Katie Morrison

ENCS was a natural choice for Katie Morrison. Growing up in Manitoba, Katie spent her time horseback riding, camping and canoeing with her friends and family and gained a great interest in and appreciation of the natural world. Through high school Katie didn’t really know what she wanted to do after graduation until she chanced upon a brochure for environmental studies at the University of Manitoba. “It wasn’t a career that was ever talked about in high school but the environment was something I was interested in anyways so I thought I could study environmental sciences and worry about a career later.” When her dad, Ian Morrison, became dean of Agriculture, Forestry and Home Economics at the University of Alberta in 1996 it was a no brainer to follow her family out to Alberta to pursue a degree in ENCS. The fact that she really enjoyed her summer jobs living in the bush as a tree planter and later as a birder on the Calling Lake Forest Fragmentation Study solidified her choice of education.

Katie graduated in 2001 and soon after started a position with the school of Native Studies conducting research for a land and resource claim for the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan. Although the research was largely historically based, she considers herself fortunate to co- author a paper entitled Dispossession and Sustainability: Métis Aboriginal Rights, Traditional Economy and Industrial Development of the Prairie Provinces for the Métis National Council which was presented by the senior author at the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in August 2002. Although she didn’t get to go the summit, a year out of school Katie felt that she was doing something to make a difference in the world.

During that time she also took four months off to travel and volunteer with several conservation projects in Central America. These experiences fueled her interest in environmental issues in Latin America and after two years at Native Studies she started an internship working in La Tigra National Park in Honduras for four months. During this time she lived in a village in the park on the edge of a cloud forest. “It was a tough job but someone had to do it” she jokes. At the completion of the internship she was hired by the NGO that manages the park to continue her work for another year. Katie’s main project was an inventory of the bird species of the park as well as a comparison between the intact cloud forest and the fragmented areas at the edge of the core zone.

As much as she enjoyed the research aspect of this position, she also enjoyed sharing what she was doing with other people. Not only was she able to present her research and findings at a national workshop on monitoring biodiversity in Honduras, but she worked in the community as well. Katie is a real believer that when people learn and talk about the natural world and their place in it, they can further relate to it which is reflected in their actions and effort to conserve. To this end, she worked with the park guards and community members on biodiversity education and training. She also started an informal nature club in her community which would go out and watch birds, learn about butterflies and share knowledge of the natural environment. She took a Nature Tourism course through the Honduran Institute of Tourism and guided tourists both local and foreign through the park. With all her informal and formal involvement in the community, it wasn’t long before she had both adults and children coming to her house to share their observations of wildlife. Katie is currently writing and illustrating a bi-lingual (Spanish/English) field guide to the birds of the park that can be used in the education of park guards, tourists and students in the local schools.

Since 2005 Katie has been working in Calgary for Stantec as a wildlife biologist. As the wildlife lead on several projects, she has conducted field work all over Alberta and says that besides learning how to dig a quad out of swamp, she has gained a greater understanding of the assessment of effects of industrial landscape changes. She uses both scientific knowledge and Traditional Ecological knowledge in writing the environmental impact assessment and recommending mitigation measures for project developer to implement to decrease impacts on wildlife.

Katie says she has always been torn between human dimensions and conservation biology and being perhaps a glutton for punishment, in September 2010 she cut down to working half time and started a Master’s of Environmental Design at the University of Calgary working with Dr. Michael Quinn. Her studies will bring her back to La Tigra National Park in Honduras for 4 months, leaving this September. The research aims to understand the current and historical relationship of residents of La Tigra National Park with the park and its management. Using this information, with the co-operation of the residents, the federal government and the NGO responsible for the management of the park, she will develop a strategic identification of issues related to resource conservation and sustainable community development which can be used by all three groups to improve management of the park. To support the research Katie put her proposal writing skills to work and recently received a SSHRC Graduate Scholarship and the IDRC John G. Bene Community Forestry Fellowship.

Katie and her partner Brian recently bought a bungalow in Calgary where they live with her brother Stuart, their 11 month old puppy, and a toad. Katie spends her little free time working in the garden, training the dog and hiking when she can.

Added: 10 August 2011