Science advocates win their fight to save the Experimental Lakes Area

OTTAWA (March 31, 2014) – An agreement has been reached to transfer the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) research center from under the auspices of the Government of Canada to a non-profit organization, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). The ELA, a collection of 58 lakes in northwestern Ontario, has conducted ground-breaking research on the impacts of environmental problems – such as acid rain, climate change, and mercury pollution – on lakes and fish populations for over four decades.

OTTAWA (March 31, 2014) – An agreement has been reached to transfer the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) research center from under the auspices of the Government of Canada to a non-profit organization, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). The ELA, a collection of 58 lakes in northwestern Ontario, has conducted ground-breaking research on the impacts of environmental problems – such as acid rain, climate change, and mercury pollution – on lakes and fish populations for over four decades. Today’s announcement brings to an end a two-year campaign by Canada’s scientific community to save this internationally acclaimed freshwater research centre.

“This incredible achievement for Canadian science highlights how science advocacy can really make a difference”, praised Dr. Katie Gibbs, Executive Director of Evidence for Democracy. After learning that Fisheries and Oceans Canada eliminated funding for the ELA program and was on track to shut down this one-of-a-kind research station, scientists immediately sprung to action to save the ELA. Scientists assembled themselves into an advocacy organization, launched a social media campaign, wrote dozens of letters to Canadian ministers, organized press conferences and meetings with politicians, and held public forums and protests in cities across the country. The closure of ELA quickly became an issue of national significance and over 30,000 Canadians signed a petition to save the ELA.

While the news that the ELA will stay open under new management is expected to be received as a victory after a hard fought battle by science advocates, concerns about the loss to public science remain. “The transfer of ELA out of the hands of government is a double-edged sword”, remarked Dr. Diane Orihel, the young scientist who launched the Save ELA movement. “Scientists will hopefully enjoy a new freedom at the IISD to explore controversial research questions and freely communicate their scientific findings to the public. On the other hand, the Government of Canada has divested itself of an incredibly valuable tool and science team to support federal policies to protect and manage our country’s freshwater and fisheries resources.” 

“We are very pleased that a final agreement has been reached that will allow research at the world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area to continue”, said Dr. Scott Findlay, one of the founders of Evidence for Democracy. “The temporary stop-gap measures that have been implemented since the federal government first cut funding in 2012 has made it nearly impossible to conduct the systematic long-term monitoring that has traditionally been a core strength of ELA’s research program, and has rendered new whole-ecosystem experiments entirely impossible. We hope that the new agreement will allow ELA to continue to produce the world-class research that provides critical information on the impacts of human activities on aquatic ecosystems.”

Evidence for Democracy applauds the International Institute for Sustainable Development and the Governments of Ontario and Manitoba for creating a new home for the ELA, and wishes to extend deep gratitude to  all those who have joined the effort to ensure that ELA continues to be a world-class aquatic research facility.

Katie Gibbs

Executive Director

Katie Gibbs is a scientist, organizer and advocate for science and evidence-based policies. While completing her PhD at the University of Ottawa researching threats to endangered species, she was one of the lead organizers of the ‘Death of Evidence’ rally - one of the largest science rallies in Canadian history. Katie cofounded Evidence for Democracy and now serves as its Executive Director.