Blyss Pickering is a passionate advocate for nature and protecting the vital relationships between the urban and natural environments that surround us. She studies the ecological health of riparian forests around the City of Brandon, and is adding to both the social and scientific knowledge associated with municipal development in these areas.
She’s also a bit nervous around frogs. “I have always liked frogs, even if I was terrified of them, and it was for completely nonsensical reasons which I can hardly blame frogs for!” laughs Blyss. Despite this, she has dedicated her honours thesis at Brandon University to the study of riparian ecosystems, and the role these areas play in managing the urban/nature balance.
Riparian ecology, the study of land and its relationship with a river or stream, is an important consideration in Brandon’s flood-prone landscape. Through her research, Blyss is considering the health of local riparian forests, and the impact recent ecological changes have had on these regions.
“The riparian forest is changing and my research will provide baseline data on the ecological integrity of these areas,” said Blyss. “My research also evaluates what the people of Brandon think and feel about this important area. I’m using a two-pronged method by approaching the area of study from both scientific and social angles, and I hope to share my findings with the City of Brandon.”
Through her research in the Brandon area, Blyss has developed a keen interest in how scientific considerations interplay with social dialogue. By actively researching in the city, she has witnessed the interaction of many factors when assessing and striving to understand riparian forests.
“In its practical application, riparian ecology is one part of a broad, interdisciplinary area,” said Blyss. “In addition to getting to work with other people, I also have the opportunity to learn about a lot of different things from social issues to economics. I appreciate how challenging it is, and that it requires patient observation, humility and imagination.”
Blyss’ undergraduate experience actively researching and studying this locally relevant issue has also led her to consider the value of riparian ecosystems, and how this value can, or, in many cases, can’t be quantified.
“Brandon has experienced record flooding for the past few summers,” said Blyss, “and riparian ecosystems in particular play an essential role in flood mitigation and erosion control with healthier ecosystems more able to provide those ecosystem services. So even though we can’t qualify these services, we are still deriving benefits from them.”
Her honours thesis supervisor, Dr. Pamela Rutherford, echoes the impact of Blyss’ research which is especially relevant locally. “Blyss’ honours project provided a unique perspective of the impact of flooding on the Assiniboine River corridor in Brandon, and our attitudes toward these changes,” said Dr. Rutherford, Assistant Biology Professor at BU. “These kinds of interdisciplinary projects are extremely important for urban conservation biology.”
Having graduated in May, Blyss now plans to pursue a Master of Geography in Planning at the University of Saskatchewan with a focus on the social aspects of watershed planning. She is also very interested in the technology used to manage and treat waste water.
“The best advice I could give is to get involved with as many things as possible,” said Blyss.
“It’s easy for students to feel like, well, students, and to doubt if they can contribute outside of the classroom. Students should show their interest as volunteers at events or conferences, and to show that they are willing and enthusiastic to gain practical experience.”
Blyss credits her experience at BU with preparing her to confidently pursue graduate studies, or to embark on an interdisciplinary career path that explores the interactions between nature and our urban environments.
“I can’t think of a better way to take everything that I learned in the classroom and to apply it in a practical way and in a situation where I had all the resources and support I needed to successfully complete my project,” said Blyss. “I now feel confident to pursue either graduate school or a career because I have experience working independently on a project of my own design, and seeing it through to completion.”
This article first ran in the Spring 2015 issue of Alumni News, a bi-annual publication produced by the Department of Institutional Advancement.