UBC Reports
April 6, 2000

Students find solutions to improve environment

Environmental Studies' students get practical community experience and tackle topical issues

by Hilary Thomson staff writer

Whether they're slogging through bogs or knee-deep in freezing lake water, the 18 students in Environmental Studies 400 are eager to get their feet wet investigating environmental issues.

Six interdisciplinary projects look at local environmental concerns ranging from using Mount Seymour's Lost Lake as a winter fish habitat to managing noise at the airport.

"This is the perfect university experience," says Microbiology Prof. George Spiegelman who instructs the course. "I ask some tough questions and students find the experts and set about finding answers."

Now in its fifth year, the course is a requirement for the Bachelor of Science honours programs in Environmental Sciences/Studies.

Students in Arts and Science with interests ranging from forestry to environmental ethics work with community groups that are looking at environmental issues. Learning how to approach and work with activists, academics and government representatives is a key part of the learning, says Spiegelman.

Students complete their honours thesis as a group and receive a group grade. Earlier courses in the program stress skills needed to create a team structure and team rules.

Mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods (GMF) was the topic of investigation for students Lindsay Scott-Moncrieff and Julia Forward. As part of the study, the pair surveyed 140 consumers in four Vancouver grocery stores about their understanding of GMF and labelling. They found consumers in favour of labelling but unsure what constituted GMF, citing examples such as three-legged chickens and bacon bits.

"Learning to work independently for a year has been difficult but also a refreshing change from classroom learning," says Scott-Moncrieff.

The students concluded that mandatory labelling should be implemented in Canada and have sent their report to the federal government commission looking at the issue.

Camosun Bog, a unique ecosystem that covers an area of about six blocks by three blocks on the east side of Pacific Spirit Park was the subject of a comprehensive evaluation by a four-student team.

About 12,000-years-old, the area is the oldest bog in the Lower Mainland. Working with the community-based Camosun Bog Restoration Group (CBRG) and the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD), the team studied options available to restore the bog.

Activities included building, submerging and testing a berm or artificial dam that would prevent water from draining out of the area. Students also searched city hall records for history of the bog, contacted technical experts and distributed 215 surveys to local residents to get their feedback on restoration options.

The first formal restoration efforts on the bog began in 1990. The current project is the first broad scope analysis.

"It feels good to actually be doing something that will have an impact in the community," says Patrick Lilley, whose specialty is conservation biology. "And it's great to operate from more than a strictly scientific view."

Team member Nadia Baker agrees, "We all bring to our project expertise in different disciplines allowing for a more comprehensive analysis."

The team, which also includes students Toshiko Sasaki and Heather Williamson who are studying the bog's hydrology, will present its recommendations to other members of the class, the CBRG and the GVRD later this month.

Other projects looked at the sustainability of southeast False Creek and developing principles to guide plans for preserving endangered species.