A few years ago when my lab was given the opportunity by ECCC’s SARPAL program to initiate the first farmer incentive program in Nova Scotia for species-at-risk habitat management, I was a bit worried about introducing payments into a space where I already knew farmers were pretty supportive of biodiversity. Kate Goodale‘s and Simon Greenland-Smith‘s theses, and some of our later work together, demonstrated the ‘balance’ mindset farmers have toward wildlife and habitat. I was concerned that such intrinsic motivations would be crowded out by the payments, either for those who receive them, or for those who see others receiving them. We designed research around our new program, Wood Turtle Strides (WTS), to allow for pre- and post-tests of motivations around riparian management among those eligible and participating in WTS, as well as an experimental survey with other farmers in the province. We were unable to measure crowding among participants, for a few reasons (in part because of the small first-year n, but also because the program is not yet done), but there was no indication of second-hand crowding. The paper on this work is out today in The Canadian Geographer.
Guest post by Simon Greenland-Smith, Wood Turtle Strides project manager and MES alum 2014
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).
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?”).
Wood Turtles are a species at risk in Nova Scotia.
Two SRES grads were in the news together last week. Simon Greenland-Smith, MES and now working for the NSFA (though he still sits down the hall), is launching his new Wood Turtle Strides farmer incentive program for species at risk, with the help of Katie McLean, MREM and now Clean Annapolis River Project. Another recent MREM grad, Mhari Lamarque, is also working on the Wood Turtle Strides project doing program evaluation.
A wood turtle found by Grade 9 students from Middleton, out with Katie McLean from CARP and Simon Greenland-Smith, in September 2016 (photo: Simon Greenland-Smith).
MES alumnus and lab project manager Simon Greenland-Smith was in Summerside, PEI, last week for the AGM of the Atlantic Society of Fish and Wildlife Biologists (ASFWB), announcing our exciting new project on wood turtle habitat on agricultural lands. Simon is working for the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture, with funding from Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Species At Risk Protection of Agricultural Lands (SARPAL) envelope. That work is a natural extension of our work on biodiversity-friendly farming, and is aiming to develop and evaluate a pilot program to eliminate risk to wood turtles in farmland areas also defined as critical habitat for them. SARPAL is designed to avoid situations like the federal government got into out west with the sage grouse. We are drawing on a rich base of ecological expertise about wood turtles in the province within government (e.g. NS Department of Natural Resources, Canadian Wildlife Service) and NGOs like the Clean Annapolis River Project (CARP) and the Mersey-Tobeatic Research Institute (MTRI). We have already done some advocacy work around farm practices to support wood turtles, such as our animated extension video on modified harvest practices in which a wood turtle sports a pompadour haircut (this only makes sense if you watch it). This is a great opportunity to engage directly with farmers in ways that share the costs of, and ease other transitional barriers to, stewardship actions.