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Memorandum of understanding in progress could provide UFV access to the Mission Municipal Forest

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UFV is in the process of drafting a memorandum of understanding (MOA) with the Kwantlen First Nations and the City of Mission, leading toward a potential partnership and opportunities for UFV to facilitate experiential learning in the Mission Municipal Forest.

The Mission Municipal Forest is a 10,000 hectare forested area north of Mission, and sits on the unceded territory of the Kwantlen Nation. Around 12 per cent of the area is held by the District of Mission from a tree farm license issued in 1958, and the remaining is Crown land.

In 2015, the west side of Stave Lake underwent an extensive planning process which resulted in a new master plan, guiding the development of the heavily used area. The 10-year plan involves developing recreational areas for safe, sustainable use, promoting environmental stewardship and cultural protection, and bringing educational opportunities to the area.

The MOA is a first step to an official partnership between the Kwantlen Nation, Mission, and UFV. It provides a base for the discussion and identification of shared interests and goals in future educational projects in the Stave West area. Another similar agreement is being drafted between the two partners and BCIT.

Dr. Michelle Rhodes, associate professor of geography and the environment at UFV, is the UFV representative for the Stave West stakeholders group. She became involved with the project while working on a book about the forest.

Rhodes said the tentative timeline for the MOA is the completion of the draft proposal in late December, with signing to occur before June 2019. The Kwantlen Nation is currently reviewing the draft proposal, and a meeting is anticipated before the year’s end.

Another umbrella MOA has already been signed between the District of Mission and the Kwantlen Nation. The understanding stipulated a process of shared decision making and some areas of co-management of the Mission Municipal Forest.

“They really envisioned this space west of Stave Lake as an outdoor learning laboratory, as a space that includes the K-12 as well as postsecondary,” Rhodes said. “They really, really wanted [UFV] to be a partner on that, as well as BCIT.”

“They want UFV because this is our backyard. We’re the closest institution, but we also have a wide breadth of programs that could connect with the forest.”

Although nothing is official, and won’t be for some time, there have been discussions on what educational experiences in the forest area could look like. Suggestions ranged from environmental and forest management programs with biology and geography students, to Indigenous or health and wellness studies.

In the longer term, there is potential for setting up a permanent field center for research. Stave West is located near several universities, including UFV, BCIT, SFU, Columbia Bible College, and Trinity Western University, and the Stave West Field Studies proposal states universities often do not have readily available access to high quality field sites.

“If I look ten years out, I can really see that something like this will be in place because this is just such a high use area with so many competing demands on it,” Rhodes said. “Having some kind of educational or research space, not necessarily commercial space but something that serves that function I think is, is really just a logical extension of this being an outdoor learning laboratory.”

Larissa Horne is a sessional faculty in the history department and experiential learning coordinator, is coordinating the working committee at UFV reviewing this project. She emphasized that the opportunities in the forest were not just limited to the more traditional areas of study, such as biology and geography, but would potentially be for interdisciplinary, experiential learning opportunities. She noted that the nursing department has already unofficially requested volunteer opportunities for students at the Zotac Ranch for Children, a camp for children and young adults with chronic, life-threatening and/or debilitating conditions in Stave West.

“It’s aligned with [UFV’s] vision for indigenization, it’s aligned completely with [UFV’s] education plan: learning everywhere, being responsive, cultivating citizens of the world and local citizens, and ensuring we expand experiential learning,” Horne said.

Currently, stakeholders in the project are being consulted with, the main goal being to bring interest into the project and start faculty and students thinking about what they would like to see from this space. There is a working group, a committee studying the proposal and making recommendations, of administrators and faculty has been assembled to discuss the project.

“There has been great interest with faculty. I can speak to that,” Horne said.

Image: Michelle Rhodes

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