

To tackle questions on water quality and fish health, Bigstone Cree Nation and Alberta Environment and Parks’ Environmental Monitoring and Science Division (EMSD) worked together to monitor the North Wabasca Lake. “The collaboration with Bigstone Cree Nation is an exciting and new opportunity within our Provincial Lake Monitoring Program to address concerns of indigenous communities while building local capacity for collecting scientifically credible lake monitoring data,” says Dr. Ron Zurawell, Lake Ecosystem Scientist with EMSD.

Best available knowledge: Indigenous knowledge meets western science

The pilot project saw community members and government scientists jointly sampling, analyzing and reporting on the condition of North Wabasca Lake, located 300 km north of Edmonton. Learning from each other was key to the success of this project. “Incorporating local knowledge provided by Bigstone Cree Nation was critical to understanding potential influencing features of the lake basin and assisted in sampling site selection,” says Dr. Ron Zurawell of EMSD.

Joint sampling and sharing of technology also helped the community technologist develop a deeper understanding of and trust in the scientific data. “I think the project is very successful. When the data is gathered and shared with the community, we know that our drinking water condition and fish habitat is normal. Now that I have participated in the project I am actually confident about the water,” Gilmen Cardinal, Bigstone Cree Nation.

Gilmen Cardinal Bigstone Cree Nation conducting lake water sampling

Gilmen Cardinal, Bigstone Cree Nation, conducting lake water sampling on North Wabasca Lake. Source: Zoey Wang 

Shared journey

Mutual interests were key drivers for the launch of the Indigenous Lake Monitoring Program that is filling scientific data gaps and addressing community questions on water quality and fish health. “It’s a shared journey and takes time, passion and commitment to do things right,” says Zoey Wang, Community Monitoring Program Coordinator with EMSD. Success of the shared journey is grounded in respect for cultural and scientific protocols, open and timely communication and support from government and community leadership.

What’s next?

Bigstone Cree Nation is the first of four Indigenous communities participating in the Indigenous Lake Monitoring Program. The program has expanded to six other lakes in 2017 and 2018 with participation from Whitefish Lake First Nation, Dene Tha’ First Nation and Cold Lake First Nations, in addition to Bigstone Cree Nation.

Working with participating Indigenous communities, EMSD will report on the water quality of lakes monitored in 2017 and 2018, and evaluate the Indigenous Lake Monitoring Program to guide a long-term monitoring program based on the respectful braiding of Indigenous and scientific knowledge systems.

Learn more

 

 

Knowledge for a Changing Environment: 2019-2024 Science Strategy

A Five-Year (2019-2024) Science Strategy for the Environmental Science Program to monitor, evaluate and report on the condition of the ambient environment in Alberta.

In 2016, under Alberta’s Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (Section 15), the role of the Chief Scientist was established with the mandate to develop and implement an environmental science program. To deliver on this mandate, the Five-Year (2019-2024) Science Strategy was developed as strategic guidance for the coming years.

The Science Strategy is the framework for the environmental science program that outlines the collaborative approach, tools, and priority areas where science, local and Indigenous knowledge systems can be used to create and share information. The Science Strategy seeks to broaden the way we understand the implications of a changing environment through adopting a multiple evidence-based approach.

Advances in Alberta’s Environmental Science program will require enhanced coordination and collaboration with the wider Government of Alberta, and other external science and technology partners such as federal science departments and univerInfographic_pasture_Page 5-01sities. It is through these collaborative relationships that we will be able to ensure an evidence-based, publicly transparent and scientifically credible environmental science program”.

– Dr. Fred Wrona – Chief Scientist, Alberta Environment and Parks

The Science Strategy outlines five priority areas and opportunities for the implementation of an integrated, inclusive, adaptive, publicly transparent and scientifically credible environmental monitoring and science program for Alberta. The success of the program relies on collaboration across the Government of Alberta and with others, including external research and academic institutions, and Indigenous and local communities.

The five priority areas collectively address key environmental issues and challenges in Alberta:

  • Biological and ecological change
  • Consequences of a changing and variable climate
  • Condition and sustainability of Alberta’s water resources
  • Chemical contaminants and biological stressors in the environment
  • Environmental responses to natural resource development

These five areas build on existing program strengths and increase our ability to understand and predict the cumulative effects of multiple environmental stressors on the condition of the environment.

