Learning amongst the trees


- Nicole Crozier

Kailey Strachan.

Listening to Kailey Strachan talk about trees, you can immediately tell that it’s a topic she’s passionate about. The biology student, graduating with a concentration in forest biology this spring, has been fascinated with nature and the outdoors since she was young. UVic’s forest biology program was a perfect fit.

“It has always been about the trees for me,” says Strachan. “I like to be able to go for walks or hikes and connect what I’m seeing with what I know. I like knowing what is happening inside these trees, and I’m always wanting to know more. I started taking forest biology courses in second year, and the courses just kept getting more interesting. You know it’s the right path when you start liking it more and more.”

While Strachan ultimately found the right path through university, it wasn’t an easy start for her. She began at UVic at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and spent her first year taking all her courses online. For her, the transition to second year, and back to in-person learning, felt like starting over again. In her third year, however, Strachan discovered the Biology Undergraduate Society (BUGS) and things began to change. She joined the group for a trip to Tofino, where she got to know many of the other students involved in the club and finally found her place. In her fourth year, she became the secretary for the student club.

BUGS is a great community of people. They pushed me to want more, to be better, to do better. And they supported me in doing that.

—Kailey Strachan

It was BUGS that helped connect Strachan with her first research opportunity. The summer after her third year, she received the Centre for Forest Biology’s Indigenous Undergraduate Summer Research Assistant Award and worked as a research assistant with Patrick von Aderkas. In the lab, she helped grow ferns from spores, spent time getting them to reproduce, and helped create educational videos for use in teaching.

As part of her summer research assistantship, Strachan also spent two days a week working in UVic’s herbarium with Terri Lacourse, where her major project was identifying the Indigenous names of all the plant samples in the herbarium. For Strachan, a member of the Kwakiutl Nation, this project was particularly meaningful.

It was great to be able to identify and share the Indigenous names of these plants. Most Indigenous plant names, when directly translated, become a description of the plant. For example, the Indigenous name for skunk cabbage translates directly to ‘stinky plant’. Getting to share the Indigenous names, and helping people think more deeply about the plant and change their perspective, was really rewarding.

—Kailey Strachan

Strachan’s time as a research assistant helped her decide to join the honours program, where she studied seaside juniper, a rare species of tree that is only found near the Salish Sea. The small, twisty tree grows in extreme environments, such as on rocky, bluffy mountaintops or cliffs hanging over the ocean. Strachan conducted a population analysis and looked at the tree’s potential for seed viability and reproductive success.

“My project was collecting preliminary data on this relatively new species,” says Strachan. “One of our goals was to bring awareness to this species, and hopefully get it on some type of conservation program. Currently, the species is not even recognized by the Capital Region District.”

Strachan’s favourite part of her honours project won’t be a surprise to anyone who knows her: It’s the time she got to spend in the forest. Throughout the project, she travelled to a wide variety of locations searching for the seaside juniper, including trips up to Yellowpoint, the Gulf Islands, and down to Washington. A trip to Lake Cowichan during reading break turned into a 3-day camping trip, with daily visits to different sites of seaside juniper. Even a little rain, a windstorm, and some snow while hiking up Mesachie Mountain couldn’t deter her enthusiasm.

Just as trees have been a part of Strachan’s past, she also plans for them to play a large role in her future. This summer, she’ll be working in the tree nursery at Western Forest Products and after taking some time away from school, she plans to complete a master’s degree focused on forestry. Her career goal is to work as a forestry consultant and bring more of a community and Indigenous perspective to the industry.

For Strachan, it’s always been the trees. And it doesn’t seem like that’s likely to change anytime soon.

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In this story

Keywords: convocation, student life, biology

People: Kailey Strachan

Publication: The Ring

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