Alumna’s work supports Coast Salish fishing rights and restoration

Since she can remember, Gillian Fuss (MSc ’19) has been passionate about the outdoors and animals. She even tried to raise a family of crabs in her garage once, despite her dad’s protests.

“I was always the person who would have to stop and talk to the dog, no matter what I was doing,” she recalls.

Focusing on evolutionary biology in her undergraduate years, conservation was a natural next step. Fuss now works as a project coordinator with the Emergency Planning Secretariat (EPS), which falls under the umbrella of the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance (LFFA), a regional non-profit with a mandate to improve how First Nations gain access to fishing rights and restoration. 

EPS focuses on creating a bridge between other organizations and the 31 Coast Salish communities in the Lower Mainland. The organization also works with First Nations to improve emergency planning and climate preparedness.

“We plan for each emergency one by one, and analyze how we can better understand that emergency. A big part of this involves defining risk from a community and Coast Salish perspective. This may include [looking at] how the emergency impacts: people as well as infrastructure; other types of community values, such as heritage sites; and the natural environment,” Fuss explains.

Her work takes a more holistic approach to emergency preparedness and focuses on long-term planning. Fuss describes this as process that involves rethinking the status quo and identifying and resolving sometimes disparate needs and values entrenched within communities. She also relays information to community leaders about regional projects that relate to emergency planning. Emergency preparedness is especially important for First Nations communities because they receive fewer services than public or non-Indigenous organizations.

“[In the region,] we are at risk of such things as sea level rise, storms, volcanoes, earthquakes, you name it,” says Fuss. “So there are quite a few possible emergencies that could happen here.”

Her favorite thing about her job is that it allows her to pursue her various passions, including environmental conservation and emergency planning from a land planning perspective. She also deeply values being able to offer support to the Coast Salish peoples through her role. “We still have a ways to go, but we are taking concerted steps to make a meaningful difference,” says Fuss.

Fuss says that she owes part of her career success to her experience at UBC Faculty of Forestry, particularly her master’s supervisor, Professor John Richardson, with the Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences.

“The contacts and ideas my professor exposed me to allowed me to pursue my interests,” recalls Fuss.” Knowing who to talk to and being able to conduct research on water quality opened a lot of doors for me “I was really lucky.”

Dr. Sarah Gergel and the Forestry Diversity Crew Fuss co-founded also played key roles along her journey. “I often apply principles that I learned with that group in my current position,” she adds. “I don’t know if I’d be able to confidently lead the sensitive conversations surrounding diversity and inclusion that I do today without that experience.”

A main motivator for her work is being able to address big picture issues, such as climate change. “If we don’t change our forestry practices, if we don’t change our wildfire management practices, what do we risk losing?”

Being part of the solution and doing work that closely aligns with her interests and values also gets Fuss out of bed each day. “I work with really cool people and in this really cool intersection [between] green infrastructure and land use planning. … I really believe in what we’re doing.”

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