Borderlands Memorandum of Understanding
University College of the Fraser Valley and Western Washington University formalize partnership on Fraser Lowland Issues Feb 27 2006
In the wake of the SE2 controversy, academics in the Pacific Northwest are joining forces to address environmental issues that transcend national borders. On Feb 27, 2006, representatives from the University College of the Fraser Valley and Western Washington University signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) outlining their intent to work together towards better long-term stewardship of our shared bioregion.
The Canada-U.S. border cuts arbitrarily across a clearly defined ecosystem known by geographers as the Fraser Lowland. Nearly two million people rely on the region's many natural resources, including aquifers, fisheries, and airsheds, which require careful management in order to remain sustainable. Despite the fact that decisions about these resources made on one side of the border have an impact on the other, cross-border study groups are far from commonplace. The UCFV/WWU partnership signals the launch of an independent forum - probably the first of its kind - to address resource management and other key borderland issues, such as security.
Prior to signing the MOU documents with Andrew Bodman, provost and vice president for academic affairs at WWU, UCFV president Skip Bassford underscored the need to increase practical partnerships with our neighbours to the south.
"I've had the privilege of signing many MOUs on behalf of UCFV with institutions around the world," he said, "but this is the first I've signed with an American university. Our shared region was divided by geographically artificial lines centuries ago - it's time for us to address important environmental issues now as friends residing in a fragile bio-region."
Bodman prefaced Bassford's comments by musing "we are divided by our common border."
Patricia Ross, a City of Abbotsford councillor and one of the most outspoken activists during the SE2 debate, went even further, stating that "the wagon is 'broke' and it needs to be fixed." She sees the UCFV/WWU partnership as a powerful tool to convince politicians to replace finger-pointing with serious cooperation on cross-border issues such as air quality.
UCFV and WWU have been working collaboratively for several years on cooperative academic projects and courses, including the innovative Borderlands course, which was launched in 2000 and brings American and Canadian students together in a term-long class.
"The Borderlands course provides an opportunity for students in both countries to overcome the limitations of maps that end at the border," says UCFV Geography professor John Belec, who is currently working with WWU colleague Patrick Buckley on a study of decision makers in the Fraser Lowland. "Our primary goal is to prepare a new generation of Canadians and Americans to work together in the study of common border issues in our region."
Case-in-point: Abbotsford's Jason McAlister, a UCFV BA (Geography) student and aspiring teacher, took the Borderlands course last year and conducted hands-on comparative research of raspberry cultivation practices and pesticide use on both sides of the border. "We alternated campuses each week for our study sessions," said McAlister. "Our working teams were truly cross-border but what struck me was how similar we all were."
The MOU signing was followed by a panel featuring Dr. Donald Alper, director of the Center for Canadian-American Studies at WWU; Peter Andzans, manager of community sustainability for the City of Abbotsford; Dr. Bradley F. Smith, dean, Huxley College of Environmental Studies at WWU; and Dr. Sandy Vanderburgh, UCFV Geography department head. The group discussed the role of academia in furthering effective and sustainable cross-border resource management in the Fraser Lowland.
All were in agreement that each nation has many levels of government in place yet precious little governance to assist in protecting cross-border bioregions. Politically neutral forums such as the UCFV/WWU partnership - and others like it around the world - will be important sources of knowledge upon which borderland communities can base decisions about regional environmental sustainability.