Putting woodland conservation into the social media conversation

Biologist employs new strategy to spread awareness of endangered Garry oak habitats

So she began a Master of Professional Communications at Royal Roads University. Now, thanks to a Mitacs internship, Alina is helping the Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team (GOERT) enlist the public’s support to save endangered woodland areas.

“I’ve always scratched my head about why some messages get picked-up while others languish,” says Alina. “I was on social media and knew lots of scientists and organizations saying things need to be done, but no one outside seemed to be listening. I was also concerned about vulnerable Garry oak habitats in BC.”Alina Fisher

Garry oak ecosystems are home to more than just the gnarly trees unique to the west coast. These meadows and woodlands harbour more plant species than any other coastal ecosystem, including wildflowers such as camas, spring-gold, and buttercups. Endangered creatures like the western bluebird, Roosevelt elk, and sharp-tailed snake also thrive in these areas. Currently, less than five per cent of the province’s original Garry oak habitat remains.

“I live near a protected Garry oak ecosystem, and I bring my daughters there, so I know how important these areas are,” says Alina. “I wanted to get the message about conservation out, and I came up with a proposal to help GOERT create an effective social media plan.”

GOERT chair Val Schaeffer says his team was excited at the prospect. “We’d tried some social media before, but were unsuccessful — we didn’t have Alina’s expertise. We were looking for guidance.”

Alina researched effective ways to increase public awareness of the importance of protecting Garry oak habitats. “The public knows there’s a problem,” she says. “They just don’t know why they should care. We have to explain how the loss of this habitat affects them personally. I also discovered a person’s perception of conservation messages changes depending on their background, and the messages need to be customized to specific social media platforms.”

“Alina has made some good recommendations,” says Val. “The Mitacs internship has been a fantastic program because it produced tangible results for us.”

Since her internship, Alina has continued to collaborate with GOERT. Once the social media plan is finalized, she’ll be part of the team that implements it. “This experience got me out of the world of theory and into applied research,” she says. “It’s also been a good marriage of my biology background with my new communications focus. I’ve learned how to be a ‘scientific communicator’ — it’s made me better at explaining what I do, and at having conversations with people about environmental issues.”

Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and the Government of British Columbia for their support of the Accelerate research internship in this story. Across Canada, the Accelerate program also receives support from Alberta Innovates, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan and Research Manitoba.

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