Kristine Dahl, Masters candidate at U of A, photographed at SRM back in 2011
Congratulations to Kristine Dahl, MSc candidate on the SSHRC-funded Reconciling HM project, for winning the AltaLink Master’s Scholarship in Rangeland Disturbance Ecology. Kristine is based at the University of Alberta, supervised by project collaborators John Parkins and Ed Bork. She has just had a busy mixed-methods field season interviewing western ranchers about their grazing practices and decision-making as well as undertaking rangeland assessments. Not many people are able to do both well. Glad to have her on the team.
The cover of the third RHoMPAS report, also led by Carlisle Kent.
Carlisle and I are happy to finally release her third report for my sustainable grazing project, which is based on research she undertook in winter 2016, The View from the Farm Sector: Discourse in Producer Organizations around Climate, Science and Agricultural Policy, 2010-2015. We were interested in looking for the farmer’s voice in Canadian discourses around grazing and climate change. We decided in the end to do so via producer organizations who give voice to widely distributed individual producers. This report describes the discourse by farming organizations around climate, and resulting hardships, as they are expressed to a range of audiences, across different scales (Canada and Alberta) and commodity groups. We collected almost a hundred documents that represented the climate-related public and policy engagement of Canadian and Albertan livestock producer organizations from 2010 to 2015. We did not seek to track any trajectory over that time, because of small and/or uneven numbers of documents in any given year, but rather use those documents to take a snapshot of discourse. Interesting patterns arose around which organization types are talking about climate versus weather, and to whom, and what sorts of interventions they thought might help the farming sector.
A great primer on rangeland science as well as scientific hubris more generally.
I had a sunny lunchtime meeting with Nathan Sayre when I was in Berkeley a few weeks ago, and ordered his new book as soon as I got back. While I regularly devour fiction within days, rarely do I do it with non-fiction, which can be more of a plod with pencil in hand. But Sayre’s volume was a good read, as well as being a book that I needed to read. I have stumbled somewhat into rangeland research, through my post-doc in Australia, and now my new research on livestock grazing, including fieldwork in the Falklands. But I don’t have a rangelands background. Sayre’s book thus played a remedial role for me, as well as placing some of the scientific chauvinism that I have experienced in a broader context.
Ever the geographer (Sayre leads the UC Berkeley Department of Geography), the recurring theme is one of scale, including the poor fit between the scale of rangeland science (i.e. experimental plots and fields) and the scale of rangeland management. Moreover, however, he brings a critical perspective to unexamined assumptions and justifications in the study and administration of rangelands: governance can drive management priorities of land (e.g. overgrazing is great for fire control); that no commons can be sustainable; that equilibrium is inexorable and singular; or, that fences are better than shepherds. Sayre also illustrates the hubris of ‘command and control’ approaches to landscape, such as species eradication.
Allan Savory gets perhaps surprisingly little attention, but what is given is insightful. Sayre contrasts the grassroots though fringe popularity of Savory’s holistic management, which proceeds despite the alarm of range scientists, with the forceful, colonial and paternalistic division of rangelands in places like Africa (that can lead to violence e.g. when drought pushes former pastoralists against imposed fencelines):
Holistic management’s popularity raises the possibility that a scientifically flawed theory–if willingly embraced rather than imposed–may in some cases induce improvements in range management for reasons that cannot be–or at least have not yet been–reducible to controlled experimental testing (p. 208, italics in original)
To staff up my sustainable grazing / climate change SSHRC project, I’m looking to hire a local graduate student as a summer research assistant. The specs are quite broad, including the possibility of doing research on bibliometrics, discourse analysis, policy, or farmer extension/education. The project will be designed to suit the candidate, but there must be interest in independent research. It could be ongoing, and fit as a project/internship/practicum/thesis in a range of programs, or be a contract if the candidate is graduating. Read the details here, and apply by email to me if interested by April 1.
I am excited about my incoming 2017 complement of graduate students, but have one last gap to fill, whether for Masters (MES) or PhD. I’m looking for someone to contribute to my SSHRC-funded Insight Grant on adaptive grazing and climate change. Much of the field-based research for that grant is being led from the University of Alberta by grant collaborators John Parkins and Ed Bork. The work being based in Halifax is focused more on policy, training and scholarly discourse around sustainable grazing. A range of topics are available to align with a range of student backgrounds and interests: information management, political science, anthropology, sociology, public administration, education, agricultural extension. Methods could range widely from discourse analysis, social network analysis, cognitive mapping, Q-methodology, surveys, interviews, bibliometrics, and program evaluation techniques. If any of the above sounds like you and you have an interest in applied research, experience with independent scholarship (first-authored papers if applying for a PhD), and a strong GPA, get in touch to discuss mutual interests.