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Making smart use of Alberta’s resources


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By Caitlyn Spencer

Greg McDermid’s collaborative work, which uses remote sensing and geographic information systems (GIS) technology to study wildlife ecology and environmental management, won one of four inaugural Distinguished Research Awards from the Faculty of Arts this year.

A member of the geography department since 2005, McDermid was promoted to Associate Professor in April of last year. McDermid, co-director of the Foothills Facility for Remote Sensing and GIScience, utilizes his skills in remote sensing and GIS to help study topics such as biodiversity assessment, grizzly bear habitat and the ecology of endangered whitebark and limber pines in Alberta.

“Nobody really knows what geography is,” says McDermid. “They don’t really understand it. It’s the study of the spatial distribution of things across the surface of the earth; where they are, and why they’re there.”

McDermid’s early career focused on geographical technologies themselves, rather than how they could be applied. “I was a pixel pusher,” he says. “But the field has matured, and we’ve seen the value emerge outside of our own discipline. Geographers now find themselves in a position to make strong contributions in a variety of other fields, because the tools are so powerful.”

One of McDermid’s projects is the Grizzly Bear Research Program, an interdisciplinary group that involves not only the University of Calgary, but also the Foothills Research Institute and the Universities of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Waterloo.

The program was instrumental in grizzlies being listed as endangered in Alberta, the adoption of a recovery plan, and the designation of conservation areas.

“The story in Alberta is that we’re resource-dependent,” he explains. “We pull oil, gas, and timber out of the wilderness, and make a lot of money doing that. The problem is, we leave our mark in the process.” Much of McDermid’s work is focused on counteracting that damage, and providing the provincial government and industry with valuable information and tools for making sustainable use of Alberta’s natural resources.

“To me, the value of geography is not just in the technologies, it’s that we use them outside of the discipline,” he says. “We have lots of work to do.”

To find out more about McDermid’s research, click here.