Meghan Rooney

Field Coordinator at Watershed Watch Salmon Society
MSc in Ecological Restoration, 2018 

“We’re used to spitting out stats and figures, but it really comes back to stories. It helps bridge that connection to tell your story and hear theirs.”

After graduating with a BSc from the University of the Fraser Valley, Meghan knew she wanted to pursue a master’s degree with an outdoor component, varied work, opportunity to specialize, and the ability to make positive change. Though unsure at first, she soon found the MSc in Ecological Restoration program. Restoration seemed to tick all those boxes for her, and she found herself in the program’s second cohort.

Research on the Katzie Slough and making lasting connections

Though Meghan initially entered the program wanting to focus on forests, she soon became fascinated by salmon and their ecological, cultural, and economic importance. While searching for an applied research project, she discovered Watershed Watch Salmon Society and became interested in their work on the Katzie Slough.

Meghan’s research focused on assessing the condition of the Katzie Slough, a 10km side channel of the Pitt River. By surveying for invasive plants, collecting aerial video of waterways, and sampling water quality, Meghan identified areas of concern and made management recommendations. These included removing certain invasives from target areas, increasing riparian buffer zones, and upgrading flood-control infrastructure.  

Meghan enjoyed having plenty of opportunity for networking through the program, and felt that the partnership between both BCIT and SFU helped maximize those opportunities. In her professional life, she says she constantly meets people with some connection to ecological restoration, even those she’s worked with in the past or other alumni. She also enjoyed the opportunity to gain field work experience through her research, and the unique set of challenges and obstacles it taught her to overcome.

Work with Watershed Watch

After graduation, Meghan joined Watershed Watch full-time, just in time to get involved with a restoration project removing invasives and expanding riparian planting in the Katzie Slough. She also worked with the Connected Waters campaign, spending a summer sampling fish and water quality at various field sites. Currently, she’s been busy working on the Resilient Waters campaign, a partnership with MakeWay. Through public engagement and supporting field work with Pearson Ecological, the campaign seeks to upgrade flood-control infrastructure in the lower Fraser River, identifying sites which would best restore access to fish habitat. 

Meghan has found she enjoys public engagement a lot more than anticipated, and it’s been rewarding communicating these issues and the benefits of addressing them. Every day has something different in store. Though small and primarily an advocacy group, Watershed Watch is interested in continuing more restoration work and Meghan is eagerly striving to make that happen.

Effecting change through advocacy

For Meghan, who grew up in the Vancouver area and has always felt a strong connection to the landscape, ecological restoration feels like an opportunity to give back and create meaningful change. To her, salmon seem like an obvious choice for restoration, and their importance cannot be understated.

Though not everyone agrees at first, she’s learned a lot about how to advocate effectively. “We come at it from a scientific background. We’re used to spitting out stats and figures, but it really comes back to stories,” she explains, “It helps bridge that connection to tell your story and hear theirs. Some people may not care much about restoration of streams for fish, for instance, but they may care about improving water quality for crops. Care about their concerns and find common ground.”

Meghan also sees good advocacy as a tool for larger-scale change. “Municipalities don’t have a lot of money to invest in these infrastructure projects. There’s hesitancy to invest in nature based solutions. Getting out information about their efficacy and the long-term cost savings will make it easier to transition,” she says. She has high hopes for the Resilient Waters campaign to effect serious change. With practices such as dam removal gaining traction, she thinks people are finally starting to value our freshwater resources.

Advice for new students: get out there and talk to people

Meghan’s advice for those just starting out in restoration is to just talk to people. Whether it’s through a conference, webinar, volunteering session, or someone whose work you read about, reach out. Everyone she knows in the field has been very open and excited to talk about their experience, interests, and work. It helps that there’s increasingly more resources and publications. She’s proud that restoration is starting to break out of scientific circles, and excited to see what the field will accomplish in years to come.