There’s no greater thrill for Jesse Vigliotti than coming eye-to-eye with a boreal owl hiding from the winter deep within a tree.
It’s a thrill he’ll be having again next winter. The Whitehorse-based ecologist is the winner of the W. Garfield Weston Award, a $15,000 grant to support his master’s research on the topic.
He’s one of four Yukon grad students to receive funding administered by the Association of Canadian Universities for Northern Studies (ACUNS) this year. The three other researchers each received $10,000 Polar Knowledge Canada (POLAR) scholarships.
“The generous award … will pay my student salary,” Vigliotti wrote in an email. “It’s easier to find funding that covers equipment or fuel costs than it is to pay for a student’s time doing the research.”
Vigliotti studies the winter resting preferences for small mammals and birds that spend the winter in the Yukon. Not much is known about where they like to spend the winter, making it difficult to assess the impact management practices like firewood harvesting and FireSmart programs are having on the small animals overwintering in the territory.
Vigliotti’s forest focus is reflected in another project that was funded this year.
Nadele Flynn will be collecting tree core samples from across the territory to monitor climate change. The project, developed while Flynn was working with Environment Yukon, examines tree core samples to figure out how different bioregions in the territory have responded to climactic changes since the 19th century. That, she said, will help ecologists predict the resiliency of different parts of the Yukon to a changing climate.
“I’m interested in understanding whether what we have been understanding from weather stations and climate models are reflected in the tree ring history of trees that have been growing at a site for a hundred years,” she said. Understanding that history will make it easier to predict future ecological changes in the territory.
Flynn isn’t the only grant recipient to develop her research topic to answer questions she was asking as a result of her work.
Alison Perrin developed her project while working at the Yukon Research Centre. That’s where she saw first-hand how some of the research happening in the North is disconnected from the needs and priorities of northern communities.
“Sometimes communities feel overwhelmed by how much research is happening in the region, and they don’t know what the results of it are, or how it can be applied,” she said. “A big part of it is they want to have relationships with researchers and be able to say ‘these are things that we’re interested in,’ or, ‘we want to hear back after the project, to get results in a way we can use them.’”
The SmartICE Project — a sea-ice monitoring project that’s a collaboration between researchers from Memorial University and hunters in communities across Nunavut and Nunatsiavut — the Inuit region of Labrador — is an example of the kind of research Mason hopes research policy changes will encourage in the North.
It’s that kind of community collaboration Aja Mason will be relying upon for her master’s research on the relationship between mining and oil and gas development and domestic violence in the Yukon.
It’s a topic that’s been researched extensively Outside, but not in the Yukon, said Mason.
That makes it difficult for governments to develop legislation to try and reduce some of the territory’s rates of domestic abuse — which is currently four times above the Canadian average.
“It’s a lot easier to measure or monitor the environmental impacts in comparison to socio-economic impacts,” she said.
“It’s really difficult to make a case for how a mine … affects levels of domestic violence after it opens in a really small town,” she said. “It’s hard to say to a mining company … ‘here, you have to contribute to the social remediation after you’ve come and opened up a mine here.”
This year, the ACUNS awarded over $70,000 to graduate-level researchers from across Canada working in the North.
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