Lands to Great Lakes

Lands to Great Lakes

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Can the Past Still Inform the Future?

By Deborah Martin-Downs, Chair of 20th Annual A.D. Latornell Conservation Symposium  

I have always been a big fan of looking back to see where we have been and what we have learned along the way.  Sometimes I find that the conservation community has made positive progress in many areas and lost ground in others.  Looking back allows us to evaluate the relationships between species and their environment and determine the factors that contributed to change.  Take for example the removal of sewage treatment plants on small rivers back in the late 1970s. What were once septic zones became populated with fish again – a pretty good news story.  On the other hand, look at the distribution of redside dace from the 1950s to present and we observe a steady decline in their populations and locations across the GTA. How do we need to change our practices to allow this little fish to survive here?  

Resilience – the ability to adapt to change, is the theme for this year’s Latornell Symposium. It is fitting on many fronts. First, our weather is changing, challenging communities, health, and infrastructure.  Natural disasters, including floods, fire, drought and windstorms have affected more than 450 million people worldwide over the past two years with damages of approximately $100 billion dollars per year.  How can we best anticipate and prepare for these events rather than simply react to them?
 Further, Ontario’s species are increasingly exposed to threats from invasives, contaminants and habitat alteration.  How resilient are they to these changing conditions? 

Our conservation community has seen significant change over the two decades of the Latornell Symposium.  There have been changes to technology, techniques, policies and practices as well as to the systems we manage and monitor. Are things getting better with time or worse, and what are the causal mechanisms? 

Finally, this is the 20th Anniversary of the Symposium – growing from a small idea to the largest environmental conference of its kind in Ontario.  Twenty years of success shows that the organizing committee, University of Guelph and Conservation Ontario are very resilient in building the brand, and remaining relevant and topical year over year, sometimes in spite of funding challenges.  
Over the past year we surveyed the delegates to the Symposium  to hear your thoughts on how we are doing and what you would like to see change.  One of the big questions we had was - is this the right location for this conference? And while some of you said no, the majority of you like the homey atmosphere of the Nottawasaga Inn.  So for now, we’ll stay put.  We find that we have met most of your expectations for quality and diversity but each year we rely on the delegates to bring us your ideas, work, and to prepare outstanding presentations.  We have experimented with different styles of presentations, panels, and workshops, and will continue to use technology to improve and innovate.  Did you like the live twitter feed screens last year?  Even I learned to tweet – who says you can’t teach an old ecologist new tricks?  Follow me @topdoglatornell.  

We will continue the tradition that Art Latornell started of engaging our young professionals, and in this 20th year we will place additional focus on networking opportunities and mentoring, so keep an eye out for those announcements.  We have some other special 20th Anniversary activities planned so if you haven’t already done so – mark November 20-22 on your calendar – you won’t want to miss this one!   

Hope you’ll be there to contribute to the fun, discussion, and celebrations!

Deborah Martin-Downs is the Director of the Ecology Division at the Toronto & Region Conservation Authority and Conference Chair, of the 20th Annual A.D. Latornell Conservation Symposium


  1. Sounds like another great symposium is in the works! And yet, contrary to the theme definition, isn't resilience actually the opposite of adaptation? Isn't resilience measured as the ability to recover from an imposed condition or applied stress. Thus, the example of removing STPs is a good way to illustrate resilience because the outcome of that action allowed the system to recover to a former (past) state. Not quite the same as, but similar enough to, a tree recovering a more vertical posture after a strong wind subsides. We should clearly reduce stresses on ecosystems that test their resilience. Perhaps we are the ones that have to adapt and conform to better attitudes and behaviours that abate the ways we apply stress to our environment? In that regard, when we assert our resilience, our resistance to change, the ecosystem generally suffers.

    Best wishes for a successful symposium.
    Hal Schraeder

    1. Hi Hal,

      I do not know if you are aware but here is a link ( to the Resilience Alliance website where you can learn more about adaptability and resilience. The concept of adaptability and fostering greater resilience may be applied to many social and ecological systems. All for the betterment of increasing a systems internal workings from experiencing collapse and negative effects.

      All the best,

      Shishir Handa