Enjoyed meeting with Space to Roost project partners yesterday at Acadia, including the Blomidon Naturalists Society, Nature Conservancy Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service, NS Department of Natural Resources and Bird Studies Canada. We met in a boardroom with gigantic chairs that made me feel kid-sized. It was a collaborative group, and we reviewed the results from last year’s baseline surveys of beach use and shorebird disturbance in the Minas Basin. I presented on the short interviews with beach users that our field assistant Jaya undertook while doing monitoring. We then developed priorities for this coming season, and brainstormed ideas for implementation. Thanks to BSC’s Sue Abbott for organizing and keeping us on track.
Bird Studies Canada currently has year 1 funding (NS Habitat Conservation Fund) for a three-year project, Space to Roost, understanding human-bird conflict in important roosting sites along the Minas Basin during shorebird migrations in late summer. This funding includes support to hire a Nova Scotia (6-months prior residency) student the summer of 2016. This will be our first year of a 3-year project. We will be conducting human-use audits at 3-4 roost sites to gather baseline information at sites during peak fall migration (July – August) to understand spatial and temporal use of recreational activities (e.g., fishermen, swimmers, dog walkers) and other human-induced threats. The summer student position will require someone with an interest in outreach who’s not shy about approaching people, initiating conversations with individuals at roost sites, and contacting user group representatives. Basically, this first field season will lay the ground work for developing and piloting conservation strategies to reduce human pressures at roost sites in year two. The role would best suit a student entering their last year of a conservation, recreation or environmental studies degree. Someone who is seeking to collect data for a final year Honours thesis would be ideal, and perhaps even someone interested in continuing on to a funded MES on the topic. Please contact me if you are interested.
Thursday and Friday this week I had skype interviews with five upper-year undergraduate candidates for my Mitacs Globalink internship opportunities on Sustainable Landscapes and Seascapes in the Falkland Islands. What a remarkable group of young people! Four Chinese candidates and one from India, all skilled in geomatics and with a wide range of other diverse interests, engaged me in clear English conversation on diverse areas of my scholarship and their own interests. I was very impressed, and the subsequent ranking process was very difficult. I hope they all find a satisfying post under this excellent program. A successful internship also provides them access to funded Masters fellowships in Canada.
Few books have stimulated so much thinking, and coalesced so many of my existing ideas, as George Monbiot’s book Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea and Human Life. I owe a debt to Simon Greenland-Smith, who gave it to me after his thesis defense as a thank you. Monbiot makes a many-faceted argument for re-wilding of a new (and sometimes radical) kind. He is not for restoration that turns back the clock, holding a landscape in a nostalgic level of human modification, suppressing succession or ignoring the changing global conditions. Rather, he’d like to see us take a chance and remove such pressures and see what new ecosystems emerge (barring introducing an elephant or two). In his own words (p. 10):
…I have no desire to try to re-create the landscapes or ecosystems that existed in the past, to reconstruct – as if that were possible – primordial wilderness. Rewilding, to me, is about resisting the urge to control nature and allowing it to find its own way. It involves reintroducing absent plants and animals (and in a few cases culling exotic species which cannot be contained by native wildlife), pulling down the fences, blocking the drainage ditches, but otherwise stepping back. At sea, it means excluding commercial fishing and other forms of exploitation. The ecosystems that result are best described not as wilderness, but as self-willed: governed not by human management but their own processes. Rewilding has no end points, no view about what a ‘right’ ecosystem or a ‘right’ assemblage of species looks like. … It lets nature decide.
The ecosystems that will emerge, in our changed climates, on our depleted soils, will not be the same as those which prevailed in the past. … While conservation often looks to the past, rewilding of this kind looks to the future.
The Common Agricultural Policy is given scathing treatment, for incentivizing continued grazing and mowing land even where production is not needed or even productive. He lambasts conservation groups for maintaining grazing in parks to retain the species that existed under that pressure. He draws on shifting baseline syndrome, which we recently used in the Mactaquac Dam case work, to reveal the landscape impacts of otherwise benign generational forgetting. He describes re-wilding as re-introducing humans to landscape as much as native species (although he leans heavily on the economic benefits of tourists to replace production, an economy that will have limits in terms of scale, especially for places with a long winter). But he seeks to keep people like farmers in the picture; increase their options rather than erase them (p. 11-12):
I do not think that extensive rewilding should take place on productive land. It is better deployed in the places – especially in the uplands – in which production is so low that farming continues only as a result of the taxpayer’s generosity. … It should happen only with the consent and enthusiasm of those who work on the land. It must never be used as an instrument of expropriation or dispossession.
A Canadian program called Mitacs Globalink brings high-achieving upper-year undergraduate students to Canada to work with researchers for 12 weeks. Eligible countries this year include Australia (a new addition), Brazil, China, France, India, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Vietnam. Applications are now open here for North American summer 2016 (closing Sept 24, 2015). It is a great program: it is currently funding Joy Wang to work in my lab monitoring tree cover under grazing via Google Earth Pro. For Summer 2016 I have submitted opportunities for two students on my new sustainable tourism landscapes and seascapes research work in the Falklands (see also here, if you are looking for a Masters project in this area). Broadly, one project is on spatial science, land cover and ecology, and the other related to ecotourism, visual sociology and social media. I am looking forward to interviewing this year’s crop of applicants later this fall. A summary of the above project (#7229) follows, but for more details, go to the Mitacs Globalink website.
The Falkland Islands are a remote British Overseas Territory east of Patagonia with a limited and contested land mass, unique ecosystem (including five species of penguins), and a historical reliance on renewable ecosystem goods and services to support its people, particularly grazing and fishing. Cruise ship tourism has become an increasingly important part of the local economy, and more recently, oil and gas exploration offshore has led to development for extraction. These four sectors interconnect in interesting and challenging ways and all have impacts on the local community and supporting ecosystems. I am using social and spatial methods to explore these landscape issues.
Two research projects within this larger domain are based on existing and secondary datasets and appropriate for involvement by short-term undergraduate research projects. The first is the use of existing GIS and aerial/satellite imagery going back 60 years to explore the impact on land cover of increasing numbers of tours to the King Penguin rookery at Volunteer Point. Poor transportation infrastructure outside of the main town of Stanley means that such tours are undertaken in Landrovers, sometimes tens of them at a time, which often fan out to avoid becoming bogged in peat. Specifically, is repeated vehicle traffic increasing the amount of ponding in the peatlands being traversed, or otherwise changing vegetation cover? Can such patterns be linked to visitor numbers?
The second project will use social media to explore perceptions of the Falklands land and seascape as oil and gas exploration begins. Software can be used to extract rich observations in the form of text and photo from Twitter and Instagram, using either hashtags or geotags. These data can be analyzed to explore the visibility of oil and gas infrastructure, and understand perceived tradeoffs that this industry presents for the community, ecology and economy.