Big-picture View

Saving the environment and playing hockey are pretty different things, but they hold one important similarity for Page Beaton, former Huskies defender and member of the first class of the Renewable Resource Management degree program.

“I’m a tall girl and when I’m on skates, I’m over six feet – so I can stand on the blue line and I can see the whole ice,” says the 22-year-old.

“That’s really a goal of my studies. To be able to see all these different sides and appreciate what’s happening in the bigger picture.”

Gaining a perspective – and the expertise to evaluate what you’re seeing – is at the heart of the Renewable Resource Management program, which covers everything from the basic science of soil and plants to putting together a start-to-finish environmental plan. The program also emphasizes field work – something that appealed to Beaton (although it would eventually mean she no longer had time for hockey).

“I love hands-on learning and when I heard about this new program they were creating, I thought it sounded pretty interesting,” says the Saskatoon native.

“It was funny, though. When I showed my letter of acceptance to my parents, my dad laughed and said, ‘That must be a typo. It says you’re in the College of Agriculture and Bioresources.’”

Beaton passed up a hockey scholarship from the University of Chicago to join the inaugural class in September 2008. She says she was inspired by the enthusiasm of soil science professor Dan Pennock, who led the effort to establish the degree program.

“In the first year, there were only about five of us, so it was a really small program,” says Beaton. “In the first two years, you take your basic science courses and a bit of economics, but in the third year you get to do your field course. There was a week working in the boreal forest at Emma Lake Kenderdine Campus, another week in the grasslands by Lake Diefenbaker, and several weeks doing a plant and soil mapping project at One Arrow First Nation near Prince Albert.”

By her fourth year, enrolment had grown to more than two dozen and Beaton was part of a group of seven students who undertook a cost-benefit analysis of a Ducks Unlimited Canada wetlands restoration in the upper Qu’Appelle watershed. By year’s end, she will have finished all of her required courses and will complete her degree by taking a minor in communications at Curtin University in Perth, the centre of Western Australia’s massive mining boom.

It’s another part of the world where there’s a gulf between those who extract natural resources and environmentalists who decry their methods – and where there’s a need for bridge-building.

“You need to have someone who can help the two sides understand each other,” she says. “There are all these different aspects and it’s not easy to tie them altogether. The further I’ve gone in my studies, the harder it is to put it into simple terms of one side is right and the other is wrong.”

The Renewable Resource Management program – created partly in response to industry calls for resource-management expertise – is itself a sign of how things are changing, she says. While resource companies may have once viewed environmental reviews as something to be gotten around, Beaton says they now recognize sound stewardship as a core practice.

“If you try to fake it, get your permits and then not follow through on your promises, you’re going to run into huge and expensive legal issues, and have lots of groups coming after you,” Beaton says. “Companies know there will be repercussions.”

That’s raised the environmental bar for resource extraction, and Beaton predicts graduates of her program will be in high demand.

“It’s a great program and I’ve seen how applicable the learning is,” says Beaton. “Once the word gets out there, this program is going to skyrocket.”

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