As part of a series highlighting the work of young people in addressing the climate crisis, writer Patricia Lane interviews Shauna Doll, co-ordinator for the Raincoast Conservation Foundation’s Gulf Islands Forest Project.
Shauna Doll sees buying entire forests as a necessary tool in the race to preserve a habitable planet. As Raincoast Conservation Foundation’s Gulf Islands Forest Project co-ordinator, this 31-year-old is pulling out all the stops.
Tell us about your work.
My job is to conserve rare coastal Douglas-fir forests on the south coast of British Columbia. They include Douglas fir, known for their longevity and large size, western redcedar, culturally significant for many area Coast Salish Nations, and trees that grow nowhere else, like Garry oak and Arbutus. These ecosystems harbour rich biodiversity, including 272 endangered species, sink carbon and are simply quite beautiful.
What tools do you use?
Most importantly, I listen to the W̱SÁNEĆ people who understand the land and surrounding waters of S’DÀYES, or the Pender Islands, and other southern Gulf Islands. They and modern science are teaching me how to educate citizens living close to the forest to advocate for better government policy. Local government can often be effective at forest conservation.
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How did you come to be involved in land purchase?
Working with local governments is crucial, but sometimes, it is too slow. For example, we support them to pass better environmental protection regulations, but while we wait, entire forests can be logged. In 2020, we raised funds with the Pender Islands Conservancy Association to buy a small 13-acre forest on Pender Island connected continuously by well-managed private and public lands so it forms a wilderness corridor. We are learning how to protect this ecosystem while it still exists, and it is revitalizing before our eyes. I have heard the thunderous ruckus made by Pacific chorus frogs, a native frog population, seen evidence of beaver returning to the wetland, and a colleague has seen a rare native bird there, a Virginia rail.
What got you interested in this work?
I spent summers outside as a child in Treaty 8 territory, home to dozens of diverse First Nation, Inuit, and Métis communities in northern Alberta. I loved it when Indigenous dancers would grace our school with their art, but once they left, we were not taught to think about how we came to live where they once did. When I was training to be a teacher, we had a session on land-based environmental education. But the question of asking whose land it was never entered the discussion. Something clicked, and that same day, I deferred and took a year to ask some questions of myself and others around me.
During that time, I came to understand that our history is full of non-Indigenous people making uninformed decisions, which imperil our entire future because they did not learn how to listen to the land. Indigenous people can teach us more about that than any other source because they have thousands of years of experience. If we can take care of the lands on which we live, they can take care of us.
Can you give us an example of how things would be different with this understanding?
Indigenous people used controlled burning to create renewal and regrowth and to make space for crops like Camus and berries. We started clear-cutting and outlawed cultural burning. Now, out-of-control forest fires feed on the slash left after clear-cuts, imperil our communities and livelihoods and emit huge amounts of carbon. If we saw fire as our friend and forests as our pantry, medicine cabinet, spiritual centre, and home, forests would be much more resilient to climate change.
What makes your work hard?
Persuading policymakers to change when there are so many competing interests and so much misinformation really slows things down.
What worries you?
When I was a teaching assistant during my master's degree program, a student asked me how I coped with the existential dread of climate change. I didn’t have a good answer then. But now after a few years of this work, I understand that in order to have a global impact, we have to help the land to heal from destructive extractive practices by conserving local ecosystems. I don’t have children, but when I ask my friends who do the same question, they tell me they have the same fears, but their kids are the reason they work harder and smarter and keep going. Their children give them hope.
What advice would you give other young people?
There is still time. Get to know the land on which you live. If you do, you will want to protect it. Most of us can recognize many corporate logos around us but have trouble identifying two species of trees or birds in our neighbourhood. That knowledge will save us all.
What would you like to say to older people?
Thank you. I work with many naturalists, donors, and foresters, many of whom are much older than me. I am grateful for your lifetime of caring for the land. If you live in British Columbia, add to a local Big Tree Registry. They are sources of research for scientists and conservationists. Talk to your decision-makers. Tell them you want more protected areas that will provide us with clean drinking water, salmon habitat, and carbon sinks for a more secure future.