Kira Hoffman

Student Kira in the bog with her samples
Kira Hoffman often refers to McTaggart Cowan's field journals for her PhD research

Finding beauty in the bog

During field work season, Kira Hoffman’s commute is a one-hour canoe, followed by a sweaty bug-suited bushwhack up the side of a mountain to get to her office: the bog. She’s studying this globally rare, at-risk ecosystem on remote Calvert Island in the Great Bear Rainforest to learn about how bogs will respond to future climate change scenarios.

“Bogs are generally not considered glamorous places. Quite often the beauty is lost to swarming blackflies, the smell of rotting plants, and the threat of waist-deep soakers,” says Kira.

But she marvels at the beauty of the bog.

“It’s like a small-scale world. Bogs may not host some of the sexier mega fauna like wolves and bears, but they have some of the highest diversity of mosses and lichens. Also, because they are nutrient-poor, the adaptation of species to survive the bog ecosystem is amazing.”

The legacy of McTaggart Cowan

Kira, who is completing her PhD in Environmental Studies, is a recipient of the Dr. Ian and Joyce McTaggart Cowan Scholarship. The award relieves some of the financial stress of pursuing graduate level education, but is also a badge of pride on her academic resume that has already helped her secure further funding from national research councils. Kira feels honoured to be linked to one of Canada’s foremost ecologists.

“Receiving the McTaggart Cowan scholarship means more to me than the dollar value,” she says. “I feel the award is also about passing on his legacy. As part of my research, I have spent a lot of time reading his journals and field notes about the outer coast.”

The importance of bogs

Kira’s research is specifically focused on fire disturbances in bogs.

“I’m trying to understand the ecological legacies associated with traditional plant management through controlled burning practices,” she explains. Some of the research questions she asks are: “How have bog ecosystems been shaped by cultural fire; and how might these ecosystems change without these cyclical burning practices?”

Kira commuting by canoe

Kira hopes her research will influence current forest management practices that are still based on a model of fire exclusion and help incorporate controlled burning and traditional ecological knowledge into planning. Like McTaggart Cowan, she believes it’s important to understand ecosystems before they disappear. “Essentially it’s about understanding how the past has shaped present day forests and then using that knowledge to establish healthy forests for the future.”

Quiet reflection

Kira’s remote ‘office’ is so quiet she can hear hump-backs blowing half a mile off the coast. 

“After a long day of tramping through the bog, I get time to reflect on the paddle home. Mostly I think about how grateful I am for each day I get to spend in this place; and for all the wild places that still exist and the people who work to protect them.”

Watch a video about Kira's research on the Hakai Institute's blog