Kate Sherren

Landscapes - People - Global change

Category: Agriculture (page 1 of 12)

Protecting wood turtles on farms

Guest post by Simon Greenland-Smith, Wood Turtle Strides project manager and MES alum 2014

An elusive wood turtle found is a good day.

An elusive wood turtle found is a good day (photo: Simon Greenland-Smith)

Working with species at risk almost never provides instant gratification. Wood Turtles (Glyptemys insculpta) are a long-lived, slow-to-mature species that have a bad habit of getting struck by farm equipment, often not making it to reproductive age. This has led to a steady decline in their populations in Nova Scotia and beyond. The same traits make their recovery a particular challenge.

Since August 2016, a collaborative team (Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture, Environment and Climate Change Canada and many other organizations) has been working on a novel approach to Wood Turtle conservation in Nova Scotia. Wood Turtle Strides is a program design to encourage farmers to sign stewardship agreements and implement Beneficial Management Practices that will help avoid striking and killing Wood Turtles. Uniquely, Wood Turtle Strides offers financial incentives to farmers that are designed to help farmers meet their production goals while also meeting their conservation goals. Time after time through surveys, interviews and other social science methods, we have learned that both these goals are important to farmers and striking a balance between them is a concept that resonates strongly with farmers. For instance, farmers can receive ‘per-hectare incentives’ to raise their mower blades above the maximum height of the turtles, increasing their chances of survival to reproductive age. Currently, Wood Turtle Strides has 7-9 enrolled farmers, but we are hoping to attract around 30 farms and sign incentive-based stewardship agreements worth over $100K (CAD).

Found one!

Found one!

Wood Turtles live a slow life, and working toward their conservation can be equally slow, but finding Wood Turtles alive and well in the wild can be particularly rewarding. It certainly keeps the energy high among the Wood Turtle Strides team!

For more info on Wood Turtle Strides visit farmbiodiversity.ca/strides. Also, keep an eye out for our new Wood Turtle animated video which will be available (along with two other great animations on biodiversity-friendly farming) on our extension  YouTube channel (Kate says, “we have a YouTube channel?”).

Bibliometric paper on HM is out

Factions in Savory-citers based on bibliometric coupling.

Factions in Savory-citers based on bibliometric coupling.

There has been a great irony in my first sabbatical: it has been publication-free. More things in process than I can easily monitor but nothing in hand. Until today, barely three weeks before sabbatical end. Phew! Today the first paper is out in Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems from my SSHRC-funded project on adaptive grazing approaches like holistic management. This paper, Who’s afraid of Allan Savory? Scientometric polarization on Holistic Management as competing understandings, is based on Carlisle Kent’s bibliometric work on HM in the summer of 2015. This used papers citing Allan Savory’s work on HM, as found in Web of Science, to understand the structure of research on the topic. General descriptives allowed us to see the changing nature of that work, geographically and in terms of discipline. Bibliometric coupling revealed distinct factions in terms of the kind of work being used to support papers (i.e. the reference lists) and that those factions seemed to align with disciplines as well as positions on HM. A number of recommendations are discussed around how farmers, advocates, researchers and policy-makers can work to resolve the competing understandings.

Convenient untruths in Alberta

Last week brought fascinating insight around energy transitions in rural Alberta, which feel worth discussing the day after President Trump pulled the USA out of the Paris Accord. The last day of my field trip there with colleague John Parkins and a few students we spent investigating the context of a wind energy proposal. We visited a local councillor/reeve for the municipal district, the host landowners and some opponents in our mini case study. It produced much food for thought. This post is name and hyperlink-free to avoid identifying the specific proposal, or the generous folks who gave their time to talk to us.

Some interesting issues arose in those discussions that are not commonly part of the discourse elsewhere, such as the lack of regulation around wind infrastructure, including end-of-life remediation and responsibility. This was raised by the eloquent reeve, as well as one of the opponents. It was a good reminder that just because regulation generally comes as a result of mistakes or accidents, we should not wait until that happens to develop strong expectations and governance. It would be unlikely, but awful, if turbines were orphaned in the way that so many oil and gas wells are in Alberta.

Even more compelling, however, was the way that industrial history, social dynamics and politics drove discourse among opponents. Most of the farmers in this area host oil and gas wells or compressor stations on their properties, and earn good money doing so. Some of these make noise, and some smell, and sometimes there are spills. But such risk and/or disbenefit has been normalized: this is the way that it has been for a long time. Similarly very large farming infrastructure like grain bins and elevators are accepted in the landscape as “the way we make our living”. This is the same way the landowners hoping to host the wind farm see it: just another way to make money off their land. They are ready to bear any disbenefits from hosting, but they largely dismiss such concerns. They see the opposition as a response in part to their cultural difference, which sets them apart from the local community, and the annoyance of others at the success of their livelihood model.

Despite this highly utilitarian landscape, and sparse population, a few of their neighbours asserted that wind presented more risks, e.g. to nearby grandchildren, than the oil and gas exploration or climate change itself.  Every possible reason for wind opposition was touched upon, but without clear evidence, apparently in part fed by the online echo chamber. We heard strong  denial of human-caused climate change.  Renewables were seen as useful only for when oil and gas ran out. Otherwise we heard that renewables were unnecessary because of new ‘clean’ (and conveniently distant) coal and gas thermal plants. These voices did not differentiate between visible particulate pollution and invisible greenhouse gas emissions. The key opponent was a longstanding member of the community with many relationships to leverage; it will be interesting to see if the social implications prevail.

2017 spring convocation

MES graduand Yan Chen and her parents with me.

MES graduand Yan Chen and her parents with me.

Congratulations to our Spring 2017 graduands who convocated yesterday. Despite playing hooky from the ceremony itself, I was really pleased to see some of the students I worked with and their families. Yan Chen’s parents had come all the way from China to see her cross the stage (above) to receive her MES based on work on Instagram in my lab. Caitlin Cunningham’s parents were visiting from St. Catharines to see her receive her MES on mapping pollination services and potential, based on work led by Peter Tyedmers that I enjoyed helping with. Finally, I got to give a hug to Mhari Lamarque, graduating MREM, who did her internship with DUC and is now working for DUC and I both.  Such events are one of the more satisfying parts of being a professor.

Rural Alberta field visits

Don Ruzicka, the sage, explains what he does and why to colleague John Parkins and U of A grad students.

Don Ruzicka, the sage, explains what he does and why to colleague John Parkins and U of A grad students.

Great to be here in Alberta and finally getting boots on the ground at some Canadian farms using Holistic Management or its variants. Tuesday we met farmers Steve and Amber Kenyon at Greener Pastures near Busby, at their custom grazing operation, as well as their farming friends from Athabasca, Rusty and Agnes. Steve calls what he does ‘sustainable grazing’ and combines ideas from a range of thinkers including Allan Savory, as well as running his own training. Later that day we met former HM trainer Noel McNaughton, and the next day one of his star students, Don Ruzicka at Sunrise Farms, over near Wainwright. The weather is apocalyptic, but there is nothing like getting into the field, talking to people and looking at landscape to help you shape research so it really matters.

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