Lab Tours: The Forests and Communities in Transition lab

factlogoThe Forest and Communities in Transition (FACT) lab, housed in the Faculty of Forestry at UBC, is an interdisciplinary research group dedicated to the development of more resilient and liveable forest-dependent communities through research, dialogue, and knowledge exchange. At the foundation of our initiative is the recognition that the natural environment is not boundless, and that it plays an integral role in the economic and social fabric of communities and the health of community members. Thus, the wellbeing of forest-dependent communities begins with the responsible and sustainable management of forest resources.

The FACT lab is managed by Rob Kozak, a professor and former head of the Department of Wood Science. While most students know him as the probability and statistics instructor, his research interests revolve around sustainable business management practices in the forest sector and the emerging conservation economy; he has explored many topics including value-added production, forest sector competitiveness and sustainability, forest certification, and corporate social responsibility. In recent years, his research has evolved into more of an interdisciplinary inquiry at the nexus of forestry, business, and communities, with projects focusing on international development, poverty alleviation, and the wellbeing of forest-dependent communities. In 2014, he was awarded the International Union of Forest Research Organization’s Scientific Achievement Award in recognition of the work conducted in the FACT lab.

Who works in the FACT lab?

At any given time, the FACT lab is comprised of a mix of graduate students (PhD and MSc students), undergraduate students (co-op placements, internships, work-learn positions), exchange students, visiting scholars, postdoctoral fellows, and research associates. Currently, there are 7 PhD students, 2 MSc students, and 1 exchange student. Many of the students are co-supervised by faculty from across campus, reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of the work conducted in the FACT lab.

Recent postdoctoral fellows and research associates that have worked in the FACT lab include Joleen Timko (now a lecturer in the Forest Resources Management Department at UBC), Reem Hajjar (now a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Michigan’s International Forestry Resources and Institutions program), and Dieudonné Alemagi (now a climate scientist at the World Agroforestry Centre in Cameroon). We have also had a number of students in the FACT lab graduate in the past year, including: Erin McGuigan (thesis: “Social Impact Assessment in Rural and Small-Town British Columbia”), Mariko Molander (thesis: “Decolonizing the Mind in Forestry: Centring Settler Colonial Dispossession and Mutually Contested Sovereignties in British Columbia’s Forestry Landscape and Narrative”), Antonia Barreau (thesis: “Narrating Changing Foodways: Wild Edible Plant Knowledge and Traditional Food Systems in Mapuche Lands of the Andean Temperate Forests, Chile”), Justin Bull (thesis: “The Paper to Digital Media Transition: Defining Sustainability in Media Supply Chains”), Kyle Hilsendager (thesis: “Tourists’ Visual Perception of Forests and Forest Management in Vancouver Island and Tasmania”), and Molly Moshofsky (thesis: “Climate Change, Forests, and Communities: Identifying the Range of Acceptable Human Interventions in Forested Ecosystems”). These alumni have gone on to varied and exciting careers in academia, civil society, government, and industry, but this recent attrition has left a hole in the lab – we are currently looking to infuse the FACT lab with new talent.

What does the work entail?

Acknowledging that there is no single panacea for the challenges currently confronting forest-dependent communities, the work that we do in the FACT lab is decidedly interdisciplinary, and strongly rooted in the social sciences. Our methodological strategies typically invoke mixed-methods – both qualitative and quantitative – but we are an action- and solutions-oriented lab. To that end, we work in collaboration with forest-dependent communities, co-creating research questions, co-developing appropriate research methodologies, conducting participatory research, informing policy processes, and mobilizing knowledge back to the communities in meaningful ways. As such, much of our time is spent working with forest-dependent communities, both in Canada and around the world. All lab members are also expected to publish their research results and present international scientific conferences. On average, 10 peer-reviewed papers come out of the FACT lab every year.

What is currently going on in the FACT lab?

Gloria Kendi Borona (co-supervised with Joleen Timko) is investigating people-forest relationships through the lens of indigenous knowledge systems in Kenya’s Aberdare Forest Reserve.

D’Arcy Davis-Case (co-supervised with Janette Bulkan) is studying the ecological economics principles embedded in the community forest policies of Bhutan and the ways in which these principles have helped to deal with the rapid transition of the country since democratization and modernization.

Hollie Grant (co-supervised with Philippe LeBillon) is exploring how pervasive forest-related violence, and the evolving socio-political context from which it arises, affect the implementation of community-based forest management and conservation by rural people in Cambodia.

Alice Henry (co-supervised with Shannon Hagerman) is studying ecosystem-based management and its principles as a result of multipartite land use planning and decision-making in the Great Bear Rainforest.

Ngaio Hotte is exploring how trust can be built between federal/provincial and First Nations governments in the context of collaborative natural resource management.

Robyn MacIvor (co-supervised with Rajat Panwar) is examining the legitimacy of sustainable palm oil certification schemes in Ghana and the role that smallholders play in the development of these schemes.

Ana Elia Ramón Hidalgo (co-supervised with Howard Harshaw) is examining the roles that social capital and gender play in empowering residents of 2 ecotourism villages in Ghana.

Huiyan Qin is a visiting PhD student from Northeast Forestry University in China studying links between forest conservation and poverty reduction.

Fernanda Tomaselli’s research involves exploring public opinion and communications of ecological economics through mental model analyses and message framing experiments.

Andrea Vásquez Fernández (co-supervised with John Innes) is working with 2 indigenous groups from the southeast Peruvian Amazon (the Ashéninka and Yine-Yami peoples) and using indigenous theories to build collaborative methodologies for achieving community goals.

Who funds the work in the FACT lab?

Research in the FACT lab is funded primarily by 3 sources. We have been fortunate to attract significant funding from federal sources to support our research enterprise, including from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Genome Canada’s GE3LS program, and the NSERC Value Chain Optimization Network. We also have worked with a number of nongovernmental organizations, most recently Rights and Resources Initiative, Forest Trends, and the National Geographic Society, who have been very generous in funding some of our fieldwork. Last, but certainly not least, we have an exceptionally bright cadre of students in the FACT lab, many of whose funding comes from internal UBC fellowships (eg Graduate Global Fellowship, Four Year Fellowship, Faculty of Forestry Fellowships, Go Global International Learning Programs Award, Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarship, Terrestrial Research on Ecosystems & World-wide Education & Broadcast (TerreWEB) Scholarship) and/or external scholarships (eg Rufford Small Grants, Canadian Rhodes Scholars’ Foundation, SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship). Recently, our lab attracted 3 of the 39 highly prestigious Public Scholars Initiative grants given out by the UBC Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies which are intended to support PhD studies that, “encourage purposeful social contribution, innovative forms of collaborative scholarship, and broader career readiness”.

How can you contact the FACT lab?

The Forests and Communities in Transition lab is comprised of a highly talented group of researchers, providing a positive and fertile space to work collaboratively with forest-dependent communities from around the world or to study broader issues related to business and sustainability. If you would like to learn more about the FACT lab, visit our lab website or at our affiliated Africa Forests Research Initiative on Conservation and Development (AFRICAD). Rob Kozak can be reached at