Washington: Western Washington University graduate to lead students in study and preservation of endangered species in the Pacific Northwest

Langley, British Columbia—When Western Washington University graduate Karen Steensma, M.Sc., first launched the environmental studies program at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia, she dreamed her students would one day have the opportunity to study on B.C.’s Gulf Islands. Steensma, director of TWU’s environmental studies program, no longer has to dream. A donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, has leased 72.6 acres on Salt Spring Island for a minimal amount to Trinity Western for five years, with a long term goal to gift the property to the University.

“It’s an absolutely astounding biological site,” says Steensma. “I’m overwhelmed with what we’ve been given.”

Along with a Douglas fir tree estimated to be over 500 years old, the most significant find on the property is a community of Garry oak trees, a species native to the Pacific Northwest that is currently endangered.

“One of these trees on a piece of property is a significant find,” says Steensma. “But there are hundreds of Garry oak on this property. It is a rare treasure to find a community like this. We hope to preserve, enhance and restore the Garry oak community.”

Steensma is already familiar with conservation work in the Pacific Northwest. For the past 13 years, she has taken students to study marine and plant ecology on Seattle Pacific University’s site on Blakely Island in the San Juan Islands, Washington.

Offering the same climate and study conditions as its U.S. counterpart in the San Juan Islands, Salt Spring Island will now replace the Blakely Island site. The new location will alleviate scheduling strains put on Seattle Pacific University and provide students with easier access through ferry service. With a fresh water lake bordering the Salt Spring Island property and the ocean nearby, students will be able to carry out fresh water studies, salt water studies and forest botany, all at the same location.

Steensma recently gained a closer look at the diverse site, as she visited the property along with Jack Van Dyke, PhD, dean of the faculty of natural and applied sciences, and two additional faculty members. The trip not only allowed the four to discover several new groves of the endangered Garry oak, but also to meet nearby neighbors and members of the Salt Spring Island Conservancy.

“People from the conservancy as well as two of our neighbors walked through much of the property with us,” says Van Dyke. “All of the people we met were very interested and supportive of our aims for the conservation of the property.”

It is the beginning of a partnership that Steensma is excited to build with the Salt Spring community. “We hope to develop a support network with the people who live there,” says Steensma. “We want them to view our work on the island as being a real asset to their community.”

Trinity Western University, located in Langley, B.C., is a privately funded Christian liberal arts university enrolling 2,850 students this year. With a broad-based, liberal arts and sciences curriculum, the University offers undergraduate degrees in 34 major areas ranging from business, education and computer science to biology and nursing, and 12 graduate degrees including counselling psychology, theology and administrative leadership.

Last Updated: 2012-08-21
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