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Prince George professor earns award for breakthrough work to conserve Canada’s northern lands

Pamela Wright

As a record number of Canadians head outside to take in fun, safe activities amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a UNBC professor is being recognized for her innovative work to conserve critical northern lands and key outdoor recreation areas that up until now have been flying under Canada’s conservation radar.

The breakthrough work has earned Pamela Wright the Mitacs Award for Exceptional Leadership – Professor, awarded byMitacs, a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada for business and academia. The award will be presented at a virtual ceremony taking place on November 24.

Wright — a professor in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management at the University of Northern B.C., who has worked with several Mitacs research interns over the past eight years — is being recognized for her collaborative work with community partners and students to conserve Canada’s Northern Lands. One of Wright’s Mitacs interns is currently conducting research to help communities, the outdoor recreation industry and governments in B.C. and Alberta understand the impacts of recreation and tourism on their forests, and take steps to identify where and how the public safely enjoy the outdoors.

“As a society, we tend to focus on the environmental impact of industries like mining, forestry, and oil and gas,” Wright said. “Recreational use can be equally problematic, and we’ve been ignoring it. Now, the pandemic has brought this to the forefront.”

Led by post-doctoral fellow and Mitacs intern Dr. Karine Pigeon in partnership with Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, the project is working to identify the footprint of outdoor recreation and model its impact on wildlife and ecosystems. The team is now partnering with provincial and federal park agencies as well as other land managers to provide critical data and develop new tools and techniques to promote safe access to recreation while reducing its cumulative effects. As an example, they are experimenting with the use of social media and satellite data to map where people recreate and examine overlaps with information from remote camera traps that shows where animals are and how they respond to humans.

In a related project, Wright and Mitacs interns are working with Indigenous organizations, conservation groups and other partners to identify important lands for conservation. This groundbreaking work is adapting Systematic Conservation Planning tools to incorporate the impacts of climate change and identify areas that are at greater risk. “In the large, remote wild northern landscapes we’re studying, there’s very little Western science to turn to because we just don’t spend the time and money to collect data,” said Wright, noting that an important aspect to her research is that her team blends traditional Indigenous knowledge of the land with Western science, translating oral history from years of experience living on the land into a mapped format.

“We can look at a model of how a conservation system should work and where important habitat should be, compare it to Indigenous knowledge and see how the two fit together,” she explained, noting that her team’s research is helping First Nations to conserve forests, caribou and important cultural sites as well.

The Mitacs Award for Exceptional Leadership – Professor is presented to an academic supervisor with an exemplary record of developing collaborations with industry and partners, providing valuable research and training experiences to their interns, and initiating research projects with significant outcomes through their Mitacs funding. Wright is one of eight Mitacs award winners nationally, chosen from thousands of researchers who take part in Mitacs programs each year. The remaining seven recipients were recognized for outstanding innovation or commercialization in other areas of research.

In congratulating the winners, Mitacs CEO and Scientific Director John Hepburn said Canada benefits from innovation derived from strategic partnership between industry, government and academia, ultimately helping to retain top talent on our home turf and spurring economic recovery.

“Whether our researchers study abroad and bring their expertise back to Canada, or develop groundbreaking ideas by tapping into resources across our country, their breakthrough work is changing the way we live and work,” Hepburn said. “Mitacs is honoured to play a role in supporting this important research and helping to advance innovation for the benefit of Canadians.”  

For more information about the Mitacs awards and a full list of winners, visit

Quick Facts:

· Mitacs is a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada by solving business challenges with research solutions from the best academic institutions at home and around the world.

· Mitacs is funded by the Government of Canada and the Government of British Columbia, along with the Government of Alberta, Government of Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan, as well as university and industry partners.

· Working with more than 70 post-secondary institutions, Mitacs builds partnerships that support industrial and social innovation in Canada. Open to all disciplines and all industry sectors, projects can span a wide range of areas, including manufacturing, business processes, IT, social sciences, design and more.

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