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UBC Reports | Vol. 50 | No. 5 | May 6, 2004

Life has Gone to the Birds for Forestry Grad

Solving conservation problems in the field

By April Wilson-Lange

Four years ago Stephanie Topp quit her job in Toronto, packed her bags and headed west to study conservation at UBC.

“I was working in an administrative position in health care and I wasn’t happy,” says Topp, who graduates from the Faculty of Forestry’s natural resources conservation program this month.

But it wasn’t until the 31-year-old traveled to India, Singapore, New Zealand and Australia with her sister, that she made up her mind to change careers.

“This trip made me think about nature and conservation,” she says. “I really got into birds in New Zealand.”

Since New Zealand is an island, Topp explains, there are many unique species of flightless birds that didn’t have natural predators. Now, with the introduction of rats and other predatory animals, these birds are becoming endangered.

Topp has integrated her desire to protect our feathered friends into her work at UBC.

In her first year, she worked for the Wildlife Rescue Association where she spent a lot of time handling birds.

“This experience sealed it with the birds for me,” she says. “Watching them grow and develop is amazing.”

She also used two of her Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) scholarships to study the winter wren on Mount Seymour. Topp won NSERC fellowships in her second and third years. And this year she was awarded the highly competitive NSERC postgraduate scholarship.

One of the reasons Topp chose to study conservation at UBC was the program’s mix of academic and practical experience. Students are required to attend field school in the fall term of their last year.

“Whatever I do in the future, I’ll have to do some field work,” she says.

After her winter wren research ends in July, Topp will be involved with a bird migration study until October. Then she plans to work on her master’s degree at UBC next January.

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