University of British Columbia zoologist Sarah Otto is using her MacArthur “genius grant” toward preserving fragile habitats in the South Okanagan region of British Columbia.
Two gifts of $50,000 each to The Nature Trust of BC and the Nature Conservancy of Canada will help purchase habitats for at-risk species of woodpeckers, sparrows, badgers, turtles, plants and trees.
NB: Photographs of the South Okanagan habitats and the Western Painted Turtles, an at-risk species in the region, are available at http://www.publicaffairs.ubc.ca/?p=69493.
Otto was one of last year’s 22 MacArthur Fellows, who receive no-strings-attached grants of $500,000 over five years from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Otto is putting her 2012 fellowship towards conserving biodiversity in B.C.
“We strive to eat locally and act locally, and I would argue that we also need to preserve locally,” says Otto, a Canada Research Chair in Theoretical and Experimental Evolution.
B.C. grasslands make up less than one percent of the province’s natural landscape, yet they provide habitat for a third of B.C.’s species at risk. Nationally, only 10 per cent of Canada’s land areas and less than one per cent of the country’s oceans and Great Lakes are protected, according to 2011 Environment Canada figures.
“Many of the existing protected areas are remote and not the hotspots of potential biodiversity loss,” says Otto. “We are lagging behind in Canada, both in comparison to the global average and to our own previously agreed upon targets.”
Otto says the Okanagan region holds special personal significance as the location of her first biodiversity field trip as a new faculty member at UBC in 1995.
“Seeing this remarkable region, home to so many species from bighorn sheep to cacti, made me aware of the diversity of life in this part of Canada and also its fragility as an ecosystem,” says Otto, director of the Biodiversity Research Centre at UBC. “I don’t think we can ask other countries to preserve their forests, their waters, and ecosystems unless we also set a good example here in Canada.”
Otto will deliver a public lecture on the evolution of biodiversity and current extinction risks on Saturday, Nov. 3 at the Vancouver Institute. For more information, visit vaninst.ca/VbOtto.html.
BACKGROUND | “GENIUS GRANT”
About biodiversity loss
“Given scientific uncertainties – we can never know for certain which species, when lost, will unravel ecological communities. We cannot perfectly predict which habitats will form key refuges and corridors in the context of future climate change, and we do not even know all of the species that there are to lose. The precautionary principle impels us to protect natural lands and waters from our impacts.” – Sarah Otto, UBC zoologist.
The Nature Trust of British Columbia is a leading non-profit land conservation organization dedicated to protecting BC’s natural diversity of plants and animals through the acquisition and management of critical habitats. The Nature Trust has invested more than $70 million to secure over 69,000 hectares (170,000 acres) across British Columbia. www.naturetrust.bc.ca.
Otto’s $50,000 gift to The Nature Trust will go towards securing one of the largest intact grassland areas in the South Okanagan region. Provincially designated at risk ecological systems found here include the Red-listed big sagebrush and bluebunch wheatgrass, the globally imperiled arrowleaf balsamroot, the Blue-listed ponderosa pine, and the Western Painted Turtle.
The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is the nation’s leading land conservation organization, working to protect our most important natural areas and the species they sustain. Since 1962, NCC and its partners have helped to protect more than 2.6 million acres (over 1 million hectares), coast to coast. More than one quarter of these acres are in British Columbia. www.natureconservancy.ca/bc.
Otto’s $50,000 gift to the Nature Conservancy of Canada will go towards securing 1,200 acres of native grassland habitat in the South Okanagan Similkameen Valley, home of at risk species such as Lewis’s woodpecker, grasshopper sparrow, American badger and the western yellowbelly racer.
About the MacArthur “genius grant”
Fellows of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation receive $500,000 payable over five years. Candidates, who must be citizens or residents of the U.S., are nominated by a specially selected group of about 100 people (their identities are not disclosed), and are chosen by a selection committee of about a dozen people (whose identities also are secret). Candidates are selected for their “exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment, and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work.”