Tribute to Fred Roots

by CBRA Chair, Jean-Philippe Messier

Our CBRA family and the broader Biosphere Reserve community just lost one of its most influential contributors, a founding father and a pioneer. 

At the age of 93, Dr. Fred Roots passed away unexpectedly and peacefully on October 18 2016, at his home in East Sooke on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.  

His legacy to UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme and to everything he has been involved in, here and abroad, is without comparison. 

After earning his PhD at Princeton, he joined Britain’s Scott Polar Research Institute and was chief geologist on a three-year international expedition to Antarctica that found the first evidence of the global phenomenon we now know as climate change. It was only the start. Since then, his life has been an unbelievable addition of polar expeditions, discoveries, major scientific input (over 300 scientific papers and reports), conferences (including one attended by Albert Einstein!), game-changing involvement and so on. He inspired and impacted so many people and organizations over his life, and will continue to do so. 

Fred created the Canadian MAB programme in the late 1960s, chaired it for decades and was still corresponding with us on a regular basis until his final days. He represented our country for so long at the UNESCO MAB International Coordination Council that the Chairman was used to say «Fred» instead of «Canada» in his statements. We can truly thank him to have such a network of 18 biosphere reserves across this country today. 

As recently as last March, Fred was honoured with the highest award of The Explorers Club — the Explorer’s Medal. Just so you can appreciate in which category he plays, previous winners include Robert E. Peary, Roald Amundsen, Neil Armstrong, Sir Edmund P. Hillary… 

His loss is such a shock as he was literally letting us think he was immortal. Even at over 90 years old, he was aboard the last 2 Students on Ice’s Arctic expeditions, taking part of all the hikes, workshops, giving interviews, tireless at explaining and educating youth, working on a new paper until late at night and giving a talk about it next morning. The energy of Fred Roots was just out of this world. 

You can get to know more and listen to him here:

On a more personal note, I would like to say that Fred had a crucial role in making me feel truly inspired about MAB when I entered into this Biosphere endeavour. He had this skill and dedication to transmit passion. He wrote in Manicouagan’s designation review that «Biosphere reserves are the main tools with which UNESCO can fulfill its responsibilities on the ground, to help us understand what is happening to us, to our planet, and to demonstrate how to live more sustainably». His words are still fuelling the whole team. 

We now have to continue the journey with him in our minds and hearts. 

On behalf of CBRA, we’ll miss you Fred!

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A photo of boats at Alma Warf in the Southwest Nova Biosphere Region.