The first big synthesis paper from NSERC ResNet is out today in Advances in Ecological Research, Ecosystem services and the resilience of agricultural landscapes. Led by ResNet PI Elena Bennet, with 20 co-authors from the larger team across our agricultural landscape case studies and integrative themes, this paper assesses “how recent changes have interacted with agro-ecosystem features to result in a loss of resilience, and suggest[s] key research directions to help harmonize production and ecosystem function, drawing primarily on Canadian examples”. This also provides us a strong conceptual framework as we initiate our primary and scenario-based work over the next five years, including in the Bay of Fundy agricultural dykelands and tidal wetlands, the ResNet case study I’m co-leading.
Colleagues at Bird Studies Canada and Nature Conservancy Canada joined with other conservation groups today at Evangeline Beach at Grand Pre, Nova Scotia, to celebrate 30 years that the Minas Basin has been recognized by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) as a globally significant bird habitat. MES student and BSC intern Jaya Fahey was interviewed for local media. The timing is significant: it is the leading edge of the time that the area hosts millions of shorebirds migrating south from the Arctic. These birds need to eat and gain weight and above all rest, because the next step is a big one: three days swim over the ocean non-stop to South America … and they can’t swim! The signs have already gone up at Avonport (left) to recruit beach users to help us set aside high-tide resting beaches while the birds are here. This is year three of Space to Roost, the second using resting beaches. We have some indication already that these resting beaches reduce human disturbance; this year should help us fully understand their effectiveness.
Happy to announce that thanks to recent success at the SSHRC Insight Development Grants, Dr. Kirby Calvert (PI) and I are looking for new graduate students for 2019 intake. Our project seeks to provide insight into the unique barriers and opportunities for renewable energy development in ‘high amenity’ (i.e., tourism-based) landscapes, such as wine-and-grape regions in Nova Scotia and Southern Ontario. Kirby and I are both Geographers by training, with interests in the spatial and social dynamics of rural landscape change. We expect to use a mix of methods in this work, including image-rich approaches for understanding discourse and stakeholder perceptions, possibly including social media and Q-method. Qualified and keen students should read the fuller description linked above, and get in touch with us. Nothing wrong with thinking well ahead for 2019; this opens candidates up to additional scholarship opportunities that often close in late fall.
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.