Dr. Howard Daugherty

Howard Daugherty leaves behind a living legacy
(FES Research Special Issue, February 2010)

By Rhoda Reyes, FES Research Officer.

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Dr. Howard Daugherty

The Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) is deeply saddened by the loss of Professor Howard Daugherty, Las Nubes director, who passed away on Friday, February 12, at the age of 68 after a brief illness.

Born in Colorado, USA in 1941, Howard earned his PhD in biogeography at UCLA and did postdoctoral studies in ecology at the University of Georgia. He started to work as Assistant Professor in FES in 1973 and as Associate Professor in 1975.

With a wide area of project expertise in conservation of critical ecosystems, biodiversity protection, natural resource policy development, watershed management, and institutional capacity building, Howard undertook various consultancies in the 1980s-1990s in Latin American countries such as Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Venezuela. In 1996, he received the Blanca Jeannette Kawas National Award for “Excellence in Environmental Service to Honduras”.
In 1998, Howard’s friend, Dr. Woody Fisher, a Toronto physician, donated Las Nubes (133 hectares of mountainous cloud forest reserve in Costa Rica) to York. In addition, he established the Fisher Fund for Neotropical Conservation to enhance and protect rainforest ecosystem and habitat in the area as well as support faculty and graduate student research at Las Nubes.

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Dr. Howard Daugherty (left), Dr. Woody Fisher (right) at the 2009 Wine Auction

A staunch supporter of fair trade, biodiversity and capacity building, Howard initiated a number of programs that spoke for his practical work on the ground benefiting farmers and students alike. He was instrumental in securing an agreement between CoopeAgri Farmers Cooperative in Costa Rica with Timothy’s to sell York’s Las Nubes coffee in its 140 branches across Canada. (YorkU Magazine, Java Joy, May 2004).

Dubbed as “coffee with a conscience”, for every pound sold, Timothy’s donates $1 to York University Foundation to support York’s sustainability research in the Las Nubes region. Former Dean David Morley credited Howard as the “alchemist who saw a unique opportunity to engage with an ethical corporate body” and made it happen (Y-File, March 17, 2004).

Recognizing his achievements in environmental education and sustainable
development advocacy, in 2005 the Association of America in Seattle, Washington bestowed Howard with a Sustainability Award for Las Nubes. That same year, he received a Gold Accolade for Leadership in funding in Higher Education from the North American Council for the Advancement and Support for Education (along with Timothy’s World Coffee and the York University Foundation).

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Dr. Howard Daugherty (left), YorkU President, Mamdouh Shoukri; former FES Dean, Barbara Rahder at the opening of the Las Nubes Cafe in 2007

“Over the past 12 years, Howard took well over a hundred undergraduate and graduate students to Costa Rica on field courses and research trips. For many students, this was a life-changing experience. Without Howard's unrelenting dedication to neotropical conservation, there would be no Costa Rican field course, no Las Nubes coffee, and no Las Nubes project,” says current Dean Barbara Rahder.

“Howard’s death was a terrible blow to the Las Nubes project, to FES, and to York. I will do everything in my power to build on Howard's legacy at Las Nubes in a way that would make him proud,” Dean Rahder adds.

Indeed, Howard leaves behind a lasting and living legacy through the Las Nubes research and conservation project. In 2005, the Government of Costa Rica announced the protection of the biologically sensitive land-corridor as part of the country’s protected areas (York Alumni Matters, June 2005).

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Howard and Alexander Skutch, "the guardian of paradise"

In 2007, the FES Tropical Ecology Field Course in Costa Rica initiated the Bird-A-Thon Participants pledge to donate a small amount of money for each specie of bird that the students are able to observe in their 2-week field course. Fundraising efforts went towards environmental education, sustainable agriculture, and conservation initiatives in the local communities of the Alexander Skutch Biological Corridor in Costa Rica, named after Alexander Skutch, a mentor to many FES students in the Las Nubes project. (YorkU Magazine, Journey to Paradise, Dec 2007). Also in 2007, the Las Nubes café opened at York’s Computer Science and Engineering.

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Howard at the Las Nubes Cafe opening day with students who had gone into the field course, had done research or volunteer work for Las Nubes

As with Timothy’s, five cents from every cup and $1 from every pound sold supports York’s environmental research and conservation at Las Nubes.
Quoting Howard, “When you make Las Nubes your coffee of choice, you are saying: I care about the well-being of coffee farmers and their families; I care about how coffee is produced; I care about issues of economic justice and fairtrade practices. And I like good coffee!” (YFile, November 19, 2007).

In 2008, the Fisher Fund for Neotropical Conservation celebrated 10 years of support for Las Nubes with a wine auction that raised more than $100K for research and conservation projects at Las Nubes, Costa Rica. (York Alumni Matters, May 2008).

In 2008, the Las Nubes Student Association (LNSA) was formed. In 2009, the seventh wine tasting and auction provided another opportunity to thank Las Nubes’ donors, partners and supporters – Dr. Woody Fisher, CoopeAgri, Valerie Grant, John and Karin Harrison, Jim and Joanne Love, BMO Financial Group, Scotiabank, Donald F. Hunter Charitable Foundation, Kenneth M. Molson Foundation, Timothy’s World Coffee, Lillian and Don Wright Foundation, York University Foundation, among others, for their continuing support of the program.(YFile, April 30, 2009).

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Howard at the 2009 Wine Auction with students

In recognition of his works toward internationalization of student experience, York International bestowed the 2009 Faculty Member Award to Howard Daugherty for his Outstanding Contributions to Internationalization (See FES News).

Howard supervised more than 50 MES students on their major papers and theses. Ana Maria Martinez is one of them:
“He was so knowledgeable and yet so humble. Reachable even though he was full of responsibilities and overwhelmed with work, he always found the time to hear and try to solve other people’s problems. People helped him because he really cared -- he cared for the corridor’s environment and the preservation of the biodiversity, but most of all, he cared for the well-being of the people who live there, and this was what made him different. He transformed many lives, and we, as his students had the opportunity to experience it. He always found a way to nurture the life of others. Through his conversations, personality, wisdom, commitment, and philosophy, it made it easier to understand and to share the purpose of his work, making many of us want to follow his enormous steps. I will always be grateful to him. It has not been easy to accept his passing, but I am more than ever committed to make his work known and his voice heard,” Ana writes.

LSNA president, Afshan Golriz, remarks: “Howard changed our lives. Without him, many of us would not have experienced what he showed us; we may not have had the opportunity to live what we learn about daily. He is the reason we push forward, the inspiration behind our commitment. Howard taught us about his esteemed colleagues and friends who dedicated their lives to this field; we hope now to teach others about the most influential and admirable man who we had the honour of knowing and learning from. Howard's memory and legacy will forever live on, through all of those whose lives he touched."

Howard leaves his wife Marina, and daughters Jessica, Alexandra, Danielle and Marianne, and brother James. To Howard, thank you again for your contributions to biodiversity conservation, fair trade practices and student training. To his family and to the people whose lives he touched, we extend our deepest condolences. You will surely be missed, but you leave a lasting and living legacy behind through the Las Nubes project.

Photo credits: Deborah Barndt, Chris Saker, Las Nubes photo gallery.