Restoration of Natural Systems Certificate Courses

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Core Courses

Biodiversity and Conservation Biology

This course gives students an understanding of biodiversity and conservation biology as scientific disciplines whose aims are to reduce impacts of human activities on biological diversity. We’ll explore the following topics:

  • the history and subject matter of conservation biology, including a discussion of the scientific approach to understanding the world
  • what biodiversity is, where it’s found and how it arises
  • values of biodiversity including economic, ethical and ecological perspectives
  • important basic principles of ecology as well as how these principles are used to design conservation projects and understand population biology processes and patterns (especially for small and endangered populations)
  • the status of biodiversity and the impacts of current threats such as habitat destruction, introduction of exotic species, spread of disease and over exploitation

We’ll also look at possible human interventions for stemming the loss of biodiversity including creating and maintaining protected areas, restoration and species recovery strategies, laws, policies and programs.

Environmental Restoration Project

This course involves a planning and participating in a real restoration project. The project is usually done in partnership with a community group, government department or industry partner. If you are working in a related field, the project can be based on activities for your job with prior approval from the Academic Administrator.

ER390 could also build on a project you have done in another RNS field-based course such as ER312A or ER312B, but you cannot re-use your projects for ER390 credit and you must collect a significant amount of new data. You may develop your own project or you may contact us for suggestions.

To get project approval, please contact Val Schaefer (schaefer@uvic.ca or 250-472-4387).

You can find sample reports here.

The expected time commitment for this course is approximately 100 hours, spread over 1 year or less. All RNS students must complete a final project to obtain their diploma or certificate.

Please also see ER400: Seminar in Environmental Restoration. ER400 consists of the ER390 presentation and a portfolio that is a compilation of the major projects from ER311, 312A and 312B plus one elective to be determined in consultation with the RNS Program’s Academic Administrator.

Ethical, Legal and Policy Aspects of Environmental Restoration

Environmental restoration is a value-laden activity. It takes place within a societal framework of ethics, laws and politics. Ethics influence which actions are considered appropriate by society, while laws determine what is legally required or permissible and policies govern how things are done. What is ecologically desirable is not always socially acceptable.

This course considers the philosophy and ethics of restoration and introduces the legal and policy frameworks in which environmental restoration takes place, and which play a critical role in dealing with the practical issues of carrying out a restoration project.

Field Study in Ecological Restoration I

This course is meant to introduce you to a range of basic techniques for field study. You will learn some basic methodologies commonly used in the field of ecological restoration including:

  • surveying methods
  • vegetation sampling methods
  • soil sampling
  • monitoring techniques
  • documenting field work

As this is a course on field techniques, we will spend a lot of time outdoors, both on campus and at several field locations in the Victoria area.

Field Study in Ecological Restoration II

This is an advanced field study course involving ecosystem mapping and detailed site evaluation (prescription). The first two mornings will be spent in the classroom, but the course will largely be taught in the field at sites on Royal Roads/DND lands.

The course involves: 

  • identifying standard plant species cover
  • creating physical site descriptions
  • recognizing natural boundaries on air photos and on the ground
  • identifying features related to slope stability
  • recognizing critical clues to ecological processes that either limit or are critical to the functioning of an ecosystem (e.g. wildlife trees)

An important focus is to observe and recognize successional patterns as clues to restoration strategies.

Principles and Concepts of Ecological Restoration

This course introduces you to the practice of ecological restoration. We’ll start by examining the physical and biological characteristics of ecosystems as well as the need to maintain and restore them. We’ll also examine natural and human-caused changes, at ecosystem to species levels, while considering the philosophy and ethics of restoration within legal and policy frameworks.

This course also introduces you to the process and techniques of assessing ecosystems and developing recommendations. In addition, you’ll develop your ability to combine and analyze factual scientific analysis of ecosystems in the context of human values and needs.

The emphasis is on examples from British Columbia but the approach applies to issues around the globe.


