Space to Roost partner meeting in Kentville, March 27, 2018
It was a lovely day to get in the car and head to Kentville to meet with partners from our Space to Roost project, including the Blomidon Naturalist Society, Nature Conservancy Canada and the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources. MES candidate Jaya Fahey shared results from our implementation of shorebird resting beaches at two beaches in the Minas Basin, an Important Bird Area. We negotiated those resting beaches with user groups and human-caused bird disturbance also dropped: great news! Enjoyed refining our approach for 2018 with this keen and experienced group.
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.
Fishermen and migratory birds compete for space along the Minas Basin (photo: Mark Elderkin)
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.
Volunteer eucalypt seedlings under holistic management on Allendale, in Southeastern Australia. Photo: David Marsh.
Lovely to get an email this week from David Marsh, one of the collaborators in my post-doctoral research on scattered trees under grazing in Australia, from a 40 degree day in NSW, to share news of spontaneous seedling recruitment under his rotational livestock grazing regime:
I thought you may be interested in this pic of regenerating volunteer eucalypts, e. Blakelyii and e. Melliodora. This never happened with constant grazing. We have about three hundred volunteers like this dotted around the place and have managed to protect them from cattle with temporary electric tape when we are grazing those paddocks. Note the paddock in the background full of thistles compared to foreground with not many. Dominance in the community can be influenced by grazing and appropriate recovery. However, we also have some big thistle paddocks this year and my observation is that where they are worst is in our old cropping paddocks. Lots of introduced inorganic fertilisers, chemicals and disturbance. It takes land a long time to get over that.