Meet Bob Forbes - Enviromental monitor

Bob Forbes has been working as an associate with RPS for over 14 years. We recently interviewed him to learn more about his career and the environmental monitor’s role during a seismic project.

Bob Forbes Environmental Monitor, Canada

What does an environmental monitor do?

"An environmental monitor ensures that projects conducted by a resource company adhere to all of the regulations and guidelines stipulated by the government with respect to field operations.

Environmental monitors are involved in pretty much all of the components of a project, right from the planning stage. We’re involved early in a project, developing an Environmental Protection Plan designed to minimize or improve wildlife or fish population and habitat impacts. The plan has to be approved by government regulators, of course.

Once in the field, the main task is the constant checking of potential impacts to populations and habitats as project operations proceed. We are also adjusting for unforeseen problems and issues as they come up.

At the end of the project, we submit the final environmental impact report to the government. The completion report documents what actually happened during the execution of the project. It discusses what went right, what went wrong, and reports on what was done to address any issues that came up, for example, the replanting of vegetation on soil disturbance sites."

How did you get into this field?

"Frankly, I’ve had a wonderful career.

I was always interested in the outdoors, right from the time I was a kid. I have been involved in wildlife and fish management all of my working life, from university graduation through 35 years as a wildlife biologist with the BC Ministry of Environment to a post-retirement career as an environmental consultant and environmental monitor with the seismic industry."

Bob Forbes Environmental Monitor with helicopter, in Saskatchewan, Canada

Why is having a monitor on a seismic project important?

"Like all things in life, having a good plan in place before things start sure makes things go easier. So that’s probably the most important thing a monitor does – put together a good Environmental Protection Plan to drive operations.

We find out early where the problems are likely to arise and plan to avoid them. For example, if you know a fish-bearing stream is crossing a project area, you can design your seismic line alignments to avoid disturbing the stream while still getting the subsurface data required to complete the program. You watch out for all sorts of things – soil disturbance, bird nest avoidance, rattlesnake hibernacula (an underground chamber that snakes use through winter to protect them from the cold), sensitive plant and wildlife species occurrence and avoidance, poor equipment maintenance, careless environmental behaviour, for example, sloppy waste disposal. The list goes on."

What do you like most about being an environmental monitor?

"First, you can really make a positive impact on the environment. Resource extraction occurs everywhere, all over the world. It’s simply the way of things. By doing it correctly, negative impacts to the environment can be avoided, and habitats can even be improved. For example, here in East-Central Saskatchewan opening thick, brush areas by creating seismic lines provide a more diverse edge habitat for wildlife, increasing habitat carrying capacity for a number of species.

Secondly, it’s exciting. It’s very much hands-on. There are always challenges as a project proceeds, and you have to be on top of things to make sure that the project proceeds as planned. Really, there’s never a boring day in this line of work."

Burrowing owl chick hiding in a hole surrounded by grass and looking straight

A burrowing owl chick. The burrowing owl is listed as an endangered species in Canada

Can you speak to why third-party monitoring and independence are essential for protecting the environment?

"Any environmental plan or environmental direction for work has to be independent of the employer’s influence. To do anything else casts doubt on the company’s integrity.

I am licenced with the BC College of Biologists and am required to operate within prescribed ethical guidelines, or I’ll lose my licence and right to practice.

All of the activities conducted in a given seismic program are transparent and open to public scrutiny. Many of the problems associated with credibility or hidden agendas are quickly dispensed with if it can be shown that the environmental activities of the program were undertaken without any influence on the part of the company."

Would you recommend someone become an environmental monitor?

"The environmental consulting business has been around for many years. There are no indications that the requirement for project-oriented environmental planning and monitoring is going to decrease. It’s important work, but it might not be for everyone.

For example, as an environmental monitor associated with the seismic industry means I’m away from home a lot – so it might be not be a great fit for someone with a young family. And they never send you to the cupcake places, the usual city amenities won’t be on offer!

But I love it, I can’t imagine doing anything else!"

Bob Forbes Enviromental Monitor at office.jpeg

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