There’s a real buzz in the conservation community since Season 6 of CREDtalks was announced by the Columbia Mountains Institute of Applied Ecology (CMI) in late November. Starting in January, the virtual talk series will focus on Climate Disruption in the Upper Columbia as its theme. Executive Director Hailey Ross has been waiting to target climate change with an event for some time and is excited to host more presenters and reach a broader audience using the webinar format, which CMI trialled for last year’s CREDtalks for the first time due to COVID and now plans to continue.

“Last year the webinar series addressed topics we had to cancel due to COVID,” she said. “And now, of course, it’s easy to move into the webinar format. And because we are no longer constrained by speakers who would happen to be in Revelstoke, we can invite anyone to speak. This year will be the first time the whole series has an actual theme to it.”

CREDtalks began as an in-person talk series in Revelstoke which Hailey wanted to offer as something less formal, less expensive and more general than the courses and conferences CMI typically hosts. She credits the title (a play on the uber popular TED Talks) as the brainchild of Sarah Boyle, a conservation biologist with Parks Canada who was a CMI board member at the time.

“We were talking about the project idea and I had said ‘Oh we could do a TED Talk’ and she came up with CRED – Columbia Region Ecological Discussions – talk. And it stuck!” said Hailey. “I was surprised that they were well-attended from the get-go, even when they were in person here in Revelstoke, and there was never a shortage of people who had interesting ecological projects to present.”

CMI is essentially a non-profit organization supporting people doing applied ecology with ongoing educational and professional development opportunities. As CMI’s executive director since 2013, Hailey describes her role as working with a network of biologists, scientists, resource managers and environmental consultants to help identify learning opportunities and then seeing if she can organize useful events around those learning themes.

“The feedback I get is that there are not really any other organizations doing what we’re doing,” she said. “We originally started doing what we’re doing because a lot of the educational opportunities available to ecologists were not taking place in our region. People would have to travel quite far to access them.”

Three types of CMI memberships are offered – corporate, individual and student – which come with discounts on the various courses and events. CMI events have tended to attract an audience mainly from their target area – the Upper Columbia area, but many return members are also based in Alberta, the northern provinces, and even further afield in the United States.

“For years CMI has been talking about the need to make our work more available online but there was always hesitation on the part of people who were participating, but then COVID forced it,” said Hailey.

As a result, CMI held its first online conference in early 2021 – Scaling Up Camera Trap Surveys to Inform Regional Wildlife Conservation – which drew over 300 attendees over three days with presenters tuning in from across North America as well as internationally.

“It was just interesting to see how although what CMI does is really focused in the Columbia Mountains region, it really emphasized how what we’re doing has a broader interest outside our region when you look at who ended up presenting and who ended up attending the online event.”

Though she’s the organizing force behind CMI’s success, Hailey isn’t a biologist herself. With an honours Bachelor of Arts in International Development Studies and Social Anthropology, and a Master of Environmental Studies, both from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, she describes her background as rooted in the social sciences.

“But in the things I’ve done I’ve always had a real interest in people’s relationship with the environment.”

Having grown up in Alberta, she moved to Nelson for the ski bum lifestyle before heading to Nova Scotia for post-secondary, always returning home in the summers to work as Trail Crew in Banff National Park. A season as a Social Science Researcher for Parks Canada following her BA introduced her to her Masters project focused on the Icefields Parkway and examining the social values within the scientific concepts of management frameworks. Hailey became familiar with the Columbia region network of people and local issues after moving to Revelstoke and stepping into the executive director role for the North Columbia Environmental Society (which recently joined Wildsight as its Revelstoke branch). In this position, she was able to exercise her passion for food security by starting a number of programs that eventually grew into a new organization, the Revelstoke Local Food Initiative, which Hailey helped form and the programs are still running today. She continues to be involved in food security locally. As a consultant, she wrote Revelstoke’s first version of its Food Security Strategy in 2014 and is currently hired to do the rewrite. In the volunteer realm, Hailey sits on a number of committee and boards, helps manage the local farmers market, and is a big gardener.

“I’m an organizer,” she said. “What CMI needs is somebody to be the glue between all of these knowledge keepers and keep the wheel moving and keep the communications channels open, so I think that’s where my skillset lies.”

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