Elective Courses

Advanced Principles and Concepts of Ecological Restoration

An advanced investigation into the meaning, limits, and significance of ecological restoration, including:

  • how restoration is defined and why clear definitions are important
  • the role of historical knowledge in restoration
  • the changing character of restoration in a technological culture
  • ethical issues in restoration practice
  • participation and political process
  • cultural inclusion and the significance of restoration as a cultural mode
  • the international scope of restoration
  • the paradox of design
Communication and Dispute Resolution in Restoration of Natural Systems

This course focuses on the role of communication and education in the restoration of natural systems, emphasizing the importance of clear communication including:

  • principles and techniques of effective communication
  • survey of communication and educational methods
  • social and cultural frameworks of the message defining issues
  • techniques of dialogue
  • recognizing and resolving conflict
  • organizing data and message

The objective of this course is to introduce a variety of learning traditions and communication skills that will help when dealing with the human aspect of ecological restoration.

The course addresses education from the broadest level. For example: teaching the public about ecological restoration, down to specific issues in the field requiring dispute resolution.

The course starts with an analysis of your own experiences and philosophies as well as traditions of ecological knowledge, inspiration and conflict. These explorations will act as a springboard to further discussion of theories and practices of education, communication and dispute resolution. 

Ecorestoration Strategies: Case Studies

The course will examine a selection of ecological restoration projects that will present a range of specific sites. Projects will be reviewed using a variety of criteria including:

  • societal values
  • funding
  • ecosystem structure/function
  • project size and technical difficulty
  • evaluation of success through monitoring

Case studies – geographic distribution

An international selection of case studies will be selected from British Columbia, Alberta, Northwest Territories, United States, Europe, Southeast Asia, Australia and South America. The proposed case studies will be selected from a variety of ecosystems:

  • alpine
  • arctic
  • coastline (dunes, estuaries and lagoons)
  • wetlands (bogs, fens and marshes)
  • fresh water (lakes, rivers and streams)
  • marine (foreshore, coral reef, mangrove)
  • grassland (steppe, veld, acidic, calcareous and old-field)
  • deserts (cold and warm)
  • forests (boreal, montane, subalpine, subarctic, tropical and subtropical)
Ecosystems of BC, Canada and the World

This course is a survey of world ecosystems, with special reference to British Columbia and Canada. Each ecosystem is discussed with respect to their distribution, composition, structure and function. The conservation status of these ecosystems is reviewed with focus on: 

  • how they are used by humans
  • what problems these uses have created
  • the major restoration issues arising from human impacts

Ecosystem classification systems in Canada and British Columbia are also discussed in the course.

Forest Restoration and Sustainable Forestry

International organizations, governments and citizen organizations are concerned about the state of global forests, particularly their loss and degradation. The importance of forests in the global carbon cycle—and in mitigating and adapting to climate change—is now widely recognized.

This course aims to present and explore the issues, principles and concepts of forest restoration. It considers elements of sustainable forestry from the perspectives of all the values and services of forest ecosystems. You will be exposed to specific forest restoration strategies and techniques in the classroom and in the field.

Mining Reclamation

This course examines mine reclamation and considers the impacts of mines—and mining practices—on natural systems and landscapes. Through lectures and on-site visits, we’ll discuss the following topics:

  • legislation, policies and regulations
  • environmental impact assessment, socioeconomic impact assessment and strategic impact assessment
  • land-use planning for agriculture, forestry, wildlife, fisheries, recreation, urban and industrial activities
  • characterization of mine wastes (physical and chemical properties)
  • site preparation and re-vegetation
  • contaminant remediation, ecological risk assessment and ecotoxicology
  • site decommissioning, closure and environmental management systems
  • reclamation ecology (individual, population, community and landscape)
  • reclamation performance and/or compliance monitoring

Concepts are presented using domestic and international case studies representing a variety of mine types. 

Non-Timber Forest Management and Sustainable Use by Major Forest Zones in BC

Non-timber forest products (NTFPs) are an often-overlooked resource in British Columbia. This is despite their importance to Aboriginal Peoples and an increasing realization that some products—such as edible mushrooms and floral greenery—support multi-million dollar industries. The general neglect of these resources means that there’s an inadequate regulatory environment, little research into sustainable levels of use and inadequate statistics on either the level or distribution of harvest. 

