Kate Sherren

Landscapes - People - Global change

Month: July 2017

Energy Impacts Symposium

The cover slide of my Energy Impacts presentation, a synthesis of work on several fronts.

The cover slide of my Energy Impacts presentation, a synthesis of landscape work on several fronts.

The last two days I spent at the gigantic Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio (it has it’s own traffic radio station), in a gaggle of energy impacts social scientists. The Energy Impacts Symposium was a product of a US NSF Research Coordination grant co-held by Jeffrey Jacquet (OSU) and Julia Haggerty (MSU). The event brought together some great keynotes on energy issues, including Benjamin Sovacool on energy justice, Monica Ehrman on energy realism, and Janet Stephenson on long-term shifts in energy cultures. Despite the heavy and understandable focus on the US shale experience, given what Stephenson described as the American “state of siege” by that fuel, the commonwealth made a strong showing. In addition to Stephenson, from New Zealand (and Ehrman, a Canadian living in the US), there was a strong contingent of Australian, UK and Canadian academics across all stages. It was a great opportunity to catch up with friends like Tom Measham and expand networks in those of us working under Westminster settings, that (thankfully) results in very different outcomes in governance and on the ground.

The engagement with scholars across career levels was very strong thanks in part to a competitive ‘Symposium Fellow’ program. A number of ‘Fellows’ were Commonwealth: Bec Colvin (ANU, my alma mater), who gave a fantastic talk on social rifts as a result of wind energy consultation in King Island, Nichole Dusyk, working across hydro and pipelines in postdoctoral work at SFU, and Eryn Fitzgerald (UVic) who as a Masters student among PhD and postdocs won second on the poster award for her work on indigenous hydro in BC. Leah Stokes (originally Canadian, now UCSB) gave a great talk on the degree of public backlash from wind projects. This is not to slight the Americans, of course. I saw a great presentation by Weston Eaton (Penn State) on biomass crops, and Julia Haggerty on ‘social license to exit’, as well as super posters by scholars such as Kristin Smith (MSU), Chris Podeski (Bloomsburg U of Penn), Meryl Gardner (Delaware) and the talented Anne Junod (OSU). Such riches of relevant research solidifies for me the value of prioritizing the attendance of problem-based, rather than disciplinary, meetings.

I was honored to receive a travel award to attend this event on the strength of my submitted abstract, Toward a non-equilibrium model of change in cultural landscapes. I was also grateful that the funding gave me a hard deadline for doing this planned synthesis around landscape emerging from SSHRC-funded work on energy (hydro and dam removal, renewable transitions) and agricultural dykelands. This presentation will now be converted to a chapter for a collected volume being co-edited by the conference steering committee this fall.

Angling for answers

Bilingual material about making space for shorebirds to rest this migration season.

Bilingual material about making space for shorebirds to rest this migration season.

As shorebirds start to arrive in the Bay of Fundy on their annual migration back south, it is a good time to report on our recent survey with striped bass anglers and outline our plans for the summer. We implemented an online survey with anglers who use key roosting sites in the Minas Basin, particularly ‘the Guzzle‘, to help us explore options for sharing beach space with migrating shorebirds at their high-tide resting period. This was in lieu of trying to assemble a workshop or focus group. The response was excellent, and we are now sharing the results here (PDF). On the basis of this feedback, and engagement with beach users in Avonport, our other key site, we have developed bilingual materials (above) that explain why, where and how to help shorebirds rest to ensure a successful migration back south: it’s a three-day trip over the Gulf of Mexico and they can’t swim! With anglers and other beach users we have identified lesser-used areas of each site to pilot setting aside at high tide for shorebird roosting, The back of the above card features a tide table that shows the times in August 2017 that we hope people will leave the sites for bird use, and signs at each place will explain further. We enjoyed this process of developing conservation ideas WITH beach users, many of whom are already great stewards of these birds. Space to Roost researcher Jaya Fahey will then be monitoring bird disturbance this year, as she did last year, and we’ll hope to see a difference.

Overheard… stakeholders

Sitting in Steve-o-Reno’s before last week’s holiday, over a coffee, I overheard an elderly woman describing her quest to eliminate coyotes on her farm. She worried for her grand-daughter after seeing six after the family dog. Her son told her she could only shoot one. First she soaked sponges in something delicious, hoping eating the sponges would make them sick. Coyotes stuck around. Then she smashed wine bottles to powder and made meatballs with the shards. That worked. Horrifying to hear, but an important reminder of challenges to biodiversity on farms. Threatening species often inspire responses that are disproportionate to the financial risks they represent; damaging species are the opposite.

I can sometimes be naive in how I engage with conservation stakeholder groups like farmers and anglers. I say to my collaborators, “I think most people want to know how to be ‘good'”. I encourage biologists to bring stakeholders into conservation discussions as experts and stewards. To assume the best rather than the worst. But it doesn’t always work. A survey we had in the field with anglers about shorebird conservation recently was trolled on Facebook by the head of an NB fishing group. He was discouraging anglers from participating in this research, because despite our collaborative intentions, the resulting paper may be used by others to refuse them access to beaches. It is disappointing to see that science is perceived as a threat.

It is perhaps characteristic of such groups to default to the most conservative mindset among their membership, leading from behind rather than out front. I found this interesting in the context of producer organizations. In research last year we found that Alberta groups with farmers as members (as opposed to their umbrella national organizations, often with organizations as members) tended to talk about weather instead of acknowledging climate change. It is not always this way, though. The Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture, a frequent collaborator has been a strong advocate of “mainstreaming” biodiversity-friendly farming, as evident through their partnership on  Wood Turtle Strides.

© 2017 Kate Sherren

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