Last year, Alison Ramnarine travelled to Costa Rica for a field course. She planted trees, met local students and visited the farmers behind York University’s Las Nubes sustainable coffee. In early April, the fourth-year environmental student at York hobnobbed with about 100 of Toronto’s most generous wine collectors at the 12th annual Fisher Fund Wine Tasting and Auction, which raised $88,500 in support of ongoing research and conservation programs at York’s Las Nubes rainforest.
“I feel privileged to have been involved with the Las Nubes Project both in terms of the actual community work in Costa Rica and behind-the-scenes fundraising activities at York,” said Ramnarine, president of the University’s Las Nubes Students Association. “The Fisher Fund event is essential in enabling students to travel to Las Nubes and carry out much-needed research.” Hosted by the Woody Fisher Fund for Neotropical Conservation, the event is a major highlight for York each year and an important source of funding for the Las Nubes Project, said Jeff O’Hagan, the University’s vice-president advancement. “Not only have our supporters helped us educate the next generation of environmental leaders at York, they have collectively played a significant role in our commitment to sustainability,” he added.
Dr. Woody Fisher, a Toronto physician who donated the Las Nubes rainforest to York in 1998, said the Las Nubes Project will help prevent such doom as described by E.O. Wilson, an eminent American biologist. “’If there is danger in the human trajectory, it is not so much in the survival of our own species as in the fulfillment of the ultimate irony of organic evolution: that in the instant of achieving self-understanding through the mind of man, life doomed its most beautiful creations,’” said Fisher, quoting Wilson. Nöel Sturgeon, dean of the Faculty of Environmental Studies, called the extraordinary research and conservation project of Las Nubes as “a tremendous source of pride for the Faculty of Environmental Studies and a unique resource for environmental education for York students.”
Led by Professor Felipe Montoya-Greenheck, York’s Chair in Neotropical Conservation, the project is moving forward with the construction of the Lillian Meighen Wright Centre, which is scheduled to open in 2015. Thanks to significant donations of land the project recently received, Montoya-Greenheck said consolidating an eco-campus next to the Wright centre is now a possibility. “This has been a very exciting year for the project, which continues to expand in important ways,” he said. “We have eight graduate students currently conducting research on multiple topics in the Las Nubes region, dealing with environmental conservation and improving community livelihoods and wellbeing.” For many students like Ramnarine, the Las Nubes Project has created an opportunity on campus and beyond to promote sustainable ecological conservation and social sustainability practices in the biological corridor of the Las Nubes region. “Being there was like travelling back in time,” she recalled. “The experience gave me a broader perspective on the need for world conservation. It opened my eyes to the possibilities out there and allowed me to better understand the impact directly.”