The intent of this course is to provide an overview of NTFP ecology and use in British Columbia. It presents an ecological approach to managing NTFPs for an array of economic and cultural purposes:

  • product harvesting
  • tourism
  • spiritual and ceremonial
  • horticultural
  • ecosystem restoration

By the end of the course, students will understand how NTFPs relate to the ecosystems that sustain them, and how to manage within this context.

Restoration of Freshwater Aquatic Systems

This course provides students with a holistic view and appreciation for the ecology of aquatic ecosystems and a watershed approach to developing restoration plans. Topics include: 

  • theory and case studies of disturbances, mitigation, and restoration
  • character and processes of aquatic systems
  • types of natural aquatic systems
  • types of disturbance and their impact
  • restoration strategies and implementation for watersheds, riparian zones, streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands

The course encourages students to consider restoration goals from a whole watershed perspective.    

Restoration of Marine Aquatic Systems

In this course, you’ll explore marine coastal systems and their restoration potential from an ecological perspective, with particular emphasis on the British Columbia/Washington coasts. Lectures focused on broader scale marine ecosystem impacts and restoration issues are supplemented by hands-on field exercises and research activities focusing on local issues.

Topics include:

  • theoretical understanding of the marine coastal environment (characteristics and defining processes, disturbance types and impacts, opportunities for restoration)
  • ecological considerations for designing waterfront projects
  • survey techniques
  • operating in a marine environment (working with marine charts, tides, currents and wave exposure)
Selection and Propagation of Native Plants for Ecological Restoration

This course introduces students to the principles of native plant selection and propagation to meet site-specific ecosystem restoration objectives.

Through a combination of class notes, selected readings and video presentations, we’ll focus on low-technology propagation techniques: by seed, vegetative methods and salvage of plant materials.

We’ll also examine the role of artificial propagation in ecosystem restoration, rehabilitation and reclamation, while considering the criteria for species selection and both ethical and scientific principles for the collection of propagation materials.

The course concludes with a discussion of the techniques of:

  • site stabilization
  • site preparation
  • out-planting
  • seeding
  • bioengineering (technique of using live plant materials to form all or part of an engineered structure to stabilize a problem site)
Soil Conservation and Restoration

This course covers the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of soils and their relationship to restoration. Topics include:

  • general soil fertility
  • importance of soil flora and fauna
  • characteristics of undisturbed and disturbed soils
  • types of soil disturbance in agriculture, forestry, mining and urban environments
  • soil restoration strategies
  • pre- and post-disturbance planning practices
Special Topics in Environmental Restoration

Topics for this course will vary each time it is offered. Past course topics include native plant propagation, environmental policy and fire ecology.

Traditional Systems of Land and Resource Management

This course examines the systems of land and resource management traditionally practiced by Indigenous Peoples and the effects of these systems within the environment. Specifically, we’ll explore the role of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK)—also called local knowledge—in documenting and understanding the complexity of ecosystems, and consider the contributions of TEK and traditional land management to ecosystem maintenance and restoration.

The course will also address the question of how traditional land and resource management strategies can be incorporated into resource management programs, including ecological restoration.

Urban Restoration and Sustainable Agricultural Systems

Urban areas and agricultural lands are highly modified landscapes. In this course, we examine how an ecological perspective can be applied to restoring urban areas and approaches to agriculture that promote sustainability and support biodiversity. The course covers two related topics: urban restoration and urban agriculture including sustainable agricultural systems.

Urban restoration topics include:

  • green space and greenways
  • maintenance and restoration of native species
  • protection and restoration of urban streams and wetlands, including management of storm water
  • and parks for nature versus recreation

Urban agriculture addresses permaculture, composting and organic gardening. Sustainable agriculture is approached from an agro-ecological perspective, and includes topics such as:

  • nutrient cycling and waste management
  • soil conservation
  • integrated pest management
  • agroforestry
  • holistic resource management

Local and international issues in agricultural sustainability are also discussed in this course.

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