Kluane research cuts are shortsighted

Open letter to Ryan Leef, MP for Yukon: Once again the Harper Conservative government is reducing its support for northern science, and showing a lack of rational co-ordination among programs.

Open letter to Ryan Leef, MP for Yukon:

Once again the Harper Conservative government is reducing its support for northern science, and showing a lack of rational co-ordination among programs.

As part of the federal budget cuts, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council is closing down a program that provides operational funding for northern field research stations.

Key to the Yukon is the Arctic Institute of North America’s Kluane Lake Research Station, which for over 50 years has provided the basic shelter, laboratory and other research infrastructure for generations of biologists, geologists, glaciologists, geographers and others who have vastly increased our understanding of, and ability to live sustainably with the natural world.

Loss of the NSERC funding means that this and other research stations will have to dramatically increase the fees they charge scientists who need the facilities, and many of those scientists will pull out of northern and Arctic research because research grants for studying the natural world are already paltry.

The Kluane station received a mere $100,000 in recent years from the NSERC operational fund. Such a small sum makes a world of difference in the shoe-string budgeting of university research.

Why is this cut so important? First, it comes within two years of the same federal government investing $85 million through the Arctic Research Infrastructure Fund in capital investments to upgrade northern research stations, all of which are now losing their operational support.

The Kluane station received $2.5 million from that fund.

The government is willing to spend lots of flashy money to build infrastructure, and to make it appear as though it is sincerely interested in northern science. Then it refuses to provide the modicum of support necessary to keep a strong contingent of scientists actually doing northern science.

This irrational approach to federal programming clearly speaks of incompetence and poor planning.

This is part of a concerted program by the Harper Conservatives to turn federal support for science to only those topics that have immediate potential to generate business opportunities, entrepreneurial activity and economic return.

This approach significantly abdicates the responsibility of government for the natural world and the numerous services that healthy ecosystems provide to society.

Human actions, such as climate change, continue to put those services at risk, notably in northern latitudes. Our ability to live sustainably with the natural world depends on continued investigative science and monitoring.

These are the functions that northern research stations provide. This kind of science rarely provides immediate economic return, nor should it. It is an investment in our collective ability to live sustainably.

Wildlife Conservation Society Canada has no current working relationship with the Kluane research base, but our science has benefitted from the existence of other northern research stations. We urge the federal government, through NSERC, to review this short-sighted cut to operational funding for northern research stations, and truly live up to its often-stated commitment to northern research.

Donald Reid

Wildlife Conservation Society Canada

Whitehorse