Coordinator at First Nations Fisheries Legacy Fund
MSc in Ecological Restoration, 2019
“The program throws you in. It’s scary, but in a good way. It prepares one for the kind of obstacles encountered working in ecological restoration.”
Derek Fiddler completed his Bachelor of Science in Environmental Biology at the University of Saskatchewan. Through coursework in landscape ecology, he became interested in ecological restoration and reclamation. After graduating, Derek spent some time working on reclamation research in the oil sands, ultimately deciding to pursue a career in restoration. After coming across the MSc in Ecological Restoration program, he saw great potential in applying to one of the first programs in this new and interesting field, and joined the class of 2019.
A love of wetlands guides research project
Growing up surrounded by wetlands in northern Saskatchewan, Derek knew he wanted to focus on wetland and their role in carbon sequestration and blue carbon. Before long, he learned of the MacKay Creek estuary in North Vancouver, which was restored in 2014, but in 2017 remained mostly mudflats instead of vegetated marsh. Derek’s applied research project evaluated restoration success and identified barriers to ecological succession, investigating 4 main factors: soil salinity, soil redox potential, geese overgrazing, and substrate elevation. The project involved plant surveys, soil testing, installation of geese fencing, and the use of drones to create a high-resolution digital elevation model. “Everything was significant. There were arrows pointing everywhere,” Derek laughs. He concluded that the substrate needed to be built up higher, and that plants were also facing heavy browsing from geese.
Derek was impressed by the program’s strength in providing industry connections and real world experience. He enjoyed being able to work on designing restoration plans in the very first semester. “The program throws you in,” he says, “It’s scary, but in a good way. It prepares one for the kind of obstacles encountered working in ecological restoration.” He also remembers his field season fondly, with the exception of testing for soil salinity, which involved squeezing water out of soil (though he admits it was a great forearm workout). He especially appreciated the collaboration of his cohort. Helping each other out with research projects meant getting assistance when needed but also learning about other ecosystems and field practices. “I got to chase turtles around in a kayak,” he mused.
Working in fisheries and engaging with First Nations
After graduating, Derek briefly worked for Watershed Watch Salmon Society and Tides Canada on GIS mapping for a project on freshwater use and licencing, before getting a job with the First Nations Fisheries Council (FNFC) through a contact in the ecological restoration program. The FNFC works to advance First Nations rights and title at a provincial scale with respect to fisheries management, policy, and governance. Derek helps coordinate projects for building capacity for commercial fishing enterprises, and acts as a liaison in connecting Indigenous-operated fishing enterprises with programs for licencing, advancing fishing rights, aquaculture, and alternative resources. He also works for the First Nations Fisheries Legacy Fund, which works on the restoration, conservation, and management of aquatic resources. Derek finds tremendous value in understanding policy and governance, and a long-term goal is to be able to bring back some of these tools to help implement projects in his home community, the Waterhen Lake First Nation.
Valuation and technology in the future of ecological restoration
Derek believes there’s an inherent value in nature, and therefore in its restoration. Despite this, he recognizes there are significant barriers from the public. While many people and agencies like the idea, few are willing to fund restoration projects. “There are so many amazing projects struggling to get off the ground due to a lack of support,” he laments.
One area Derek sees enormous potential in is the increasing usage of drones. In particular, he would love to see research showcasing the ability of estuaries to sequester carbon. By measuring the carbon content of estuarine sediments, then using drones to map estuaries and measure the rate of sediment deposition, carbon sequestration can be better quantified. This could be used to measure the efficacy of restoration projects, or even apply for carbon credits. Another of Derek’s ideas involves using scalable, engineered wetlands for water treatment, and researching how the processes involved in water filtration may be performed naturally. He would also love to see more research on improving the success of eelgrass restoration, an important foundation of estuarine food webs.
Advice for new students: build relationships, specialize, and get excited
Derek’s first piece of advice for those considering a career in ecological restoration is to go beyond simple networking and focus on building lasting relationships. Being able to draw from a wide range of expertise is valuable. He also recommends people be flexible but still get a sense of what they want to specialize in. “Put yourself out there and talk about what people are doing,” he suggests, “Whatever you choose, be excited and passionate about it.” These connections have helped Derek find and carry out his research and work, and he’s excited to see what opportunities they yield for him in the future.