Forces for nature: Celebrating International Women’s Day (part two)

Tessa Strickland (left) and Sofia Becerra make up Ontario all-female GIS team (Photo by NCC)

Tessa Strickland (left) and Sofia Becerra make up Ontario all-female GIS team (Photo by NCC)

March 16, 2020 | by Wendy Ho

In celebration of International Women’s Day (March 8), we are profiling a few faces of the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) from across the country. These women contribute to our mission and work in different ways.

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Tessa Strickland and Sofia Becerra make up our Ontario Region’s all-female geographic information system (GIS) team. They joined NCC in 2017 and 2019, respectively. Tessa studied GIS as part of her undergraduate degree at the University of Guelph and she continued to specialize her skills in a post-graduate program at Fleming College. Her GIS work at NCC is a perfect marriage between her two interests: nature and technology.

Sofia has been fond of the environment since a young age; climbing trees and getting to know local streams and rivers were her favourite pastimes. She propelled this interest into volunteering for environmental organizations during high school, and later into academia by studying geography and biology at the University of Guelph. Through her studies, she was catapulted into beautiful Haida Gwaii, BC, and the subarctic, where she worked at a remote research facility in Churchill, Manitoba. Sofia says, “I’m pretty hooked on nature and the outdoors, and couldn’t imagine a better place to be than the Nature Conservancy of Canada.”

Read my interview with Tessa and Sofia below:

Wendy Ho (WH): What is a day in your role like?

Tessa Strickland (TS): It’s very variable. As the only GIS people in the Ontario Region, we receive requests from all of our fellow staff from the region for all of the projects they are working on. This could be trail maps, property management plans, potential [land] acquisitions or larger Natural Area Conservation Plans. We manage all of the data that is collected by our field staff and make sure we are up to date with new GIS technology. The variability keeps things interesting! It’s exciting to problem solve with staff to find interesting solutions through GIS!

WH: Are you a close-knit team with much collaboration? Can you give an example of a project you recently worked on that was rewarding?

Sophia Becerra (SB): We are a close-knit team, based in the Guelph office. Most of our GIS projects are done independently, but we are always sharing ideas and showing each other how to do cool GIS things we have figured out.

As a team, we are working on making the data that we have behind the scenes more accessible to our field staff. We make interactive online maps for our staff to use, which make it easier for them to quickly answer questions to things like species present, previously done stewardship work and human-made features, and see what data they have for a specific property. We’ve come a long way from only using static maps to share information. We are working toward making our data more accessible and user-friendly for our staff even if they don’t have any formal GIS training.

WH: Do you get to spend time away from your computers and see NCC’s natural areas?

TS: Usually, the many projects that we are working on and our heavy workload keep us in the office. Occasionally, we visit NCC properties with our conservation biologists. It’s helpful to go out and see things on the ground and put all the work we do on the computer into context. When we go out in the real word, we can see all the point, line and polygon data that has been collected!

WH: How can GIS transform conservation? What’s on the horizon?

SB: Technology and GIS have come a very long way in the past 20 years and have transformed conservation in so many ways. We are hopeful that conservation will continue to evolve and improve as new technologies are created!

TS: In the Ontario Region, GIS is behind the scenes of pretty much every project. New data collection technology allows us to access more data each year. This includes data that NCC staff collects, citizen science apps, such as iNaturalist, and large-scale public datasets. The availability of more high-quality data allows us to make more informed conservation decisions based on GIS analysis.

Check out our latest iNaturalist project in the Ontario Region:

NCC Ontario properties:

NCC Ontario Natural Areas:

Wendy Ho (Photo by NCC)

About the Author

Wendy Ho is Nature Conservancy of Canada's digital content manager.

Read more about Wendy Ho.

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