The University of Victoria Campus in the Fall. Photo: Nick Kenrick

Image: The University of Victoria Campus in the Fall. Photo: Nick Kenrick

Students from the University of Victoria volunteer with the Conservation Program Branch’s Ecosystem Conservation Team to further the Parks Canada Mandate.

Parks Canada is dedicated to fostering youth involvement in the management and conservation of its sites. Emily Gonzales is one example of a Parks Canada employee who is prioritizing youth mentorship and education in her role at Parks Canada and beyond.

An adjunct professor at the University of Victoria, Emily began teaching the class Conservation Biology and Biodiversity in 2013. In her class she covers important concepts like biodiversity, population biology, habitat loss, species extinction, exotic species, and possibilities for human intervention in alleviating trends in species loss and ecosystem degradation. From the beginning, Emily sought to promote dialogue between her students and incorporate experiential learning opportunities into the online format of the class. Integrating her work with the Ecosystem Conservation Team by inviting her students to join the national network of Volunteers for Parks Canada was a natural step in this direction.

“The students are passionate about conservation and restoration and while they appreciate studying the content in university, what we all really want is to DO conservation and restoration! So, volunteering with Parks Canada is an opportunity to support an organization whose mandate is to conserve and restore.”

The Ecosystem Conservation Team has welcomed a yearly cohort of eager student volunteers every fall since 2014. This Fall’s intake was the biggest cadre yet and by December 1, 2022, students had already contributed over 150 hours into three main activity areas:

Since 2014, Parks Canada’s Conservation and Restoration (CoRe) fund has contributed over $150M toward recovery of ecological integrity and species at risk via a network of restoration projects in sites administered by Parks Canada. The Society for Ecological Restoration’s Restoration Resource Centre provides a searchable database of restoration projects from around the world for practitioners, researchers, educators, students and the general public. By inputting CoRe reports into this global database, volunteers ensure Parks Canada’s contribution to ecological restoration are showcased and enable others to learn from the Agency’s projects.

Volunteers contributed to Parks Canada’s Conservation standards self-paced training. This module-based training program is designed to provide Parks Canada staff on-demand access to self-paced training materials focused on Steps 1 (Assess) and 2 (Plan) of the Conservation Standards, as well as a set of easy-to-navigate reference material.

Volunteers are currently contributing to literature searches about evaluation of restoration projects and management of invasive species. Three student volunteers are classifying over 2000 articles from the journal Restoration Ecology to assess the number that report “success” vs. those that report “failure”. This will help Restoration professionals understanding of what works and what doesn’t when planning, implementing, analyzing and adapting restoration projects.


2023 University of Victoria student volunteers working with the Conservation Programs Branch’s Ecosystem Conservation Team.

2023 University of Victoria student volunteers working with the Conservation Programs Branch’s Ecosystem Conservation Team. From left, top to right, bottom: Julia Janicki, Erica Holm, Caitlin Woods, Kara Mullin, Sloan Sink, Emily Gonzales (Ecological Restoration Specialist, Conservation Programs Branch, Parks Canada) Missing: Rob Shoemaker, Hyo-Eun Shin

Through these activities and similar tasks, student volunteers are gaining insight into the conservation work conducted by Parks Canada and are contributing to Parks Canada’s mandate. They are also gaining valuable work experience, mentorship and references. The program is flexible, allowing students to volunteer even if they do not live near a Parks Canada administered site, and tasks are scheduled around their personal and academic commitments.  

The feedback from past student volunteers has been overwhelmingly positive. Multiple students have successfully sought employment or continued their relationship with Parks Canada, as a result of their time spent with the Ecosystem Conservation Team.

Sarah Cotter works as a Collaborative Conservation Advisor for the Ecosystem Conservation Team, serving as a team lead for Conservation Standards and co-representing the Atlantic region of Canada as a Conservation and Restoration fund advisor.

Christophe Boyer is a MsC student at the Univeristy of British Columbia, studying forest restoration. Christophe volunteered with Parks Canada while an undergrad student at the University of Victoria in 2018 and then worked for the summer at Gulf Islands National Park Reserve as a restoration student on the ecological integrity monitoring team.

Sarah Cotter, Collaborative Conservation Advisor, Conservation Programs Branch
Christophe Boyer, MsC Student, University of British Columbia



If you are interested in volunteering with Parks Canada, reach out to Emily Gonzales.



  • Posted March 13, 2023

RELATED TOPICS: Ecological Restoration