American scholars use valley for case study

“This is a great example of collaboration,” said Al Neal, strategic planning leader for BC Ecosystem Restoration

Deep into their studies, three post-graduate students from the University of Mississippi have spent three weeks in the valley to learn about local efforts being made to restore sensitive ecosystems.

Megan Overlander from Minnesota is working towards earning her Master’s degree, Diana Mullich is studying towards her PhD in Biology, and Ann Rasmussen from Tennessee is also working towards her Master’s.

They spent three weeks in May and June living and studying in the valley through the Rocky Mountain Trench Ecosystem Restoration Program, which has been accredited by the United Nations.

Last month’s visit was the second time that international students studied locally through the program.

“This is a great example of collaboration,” said Al Neal, strategic planning leader for BC Ecosystem Restoration. “We showed them expertise from all different angles.”

The students were submerged in practices involving as many of the program’s partner groups and stakeholders as possible, Mr. Neal said.

“It’s all part of our outreach — interaction is most important for them,” he said.

“They sent us here to learn from the best,” said Ms. Overlander.

While learning about the valley’s ecology, she was surprised how different the effects of fires are here compared to the ecosystems only a few hundred kilometres south.

Because of changes in climate trends, Ms. Mullich is eager to learn how ecosystems will change in mountainous terrains.

“The Rocky Mountain Trench is the northern extent of many reptile habitats,” she said. “I’m interested to see how mountains will adapt to rising temperature trends.”

It’s a researcher’s dream to witness the unfolding of major changes, Ms. Mullich said.

Ms. Rasmussen was most fascinated to learn about the species of trees affecting burning and restoration efforts, and said that Northwestern North America holds very unique ecosystems. She was also impressed by the amount of citizen involvement that goes on in the valley with restoration.

“These are future leaders in the United States restoration field,” Mr. Neal said. “We have to make sure we’re knowledgeably moving forward with it.”