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Insights Where in SNC-Lavalin would you like to take your ecology career?

Meet Alison Forde, Ecologist at AtkinsRéalis in Canada

I've always had a strong interest in animals, probably fostered by numerous family visits to local conservation areas, the Toronto Zoo, and Ecomuseum in Montreal. By the time I attended the University of Guelph, I was keenly aware of the issues faced by wildlife. I soon completed my Bachelor of Science, Honours degree in Wildlife Biology and a Master of Science in Environmental Biology.

I knew I wanted to build my career on making a difference for less charismatic species, particularly turtles and snakes. For several years following graduation, I was employed in wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, environmental outreach, outdoor education, and habitat restoration before finally finding my way to consulting.

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Supported to grow at AtkinsRéalis

I was mostly involved with fieldwork and reporting when I started a few years ago. My responsibilities have grown quite a bit since then, taking on small project management roles, developing budgets, assisting with proposals and authoring reports. I have been really happy with this trajectory and appreciate the support and guidance from my team along the way.

Following my interests on significant projects

In the last five years with AtkinsRéalis , I've participated in rewarding projects encouraging critical thinking, collaborating internally and externally, and developing new practices and protocols. Each year brings new and exciting projects, and I feel privileged to have the opportunity to put my expertise and knowledge to use.

Doing what's right for the environment

In 2020 I designed artificial turtle nesting mounds with no recognized provincial or scientific standards. The City of Kitchener installed these in 2021 at five sites throughout a Provincially Significant Wetland for monitoring during turtle nesting season. Most recently, I developed the first-ever survey protocol for observing turtles under the ice during their overwintering by remote-operated vehicles. And in February 2023, we successfully surveyed federally-owned water lots along Lake Ontario, identifying critical overwintering habitat features.

Next year we have a project that involves late-night wildlife monitoring along a transportation corridor. I'll be leading the fieldwork program and design, which is exciting. It will be logistically challenging to plan overnight work from a safety and scheduling perspective.

Making a sustainable impact with digital

We're always looking for new ways to effectively capture data in the field, both in person and remotely. Doing away with paper field forms in favour of survey apps has been a great step forward. There's a process for passively detecting wildlife called environmental DNA (eDNA) that we have also started incorporating into our more remote projects covering large study areas.

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Engineering a better future for the planet and its people

As part of my work, I look for ways to eliminate, reduce, or mitigate the impacts that projects may have on the environment. This can involve recommending or developing sustainable practices that can be incorporated into the project design. In the end, it's always preferable if you can find a way to make a net-positive effect.

Tackling our greatest project challenge head-on

When considering a project's impacts on an ecosystem or creating a restoration or recovery plan, you must consider how climate change may play a role and have consequences. Publicly accessible data and tools to understand climate change projections locally are necessary for addressing this. To keep up with the latest research, I belong to a wonderful community of ecologists and wildlife biologists on Twitter. I follow a lot of academics and scientific journals to stay on top of the latest articles and publications.

What keeps me at AtkinsRéalis

I'm part of such a great team, and we get to work on such interesting, exciting projects. Having the flexibility to work from home when I'm not out in the field is also really nice. Whenever I tell friends and family about my fieldwork, I'm always told that I have the "best job ever." I certainly don't take that for granted!

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Thriving in an inclusive work environment

I also appreciate having a flexible workday and schedule. Our diverse team members are great about communicating our availability with each other. We work together to stay on top of our projects and responsibilities, supporting others when needed. This year my husband and I bought our first house, and I never felt stressed about finding time to meet with the various professionals who help with the home-buying process.

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