To say that 2020 has been a strange and challenging year is of course an understatement, but for us at Fiera, it hasn’t been all bad.
I am proud of the resilience, resourcefulness, and perseverance that our staff has shown over the past 12 Months. It’s nothing new, but it is none-the-less inspiring to see our team pull quietly together and face what comes with skill and confidence, while continuously caring for and about the wellbeing of one another. Along with the the canceled celebrations and missed opportunities that this year-of-the-pandemic has brought, there have been some very positive things and we’d like to share with you our top five.
So without further ado, the Fiera Top Five Highlights of 2020:
1. Ahead of the curve. We love a good challenge and we tackled some doosies in 2020. One of those challenges in particular was to develop the first ever Natural Asset Inventory for an Alberta Municipality. This project included the development of a comprehensive inventory of all the natural features present within the Town of Okotoks, and for each feature, our team estimated the monetary value of key ecosystem services provided by those features (you can link to the technical report here).
An ecosystem service is defined as any benefit that people derive from nature, and includes things such as food, fresh water, flood protection, and recreation, to name only a few. The natural asset inventory developed by our team was then integrated into the Town’s existing Asset Management system, so that the value of the services provided by natural assets in the Town can be considered along side all of the other other municipal assets when making decisions about land management. Complicated problems like this need to be worked on collaboratively with subject matter experts like Nichols Applied Management Inc. who provided the economic component to this work, which leads us nicely to highlight number 2 for 2020.
2. Partnerships. Fiera has always enjoyed playing with others, but it can sometimes be difficult to find partners who share our values and priorities. However, 2020 was a very good year for partnerships, and we have found ourselves working closely with some great organizations. I’m talking about inspiring, progressive, and leading organizations like the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y), the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), Miistakis Institute, and WPACs, like the North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance, the Athabasca Watershed Council, the Red Deer River Watershed Alliance, and more.
3. Talent. While the economy suffered under the weight of COVID-19 and the unpredictable leadership south-of-the-boarder, our little company grew by two. We brought back our summer student from 2019, Jacey Bronson, on a short contract basis, then quickly realized we didn’t want to let her go, and made her full time & permanent in September. She’s pretty dynamic in the skills department: rock solid in the field, has advanced wetland ecology experience, and can handle herself on the GIS end of things too. We followed that smart hiring decision with another, and brought aboard Calum Grimshaw, a talented and hard-working GIS specialist to bolster our growing powerhouse of GIS and Remote Sensing capabilities. While Jacey occasionally takes a break from GIS duties to wade knee deep in wetland fieldwork, Calum has been up to his eyeballs in GIS and Remote Sensing work ever since his starting day.
4. Tracks. It’s no secret that Fiera has some special skills when it comes to the identification and interpretation of the tracks and signs of western Canada’s wildlife. In 2020, Fiera expanded its offerings of wildlife tracking skills development courses and workshops from a single course aimed at improving the skills of wildlife professionals, to four separate opportunities that cater to the general public, through to the experienced professional. We also became one of only two Alberta tracking schools with an instructor certified in wildlife track & sign interpretation. While 2020 did not provide us with the opportunity to host any of our new courses and workshops, we are very much looking forward to delivering them in 2021 and beyond.
5. Riparian Assessments. Throughout 2020, Fiera has been working with several of Alberta’s amazing Watershed Planning Advisory Councils (WPACs) to assess the condition of riparian areas adjacent to many of Alberta’s lakes, rivers, and creeks. It’s incredibly important work that will help to target future conservation and restoration efforts. In 2020, we reached nearly 40,000 km of assessed shoreline – that’s a longer linear distance than the circumference of the Earth. Wow! Have I mentioned “our growing powerhouse of GIS and Remote Sensing capabilities”?
Despite everything else, including missing our families, the worry, the dry hands from constant washing, cancelled events, and all the uncertainty, there are many things about this absurd past year that we at Fiera are extremely thankful for, and that are worth celebrating. Thank you for reading the Fiera Top Five Highlights of 2020, and from everyone at Fiera, I hope you have an amazing 2021. Happy New Year.