Inside Politics

Biologist pleads with DFO to lift ELA summer science ban

Yesterday evening, my CBC colleague Max Paris reported on an $800,000 federal research grant at risk of going down the drain if government goes ahead with its plan to shut down the Experimental Lakes Area site in Northern Ontario.

This morning, Trent University associate biology professor Dr. Maggie Xenopoulos sent the following email to Dave Gillis, the DFO director general charged with overseeing the dismantling of the project. 

In it, she reiterates her plea that the lab be permitted to continue its research over the summer. 

She even points out that they could complete their work at absolutely no cost to the government.

At press time, she was still waiting for a response.

Dear Mr. Gillis,

I understand that you have been tasked with the difficult job of transferring the Experimental Lakes Area to a new operator. I would like to thank you for your efforts thus far in this difficult endeavour. However, I am sure you will agree with me that insufficient time has been allotted to properly complete this task given the financial and legal complications involved with a transfer of this nature. Unfortunately, the delay in the transfer appears to have dire consequences on our on-going research at the station.

As you know, we at Trent University have received over $800,000 to conduct a whole lake experiment at the ELA. I am writing you today to ask you to reconsider your recent decision not to allow us to continue our experiment in 2013. We have independent funds that allow us to operate with limited support from the ELA station (electricity, access to a small lab space and a few boats). Our funding would cover the costs necessary to continue our research this coming summer (no costs to you).

Our project would provide a necessary and valuable bridge until such time that an independent operator can assume responsibility for the site. This would provide the Government and the DFO an opportunity to be seen as honest brokers and would illustrate your on-going commitment to the protection of our environment and Canada's valuable natural resources.

I would also like to comment on the implications of barring our group from ELA this summer for our on-going experiment. Our experimental work is not amendable to taking a year off from ELA and this gap in our project would mean that we would have to start over. This creates complications with our funding and significantly affects our students who are depending on the project to go forward as planned. It would also mean a further delay in obtaining results, which have policy and management implications for a rapidly advancing industry. The DFO's decision to prevent science from happening at ELA will likely mean the end to our whole lake experiment.

I appreciate the difficult decisions you must be facing to manage this difficult situation and that you are working to best implement the policies of our elected government. However, I hope you also appreciate that my group at Trent is working diligently to improve Canada's environmental protection. As our funding is largely provided by the government (via NSERC), we also feel an obligation to the citizens of Canada to produce the best and most credible science possible.

I hope you will reconsider your decision. I am happy to discuss this more with you. For the next few weeks I can be reached at xxx-xxx-xxxx (no voice mail please).

Best wishes,
Marguerite A. Xenopoulos
Department of Biology,
Trent University,
Peterborough, ON, K9J 7B8

Later this afternoon, MPs will debate an NDP opposition motion calling on the government to keep the ELA alive until a new operator can be found.

Tags: blackberry jungle, experimental lakes program

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