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$2.5 million for industrial research chair position at Thompson Rivers University

The Centre for Ecosystem Reclamation will be the first in Canada
Fraser, Lauchlan
Lauchlan Fraser speaks at Thompson Rivers University on Wednesday, Aug. 22.

Thompson Rivers University will finally be able to create its Centre for Ecosystem Reclamation, thanks to a $2.5 million award of an industrial-research chair position through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.

Lauchlan Fraser has received the five-year grant, which can be renewed at the end of the term.

Partners that have supported TRU in the establishment of the IRC include Metro Vancouver, New Gold New Afton mine, Teck Highland Valley Copper mine, Genome British Columbia, the Real Estate Foundation of BC, Arrow Transportation, Geoscience BC, Kinder Morgan Canada, and the BC Cattlemen’s Association, who have collectively pledged $1.8 million. The additional federal amount of $875,000 is one of the largest research grants in TRU’s history.

The centre is the first of its kind in Canada.

Fraser, a biologist who came to TRU in 2004, said the grant comes at the end of a lot of work by many people, both on and off campus. Among the partners who have supported the project and will continue to do so are Teck-Highland Valley Copper, the Metropolitan Metro Vancouver, Afton-New Gold, Genome BC, the B.C. Real Estate Foundation, Arrow Transportation, Kinder Morgan, Geosciences BC and the B.C. Cattlemen’s Association.

The work to be done in the centre is basically aimed at “healing the earth,” said Will Garrett-Petts, associate vice-president of research at TRU.

Fraser explained the focus is understanding “land restoration following a disturbance,” something that could be as invasive as mining, where much of the work will be focused, but also as destructive as the wildfires that come annually to the province.

For example, Fraser said, he has a student about to publish a paper on how smoke can speed up germination of seeds, which could lead to a more practical way of applying smoke to seeds that will respond to it.

In the past, Fraser has said the work to be done is “research that makes an impact,” work that looks at ecosystems and how and why they change to determine their functions.

A handful of dirt, for example, could hold more than one-million potential microsystems that can provide information through study that relates back to restoring the environment.

While the Afton and Teck mines will be dominant in the studies — sites are already at each location for research work to be done — Fraser and his students have also looked at the Mount Polley Mine tailings-pond breach, using genomics to monitor and assess the microbial processes in heavy-metal remediation. That research, Fraser has said, could potentially provide a base for future standards in mine closures and reclamation.

“I’m very grateful for all the support that TRU has provided. This has been a huge team effort,” Fraser said, referring specifically to Christopher Seguin, the late vice-president of advancement at TRU, who supported the establishment of an industrial research chair from the outset. 

“He was my champion. He realized from the start that this would be good for the university, and he was very good at creating momentum. This wouldn’t have happened without him and he deserves a lot of the credit for this,” Fraser said. 

“We will advance and enhance research currently taking place to find ways to increase the speed with which we can restore disturbed ecosystems,” Fraser explained. “We’ll be moving into new research areas, pushing forward and expanding the envelope of our understanding. The real work begins now.”

Indusry partners include:

• Metro Vancouver, $500,000

• Teck Highland Valley Copper, $350,000

• New Gold New Afton, $300,000

• Genome BC, $250,000

• Real Estate Foundation of BC, $150,000

• Arrow Transportation, $106,800

• Geoscience BC, $100,000

• Kinder Morgan Canada, $25,000

• BC Cattlemen’s Association, $15,000