The Science Strategy will be a foundation and a catalyst for ongoing dialogue and collaboration with internal government organizations as well as external partners, in the planning and delivery of an integrated, inclusive, adaptive, transparent and credible environmental science program. The environmental science program seeks to answer pertinent questions, relevant to all Albertans, on current and emerging environmental issues.

Learn more about the Chief Scientist of Alberta Environment and Parks

Women in Science – Part of the Sis-STEM

Bright and passionate individuals in science fields are working to answer society’s most difficult questions and find solutions to our biggest challenges. The innovation, creativity and competitive advantage that comes with having a diverse workforce is more important than ever, yet women remain underrepresented in science.

In honour of International Day for Women and Girls in Science on February 11, our Chief Scientist, Dr. Fred Wrona invited women from across the department to talk about their work and share their experiences as scientists. Meet scientists Faye Wyatt and Karen Anderson. 

Karen Anderson, Parks Ecologist

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Karen Anderson, Parks Ecologist, Alberta Environment and Parks

Karen Anderson grew up in Sherwood Park, Alberta and completed her BSc in Environmental and Conservation Sciences with a double major in Conservation Biology and Land Reclamation at the University of Alberta. She is also currently an Agrologist-in-Training (AIT) and Biologist-in-Training (BIT).

Karen has been with Alberta Parks for 9 years and currently works as a Park Ecologist in the Kananaskis region, specifically the Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park.

Could you give our readers some insight into your role as a Park Ecologist?

My job as a Park Ecologist consists of a mix of office work and fieldwork throughout the Kananaskis region. My wonderful office is located in the grasslands of Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park where I predominately focus on environmental reviews for the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan as well any vegetation-related, monitoring or species-at-risk projects that are occurring in the region.

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Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park

How does your work as a Park Ecologist affect the lives of Albertans?

As part of the Alberta Parks team of ecologists, we try to facilitate meaningful and effective integration of scientific research into the Alberta Parks system, which benefits the ecological, social and economic health of the parks for Albertans. We promote science-based decision making to assist with balancing the Alberta Parks dual mandate of conservation and recreation.

Can you share a success story you have had while with Alberta Parks?

A success story out of Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park was when Alberta Parks worked with AltaLink to install an Osprey nesting platform in March 2018. The previous Osprey nest was removed within a private right-of-way in fall 2017 due to its proximity to a railroad. It was imperative that we provided alternative nesting habitat because Osprey had been returning to that nesting location for at least 15 years.

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Osprey nesting platform in Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park

Through a series of connections and very fortunate events, AltaLink generously provided the nesting platform structure and pole, the equipment, the installation vehicles and the staff time for the project. The day that we installed the structure was one of the coldest days in 2018, but the amazing staff from AltaLink, along with Alberta Parks staff, tirelessly put up the nesting platform. Fortunately, the osprey pair returned and successfully raised two chicks in summer 2018!

Dr. Faye Wyatt, Geospatial Scientist

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Dr. Faye Wyatt, Geospatial Scientist, Alberta Environment and Parks

 

Can you speak to your experience as a female scientist in the department?

I have had a really positive experience in the department, and I really appreciate that there are very strong female scientists in leadership positions to look to as role models. Being female has not affected my work, which I think speaks to how inclusive the department is. Our work as scientists and public servants is far more important than our gender, and I feel that opinion is shared by everyone I work with.

Tell us about your work as a geospatial scientist.

FayeWyatt2As a geospatial scientist, I am looking at ways to use geospatial science to support Alberta’s Environmental Science Program and the joint Canada-Alberta Oil Sands Monitoring Program. For example, this year I analyzed remotely sensed data of about 300 lakes across Alberta to understand how these lakes are changing over time. This project uses geographic information systems (GIS) to understand relationships between landscape drivers and lake characteristics, such as lake level, area, shape, climate regime, land use changes and location.

Have you experienced any “ah-ha” moments in your science career?

One big “ah-ha” moment was realizing that in order to understand a system, you have to experience it first-hand. Geospatial science often uses computer programs, models and satellite imagery to understand ecological processes and trends. By visiting a place in person, these processes start coming to life and help inform your analysis.

