Floris Ensink, a committed Sierra Club Canada Foundation volunteer, works on the edge “where nature meets society.” Whether in an urban landscape like Montreal, agricultural zones when he lived in the Netherlands, or on James Bay where he works now, he thrives on the challenge of coming up with solutions that help nature and people co-exist.
His role as president of the Quebec Chapter of the Sierra Club offers him plenty of opportunities to do exactly that.
One type of project that he and Sierra’s Quebec chapter have initiated is the bio-blitz. Floris started the program in the summers of 2012 and 2013, assigning groups of volunteers to designated areas to inventory the plants, insects, and animals they found.
One Alley, 50 Plant Species
One of the first bio-blitzes Floris helped organize was at Parc Laurier, in the centre of the trendy and highly urbanized Plateau Mont-Royal neighbourhood in Montreal. “A city is an ecosystem with its own unique mix of species,” he says. The highlight of the tour turned out to be not the park itself, where there was not that much biodiversity, but the back lanes in the adjacent residential area.
“There were lots of corners with their own unique ecosystems and range of species,” he recalls. “We discovered 50 plant species in one alley alone.”
Much of the value of bio-blitzes, Floris explains, is simply getting people out into nature to see what’s there.
“When you start to recognize one plant from another, you enjoy nature more,” he says. “You also start to see how humans fit into an ecosystem.”
Tracking a Pipeline Route
This past summer, the Quebec Chapter held a series of bio-blitzes along the proposed route for the Energy East pipeline. The route includes forests, fields, and wetlands, home to the Northern Map turtle and the Wood turtle, both endangered and protected by Quebec provincial law. The bio-blitzes identified a total of 249 plant species.
Floris recognizes the limits of bio-blitzes: “It’s a starting point to investing in creating an awareness of nature in people,” he says. But “creating public awareness is just a first step. Real, effective nature protection requires government legislation and enforcement.”
Floris sees the movement towards empowering citizen scientists as a positive step: “It’s a way to engage people and learn at the same time, and you come up with a lot of interesting data."
From Volunteer Passion to Full-Time Job
Floris’ passion for nature and his experience with the bio-blitzes helped prepare him for his full-time job as a project manager for Niskamoon Corporation, a non-profit body run by the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee). His mission: to help communities offset the decline in migratory geese due to hydroelectric development in the James Bay area.
With agreements in place that recognize their authority in their own territory, the James Bay Cree are constantly striving to build a strong economy that protects the environment and their traditional lifestyles. “This is where society and nature meet,” says Floris. “Supporting the Cree as autonomous stewards of their own land is just a constant opportunity to understand my own work better.”
Being Careful With Nature
Floris grew up in the Netherlands, which he describes as a “very urbanized society” where people understand that “if you aren’t careful with nature, it will disappear.” He studied nature management at the Wageningen Agricultural University, continued his studies at the University of Montreal, then held a series of positions as environmental project manager, research officer, and coordinator for organizations working to promote different aspects of sustainability.
Floris first became involved with Sierra Club as a sustainability agent for the Partenariat jeunesse pour le développement durable/Sierra Youth Coalition. He worked on a bottled water-free campaign in Quebec and coordinated SYC’s Sustainable Campuses certification program, then volunteered with the Quebec chapter of the Sierra Club of Canada Foundation, where he was elected president in 2012.
Sierra Club Canada Foundation owes its effectiveness in large part to its committed volunteers, working locally in a variety of different ways to protect the environment. This profile of Floris Ensink is the first in a series we plan to run from time to time.
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Interim Executive Director
Sierra Club Canada Foundation
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