York to the Power of 50: Wine auction supports Las Nubes

On April 9, the Fisher Fund for Neotropical Conservation celebrated 10 years of support for the Las Nubes Rainforest with a wine auction that raised approximately $130,000. In addition to an appreciation of fine wine, the evening brought several noteworthy announcements including plans for the creation of a new endowed Chair in Neotropical Research, the establishment of a research and teaching facility in Costa Rica, and the creation of two graduate scholarships for students involved with the Las Nubes Rainforest.

Above: A view of the Las Nubes Rainforest in Costa Rica, donated to York by Dr. Woody Fisher

The Las Nubes Rainforest is York’s 133-hectare rainforest in Costa Rica, donated to the University by Dr. Woody Fisher in 1998. In Spanish, Las Nubes means "the clouds". York faculty and students, along with international partners, conduct valuable research at the site toward protecting the biodiversity of Las Nubes, aiding the sustainable development of local communities and understanding and conserving our global biosphere.

Right: York President & Vice Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri (left) with Dr. Woody Fisher.  Fisher presented Shoukri and other Las Nubes supporters with Las Nubes baseball caps.

It was the sixth Fisher Fund Wine Tasting and Auction. Friends, supporters and fine wine collectors participated in tasting ’88 Bordeaux, led by Toronto wine consultant Michael Vaughan, and bid on vintages from all over the world. The auction included close to 200 bottles.

“Our achievements in this past decade have been exciting and international in scope,” Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) Professor Howard Daugherty said at the event, held at the Vaughan Estate, The Estates of Sunnybrook. “Our students have done innovative applied research, have made life-long friends in Costa Rican communities and have been absolutely great ambassadors for York University and for Canada.”

Left: From left, Christopher Hilkene, president of the Clean Water Foundation, with Professor Howard Daugherty and philanthropist George W. Vari

York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri announced plans for an endowed Chair in Neotropical Research, made possible with the support of York University Alumni Association Board of Directors Chair Guy Burry (BA ’82), Jim Love (LLB’ 73, LLM’86), Barry Cooper, Dr. Woody Fisher and Peter Westaway. York University, with the support of FES Dean Barbara Rahder, will contribute $1 million to help with the establishment of the Chair. “An endowed Chair funds the advancement of an entire Faculty,” Shoukri said. “A Chair in Neotropical Research is also part of York’s broader commitment to sustainability and environmental studies.”

Shoukri also thanked Love and the Lillian and Don Wright Foundation for their intention to establish a teaching and research facility in Costa Rica, and announced two new graduate scholarships created by Fisher and Valerie Grant. The scholarships will be available to students involved in Las Nubes and are named in honour of Daugherty, who has been a driving force behind York’s Las Nubes activities.  

Right: From left, York University Foundation President & CEO Paul Marcus with Valerie Grant

More than 150 York students have visited the rainforest and adjacent area. They have researched questions related to biodiversity protection, deforestation and forest fragmentation, ecotourism, and carbon sequestration and climate change. Las Nubes itself is home to countless plants and animals, likely including many yet to be discovered.

Recently, the Las Nubes Avian Monitoring Project identified more than 235 bird species in the Las Nubes – Los Cosingos Biological Corridor and has banded more than 3,000. Ongoing studies by students in the region have attracted the attention of the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology. Its experts, together with FES graduate student Chris Saker, tested innovative calling and tracking equipment for subsequent use in the search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, previously thought to be extinct.

Always enthusiastic to expand research activities, environmental studies students are now working to establish a biological reserve for endangered squirrel monkeys in the area. Students are asking individuals and groups to support the project through the Second Annual Las Nubes Bird-A-Thon. Supporters pledge to donate a small sum of money for each bird species students observe during a two-week field course in Costa Rica. Last year, students identified 190 different species.

Right: Guy Burry (BA ’82) with Liz Lundell (BA ’82, MA ’89)

The Faculty of Environmental Studies established the Fisher Fund for Neotropical Conservation in honour of Fisher and to support York’s activities in Las Nubes. Fisher was inspired to purchase the rainforest and preserve its immense biodiversity after visiting the country on a holiday. He will be conferred with an honorary doctorate at York’s convocation ceremony in June. “On behalf of York University, it is indeed a privilege for me to acknowledge Dr. Fisher for his accomplishments as a prominent physician, an educator and a champion for the environment and sustainability,” Shoukri said at the event.

Right: FES Dean Barbara Rahder

The Wine Establishment and the Fisher Fund for Neotropical Conservation will host another wine tasting and auction Saturday, June 21, in the Berkeley Castle Courtyard. Proceeds from Wine at the Castle will support activities in Las Nubes. For reservations, call the York University Foundation at 416-650-8210.

All fundraising activities support York to the Power of 50, York’s $200 million campaign – already at more than $150 million in pledges, or three quarters of the goal – celebrating York’s 50th anniversary in 2009.

For more information, visit the York University Foundation Web site.