News & Resources

Featured Faculty: Vern Peters, Conservation Biology

Posted by Paul Wiemerslage in College Program in Faculty | Oct 07, 2015

Among conservation biologists, one typically finds one group dedicated to the practice of conservation working for government agencies and private conservation organizations, while a second group, the academics, focus on conservation research and teaching. In Au Sable’s course in Conservation Biology, however, the Institute has been blessed with a unique individual who has depth of experience and skill at both, Vern Peters, Associate Professor at King’s University, Edmonton, Alberta, and Adjunct Professor of Biology at the University of Alberta.

Vern’s career in conservation began with multiple dimensions of experience in practical conservation management with Ducks Unlimited (a private conservation organization), the Alberta Pacific Forest Industry (an industry concerned with forest conservation and management), and a large federal government agency (the Canadian Forest Service). In these organizations, Vern worked for 11 years learning how to make conservation work in ways that involved hunters, the timber industry, and the general public in practical, concrete, and economically sustainable ways. Vern’s second decade as a professional, from 2005 until now, has been focused on academia, teaching undergraduate students at King’s University and graduate students at the University of Alberta the right way to understand and practice conservation biology as science, while at the same time making practical applications toward solving real conservation problems.

In Conservation Biology at Au Sable, Vern combines these elements into a unique perspective that shows students a scientific understanding of the discipline, while at the same time revealing how one works in conservation to achieve meaningful goals, as well as the biblical basis of the ethics of conservation, answering difficult questions of why and how one conducts conservation efforts in ways that are morally “right.”. In his first offering of this course in 2014, 100% (7 of 7) students strongly affirmed in their evaluations that “This course enhanced my appreciation for the subject matter covered.” As one student commented, “I appreciated both theoretical studies in the class and ‘hard’ survey design studies in the class for the foundation of being able to know how to approach conservation biology, but also WHY we do what we do in conservation biology. Vern's willingness to take [the] class outside the classroom, and teach using case studies was awesome.”

Published in such prestigious journals as Ecology and Canadian Journal of Forest Research, Vern is also widely sought by government agencies, conservation organizations, and private industry as a consulting scientist. But, despite many demands and multiple opportunities to be involved in a variety of conservation efforts, Vern has made the commitment to invest five weeks of his summer with students at Au Sable. The reason, Vern explains, is “Ilove teaching conservation biology at Au Sable because I can share case studies that are fresh for students coming from other geographic and social contexts than where I teach.  I think this allows students to share their perspectives more, reducing barriers to communication and effective teaching.  This dialogue is critical to my philosophy on equipping students to practice conservation – conservation occurs in the context of community, where we need to understand the societal contexts we operate in, in order to implement the best conservation science available.”           

For every student seeking an effective integration of rigorous science, practical hands-on use of scientific theory and principles, and ethical understanding of their application, Au Sable’s course in Conservation Biology provides a unique learning environment, thanks to the skills, knowledge and experience of Vern Peters.