The Alex Fraser Research Forest has received an early Christmas gift from Santa.
Manager Stephanie Ewen said Dr. Santa Ono, president of the University of British Columbia recently announced the university is supporting the planning phase of developing Cariboo Fire and Ecology Centre in Williams Lake.
“He became the president of UBC at the end of 2016 and spent of most of 2017 putting together a strategic plan for all of UBC,” Ewen said. “I think he is changing the focus of the university overall to more collaborative and more involved in communities. Part of that is to invest in research infrastructure and support research and that is what we appealed to for some funding.”
The idea for the research centre came out of a focus group discussion for the Williams Lake economic development strategic planning process, Ewen said.
“I was in the group discussion about value-added forest products and it ended up turning toward education and having a better infrastructure here in town to host conferences and demonstrate some of the things we have learned and will be learning from the 2017 fires, such as looking at existing forests and how they burn through to processing wood from those fires in the future.”
By developing an institute, Alex Fraser could provide a facility to improve opportunities for immersive education and allow for more collaboration amongst researchers, she added.
“There are some young professors on campus at UBC who are really interested in what some of the questions are from the community and industry up here that they can contribute to finding answers for,” Ewen said. “I thought that was pretty exciting.”
Ewen said they have an existing cabin at Gavin Lake Forest Education Centre that’s been maxed out in 2018 with researchers and there is more and more demand to host field schools across different programs at UBC.
Having a research institute would also expose some of the experiences gained through the wildfires.
“I think there has been a lot of great hard work and good innovation in the Cariboo in responding to those fires, cleaning up after them and trying to be proactive and manage for the future in this new normal,” Ewen said. “With the research institute we can bring academics into it as well so that we can have a bit more interaction between academia and industry.”
In its first phase of planning, Ewen will work with Randy Sunderman of Peak Solutions Consulting and Trevor Kier of Kier and Associates who recently completed an economic development strategy for the City of Williams Lake.
She said initially they will work on getting a better definition on what the institute will be and explore what sort of collaboration opportunities already exist in Williams Lake.
“We are open to a variety of ideas on what this facility could be and who we might be working with on it,” she added.
“Once we get some things more solidified from this scoping project we will hopefully move onto a feasibility study to make sure it is economically sustainable.”
Ewen became the manager in February 2018 when Ken Day retired after being in the position for 31 years.