Another “ah-ha” moment was understanding the need to collaborate with others. There are many skilled scientists in the department, and when you start talking to experts in different fields you cross-fertilize ideas, leading to more integrative and better research. Finding ways to work together often advances the science much further than we would be able to on our own.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into the field of geospatial science?

FayeWyatt3To be successful in geospatial science, you have to be interested in the world around you. It is also important to think across disciplines since geospatial science is interdisciplinary by nature. One piece of advice for anyone wanting to become a geospatial scientist, and a scientist in general, is to learn a skill that you can apply to your discipline. For me, that meant learning remote sensing and geographic information systems

Advancing knowledge through citizen science

Citizen science is an expanding field referring to public involvement in scientific research or monitoring with professional scientists. The public involvement may include anything from aiding in  data collection, to all aspects of a project (co-created) – from project design analysis and sharing of results. Citizen involvement in the scientific process is beneficial because it can increase scientific understanding, allow people to contribute to research on topics that interest them, create trusted results, fill data gaps and address local information needs and environmental concerns.

Albertans are helping advance this field of practice in our province. Through involvement in air and water monitoring initiatives to biodiversity programs looking at invasive species, pronghorns and bees, Albertans are supporting efforts in monitoring the environment and building resilient ecosystems.

Alberta Environment and Parks and the Miistakis Institute recently co-hosted a workshop titled: ‘Advancing Citizen Science in Alberta: Changing Perspectives, Breaking Barriers.’ The event explored best practices in the field of citizen science and identified priority actions to advance the field in Alberta. It also provided an opportunity for knowledge exchange and co-learning between citizen science experts, practitioners, resource managers and community members.

Alberta Environment and Parks’ Chief Scientist Dr. Fred Wrona remarked, “citizen

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Dr. Lea Shanley (South Big Data Innovation Hub), Chief Scientist Dr. Fred Wrona (Alberta Environment & Parks), Jade Lauren Cawthray-Syms (University of Dundee), and Dr. Jennifer Shirk (Citizen Science Association).

science offers a unique approach to advance a generation of knowledge” and build public trust. A number of challenges and barriers need to be overcome, however, including perceptions around credibility and relevance of citizen science data and connecting this data with decision-makers.

“Be water on stone – wear it down or move around it” was one piece of advice shared by Lea Shanley, a passionate workshop panellist from South Big Data Innovation Hub. The workshop focused on overcoming barriers and growing the field of citizen science in Alberta.

Limitations to citizen science need to be considered and understood to ensure programs generate credible data and information. While more work is required to understand the role and utility of citizen science in Alberta, the workshop highlighted that engaged and trained citizen scientists can make meaningful contributions to science and monitoring programs by following recognized monitoring protocols and accredited data standards.

What’s next?

Working with the Miistakis Institute, Alberta Environment and Parks is developing principles and strategies to guide good practice and appropriate application of citizen science as part of the provincial environmental monitoring and science program.

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Working session on citizen science in Alberta.

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Science guides policies and actions in Alberta’s Eastern Slopes

When Albertans think about the Rocky Mountains, we inherently think of the wild, rugged mountain landscape that always leaves us wanting more. Hiking those rigid mountain peaks, jumping into those cold glacial lakes, and waking up to fresh mountain air are some of the greatest pleasures Alberta’s Rocky Mountains offer visitors and residents alike.

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Alberta Parks: Castle Area

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Women in Science – Part of the Sis-STEM – Shoma Tanzeeba

In honour of International Day for Women and Girls in Science on February 11, our Chief Scientist Dr. Fred Wrona invited women from across the department to talk about their work and share their experiences as scientists. This is the second of three interviews celebrating the fabulous females in this field.

Shoma Tanzeeba is a hydrologist working in Alberta’s South Saskatchewan Region.Shoma5
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Women in Science – Part of the Sis-STEM – Tanya Rushcall

Bright and passionate individuals in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields are working to answer society’s most difficult questions and find solutions to our biggest challenges. The innovation, creativity and competitive advantage that comes with having a diverse workforce is more important than ever, yet women remain underrepresented in STEM.

In honour of International Day for Women and Girls in Science on February 11, our Chief Scientist Dr. Fred Wrona invited women from across the department to talk about their work and share their experiences as scientists. This is the first of three interviews celebrating the fabulous females in this field.

Meet Tanya Rushcall! An aquatic invasive species biologist with Alberta Environment and Parks.Tanya1 Continue reading