UNBC places spotlight on rural Vanderhoof

The study addresses health, environment and community impacts of resource development

Group representing community stakeholders and ECHO Network researchers next to the Nechako River

On Wednesday May 10, celebrated the launch of the ECHO Network (Environment, Community, Health Observatory). UNBC’s Dr. Margot Parkes and a team of 60 researchers and partners from across Canada and all over the world have chosen the Nechako watershed basin of Vanderhoof as one of the sites for the five year study to better understand and respond to the health, environment and community impacts of resource development.

The project’s specific emphasis is on rural, remote and Indigenous communities.

Vanderhoof fits the bill perfectly. The Nechako watershed basin is a unique melting pot of impacts including: Murray Creek restoration, Sturgeon Recovery Initiative, Kenny Dam hydro project, settler agriculture and forestry development together with First Nations history and cultural value which makes it one of four regional cases selected for study.

$2 million federal grant.

The project will receive $2 million from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). Researchers will gather learnings this area can offer on consequences from historical short-sighted “silo” decision-making in order to build opportunities for better understanding of impacts on the environment, community health and reconciliation going forward.

The ECHO Network will develop and refine tools and processes that can help detect and prevent effects on health, communities and environments from resource-based operations.

There will be associated benefits like community capacity building, and the research done here over the next five years will also create opportunities for youth mentorship.

“Our research team will be looking at the impacts of resource development as a whole, including health, community and environmental considerations,” said Dr. Parkes, a Health Sciences associate professor and Canada Research Chair in Health, Ecosystems and Society.

Exploring ways to work together across sectors and jurisdictions is a key part of this project.

“Our goal is to encourage more integration, bringing together knowledge from across sectors, disciplines and organizations to address impacts of resource development that cannot be achieved by the health sector alone,” added Parkes. “We have a lot to learn about how to work together on these kinds of issues. The aim is not to fix things when they go wrong but to prevent them in the first place.”

“The collaboration of intersectoral partners and organizations will define novel approaches and tools to assist with improved resource decisions.” said Dr Allison.

“As First Nations people, our health and wellness is inextricably tied to the land and our territories. Everything is connected” said Dr. Evan Adams, chief medical officer for the FNHA.

“We don’t separate human health from the health of our land and environment. For us, resource development has deep and far-reaching challenges and impacts for our communities, past, present and future,” said Dr. Evan Adam. “This collaboration will facilitate connection, relationship-building, knowledge-sharing, and the generation of new ideas, supporting us to effectively respond to these challenges.

“Complex challenges that impact the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health and wellness of our people.”

“The research approach recognizes that rural places and peoples still matter in Canada, but also that rural, remote and Indigenous communities can face particular challenges.” – Dr. Lars Hallstrom, director of the University of Alberta Centre for Sustainable Rural Communities.

Hallstrom continues, “Collaborative and highly interdisciplinary teams are one of the best ways to find innovative ways to think differently about equity, the environment, and society in Canada.”

Raissa Marks, executive director, New Brunswick Environmental Network says, “It is only through working together across sectors and across the country that we can tackle the complex environmental, health, and social impacts of resource development”.

“Improving the quality of life for people living in rural and remote regions, and beyond, is an important part of our research mandate,” said UNBC President Dr. Daniel Weeks.

“This new network – ECHO – will answer questions that are of great importance to Canadians,” said Dr. Steven Hoffman, Scientific Director, CIHR Institute of Population and Public Health. “Specifically, what is the relationship between the social and economic challenges of our most vulnerable environments?…I look forward to the prevention strategies resulting from their work.”

– with files from UNBC press release

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