University mourns tragic passing of promising scientist

The world lost a shining star this month as Suzanne Abele, 27, died tragically as a result of an ATV accident.

Suzanne had recently completed her masters in conservation biology, working on the ecology of forest snails and slugs and how they are influenced by forestry practices. She had been hired last spring as core team leader for the Ecosystem Management Emulating Natural Disturbance (EMEND) forestry research project and was directing the activities of a team collecting data at the EMEND site northwest of Peace River.

“She was a leader,” said John Spence, who leads the EMEND project and was Suzanne’s co-supervisor during her masters program. “She was able to lead from within. Not everybody is able to do that.”

Spence spent the day with Suzanne at the 7,000-hectare forestry research site near Peace River the day before her death. They talked about the future and how to provide Suzanne with the ability to contribute more fully to the EMEND project by extending her employment beyond the initial one-year contract. Spence said she was full of great ideas and was highly motivated to use the project’s results to improve management of the boreal forest.

Ellen Macdonald, who co-supervised Suzanne, said she was bright, hard-working, beautiful, warm, funny and happy.

“She was pretty special. Everyone who met her, liked her. I can’t think of anyone who didn’t. The world is a worse place off without her,” said MacDonald.

She added that Suzanne was an excellent scientist with limitless potential as well as an accomplished musician. She had sung soprano and traveled with the University of Alberta Madrigal Singers during her undergraduate years before joining the Da Camera Singers in 2009. She was also very close to her family, including her parents, two sisters and two brothers.

The accident took place on a logging road within the research site. According to local RCMP, Suzanne was driving her ATV at a reasonable speed, leading a group of four students, and wearing a helmet. She dropped into a three-metre erosion gully, which had resulted from recent heavy rains and was almost impossible to see.

Alberta Occupational Health and Safety is conducting an investigation into the accident, a standard operating practice in these circumstances. The university is cooperating fully with the investigation.

To view Suzanne’s obituary as it appeared in the Edmonton Journal, click here.