I feel humbled to receive the 2019 Early Career Conservationist Award from the Society for Conservation Biology. It was awarded at ICCB 2019 in Malaysia (I couldn't be there so we recorded a video acceptance speech).
It was awarded "for her extraordinary leadership, vision, and achievements to strengthen science in environmental impact assessment". Our work was a huge team effort and involved scientists, lawyers, and other people who worked so hard to make positive change.
Read about other amazing recipients of SCB's 2019 global awards here. And please nominate terrific people that you know for awards of all kinds (big list about 3/4 down this page).
Appeared at the Senate Standing Committee about why stronger science is needed in impact assessment
9 April 2019: I was a witness at the Senate Standing Committee on Energy, the Environment, and Natural Resources (ENEV) discussion about Bill C-69 and the proposed Impact Assessment Act.
I spoke about the weight of evidence showing that the science used impact assessment in Canada is too weak, lacks rigour and transparency. I also spoke about the suggestions that Canadian scientists have made -- repeatedly -- to strengthen this process. It was... an interesting experience.
Feature in the "Stepping Up" series byThe Globe & Mail
9 December 2018: The Globe & Mail newspaper ran the Stepping Up series "introducing Canadians to their country’s new sources of inspiration and leadership".
Ivan Semeniuk wrote about my work to strengthen science in federal impact assessment (photo by Alex Ramadan), and how my family and scientific and communication training have influenced my conservation research and advocacy.
Read about the other people profiled in this series, including students, artists, business executives, and teachers.
Figure 2. Proportion of written submissions from each sector that were interpreted to affirm support for five key scientific components of federal environmental assessment. (Lighter shades = more written submissions were explicitly in favour of that component; darker shades = more submissions from that sector explicitly did not agree with that component.)
Experts grade science in proposed Impact Assessment Act, give it "D”
9 Feb 2018 - Leading scientific and legal experts graded the federal government’s proposed impact assessment legislation (Bill C-69), and found a lot to be desired. We found that the legislation ran counter to repeated claims by the government to make decisions based on facts, evidence, and in the public interest. Read more here.
I spoke to media oulets about the proposed legislation, including the journal Science, numerous CBC Radio shows, and The Narwhal. Read other criticisms about the proposed impact legislation act, including:
Strong Foundations report: Scientists and policy experts respond to 2017 federal Discussion Paper
Sept 2017 - Dr. Alana Westwood and I brought together a cross-sector collaboration of 25 scholars and practitioners of environmental science, law, and policy from Canadian academic, government, non-profit, and private sectors to provide input on the federal government's 2017 Environmental and Regulatory Reviews Discussion Paper. Our report, Strong Foundations: Recap and Recommendations from Scientists Regarding the Federal Environmental and Regulatory Reviews identifies 8 priorities and 7 gaps that must be addressed to ensure that environmental assessment has a solid foundation of science. We also offer a companion paper specific to the Fisheries Act.
Opinion pieces by our authors:
By strengthening the evidence collected in environmental assessment, how it is used and shared, and how decisions are made, the federal government can begin to regain public trust and support a process that protects our communities, health, and environment.
15 Nov 2016 - In June 2016, the Canadian government announced comprehensive reviews of a number of environment-related proecsses, including the National Energy Board, Fisheries Act, and Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, with public consultation across the country.
In November 2016, I led the development and release of an open letter to Prime Minister Trudeau and six Cabinet Ministers recommending five actions to improve the use of science, evidence, and transparency in these processes:
Schindler (1976) The Impact Statement Boondoggle. Science. 192 (4239): 509.
"If we are to protect both our resources and scientific integrity, environmental scientists must seek to put their studies on a scientifically credible basis – to see that problems, terms of reference, funding, time constraints, reports, and conclusions are all within a bona fide scientific framework.”
Hilborn & Walters (1981) Pitfalls of environmental baseline and process studies. Environmental Impact Assessment Review. 2 (3): 265-278.
“There is an alarming tendency to assume that each new proposal is unique and that experience elsewhere is not applicable. We believe that there is generally an enormous amount of relevant experience, but it is not utilized because it is not documented or sought out... We believe the environmental assessment business would be far more advanced today if the money spent on predevelopment studies in the 1970s had been spent on postdevelopment retrospective studies & follow-ups. We learn by experience, but we fail to document the most useful of all experience, our failures.”
Nikiforuk (1997) The Nasty Game: The Failure of Environmental Assessment in Canada.
"This independent public report was commissioned by the Walter & Duncan Gordon Foundation in Toronto in September 1996. It looks at the troubled history and repeated failings of federal environmental
assessment in Canada. Over a three-month period, the author reviewed most of the significant literature on the topic and
interviewed more than 50 scientists, lawyers, bureaucrats, business people, environmentalists and consultants."
Moore et al. (2015) Selling First Nations down the river. Science. 349: 596-596.
"Identifying the proper spatial scale for environmental decision-making is a fundamental challenge for environmental policy and ethics. Whether it is migratory animals like salmon that transmit impacts, hydroelectric dams that deprive downstream farming communities of water, or carbon emissions from industrialized countries that raise ocean levels and threaten low-lying islands, decisions can impact distant ecosystems and people. Science can and should inform the scale at which environmental decision-makers weigh risks to the environment and human rights against potential economic benefits."
Green et al. (2016). Oil sands and the marine environment: current knowledge and future challenges. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 15(2), 74–83.
"In the case of North American oil sands development, our review indicates that basic information is lacking or unavailable for several key sources of stress and disturbance, making it impossible to carry out a complete risk assessment… In particular, publicly available information on the behavior, fate, and toxicity of bitumen products to marine biota is almost entirely absent.”
Li et al. (2017) Differences between measured and reported volatile organic compound emissions from oil sands facilities in Alberta, Canada. PNAS.
"Comparison with [volatile organic compound] species emission reports using currently accepted estimation methods indicates that emissions were underestimated in the reports for most species. This exercise shows that improvements in the accuracy & completeness of emissions estimates from complex facilities would enhance their application to assessing the impacts of such emissions."
MacKinnon et al. (2018) The Application of Science in Environmental Impact Assessment. Routledge. 150 p.
From Amazon: "This book charts the history of the application of science in environmental impact assessment (EIA) and provides a conceptual and technical overview of scientific developments associated with EIA since its inception in the early 1970s."
Ma (2018) Scholar and Practitioner Views on Science in Environmental Assessment. Master's thesis. Dalhousie University.
"I investigated the views of environmental assessment (EA) scholars and practitioners about science in EA... The study confirms a gap between science inside EA and science outside EA. These disagreements imply insufficient and/or ineffective communications among EA stakeholders, which should be addressed if a more collaborative arrangement is to be developed for improvements in the quality of science in EA."