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Kelly Vodden

Saving the earth, one government policy at a time

October 8, 2009

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By Roberta Staley

A childhood in rural Clinton, Ont., exploring nearby woodlands, taking care of animals and riding horses imbued Kelly Vodden (above) with a love of the earth and all its creatures. It is not surprising then that Vodden, who is graduating with a PhD in geography from the new Faculty of Environment, focused her studies on ways to rectify "large-scale government failures" in policy, leading to environmental degradation and species decline.

Vodden’s field studies led her to isolated communities on the west and east coasts of Canada to analyze cases where cooperation between local people and government resulted in positive outcomes for species and ecologies under threat.

Vodden, who juggled a demanding course load as an assistant professor in geography at Memorial University while completing her PhD work at SFU, carried out part of her studies on northern Vancouver Island at the home of the ‘Namgis First Nation.

Salmon in the Aboriginal community have been disappearing in alarming numbers due to over-fishing, lice infestation and spawning ground degradation. And efforts by the ‘Namgis, from habitat restoration to construction of a hatchery, have stemmed—but not reversed—salmon loss.

This, says Vodden, shows the efficacy but also the challenges of government collaboration with community residents who have unique knowledge of local problems and how to solve them.

There are also cases on the east coast where cooperation has resulted in stock restoration efforts. For example, in Bras d’Or lakes in Cape Breton, the oyster population began dying off from disease, due in part to increased sewage runoff from cottage development and recreational boating.

However, collaboration between the locals and government to restrict sewage runoff and dumping is resulting in a cleaner environment. "Local people have a lot to offer," she says.

Unfortunately, the juggling act that often accompanies the exchange of power and resources between small communities and government can get in the way of positive action, adds Vodden, who has consulted for various levels of government.

"Partnering between government and community is a struggle. It takes a lot of resources to communicate and build relationships, and governments often don’t want to invest in either."

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Richard Haedrich

A wonderful profile of an outstanding young professor. Dr Vodden has entered fully into our situation here in Newfoundland, and has been a great exponent in showing the link between local ecological knowledge and pondering the thorny issues surrounding those government policies required to restore our once great fishery.

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