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.
I enjoyed visiting Province House yesterday for the media briefing around the province’s new Biodiversity Act. As one of the three-member Biodiversity Council that has acted as advisors to the process since last year, it was very satisfying to join the Minister and Deputy Minister, as well as other staffers at Lands and Forestry. Nice also to get the support of Nature Conservancy Canada and the Ecology Action Centre. This Act fills critical gaps in our capacity to protect Nova Scotia’s ecosystems against known and as-yet-unknown challenges.
I faced my first media scrum after the briefing. I’m weighing up how to rank it on discomfort in comparison with the mammogram I had immediately before. Some of the press from that scrum appeared on CBC and the Chronicle Herald (though the latter misspelled my surname), and since then I have done a little more (News 95.7 live interview). We missed the tabling of the Act yesterday, thanks to slow service at The Old Triangle, but this morning it had its second reading in the House. Minister Rankin included some of my comments in his address (see Hansard):
Mr. Speaker, I heard strong support for our bill from several key players in biodiversity. Dr. Kate Sherren, of Dalhousie University and a Biodiversity Council member, spoke yesterday during the bill briefing. She said the priority is to address current issues where there are gaps and to have a tool kit ready when they are needed. As she said, biodiversity is an engine of the ecosystem. We don’t know what we’ll be up against and we will need legislation to manage it.
I look forward to continuing with the Council as we hit the ground with regulatory priorities if this goes through.
Wood Turtle Strides has collaborated (again) with the clever people at Wonderlust Media to develop a video for farmers explaining the biology of wood turtles, a species at risk in Nova Scotia, and how to protect them. This is the third video in our extension series. The first two were about modified harvest, and riparian management. All three can be found at the YouTube channel for the Biodiversity Landowners Guide, our extension website. Simon Greenland-Smith has been busy this summer signing up farmers that host critical wood turtle habitat in the incentive-based Strides program. Participating farmers get financial compensation for the management changes they undertake on that habitat to help protect the species. Wood Turtle Strides is a partnership with NSFA and Environment and Climate Change Canada.
Guest post by Simon Greenland-Smith, Wood Turtle Strides project manager and MES alum 2014
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?”).
Announcing the third version of our farm extension website, BioLOG (Biodiversity Landowners’ Guide), a reboot funded by the ECCC SARPAL funding to the NSFA for the new Wood Turtle Strides (WTS) program. Nova Scotia DNR originally funded this project to supplement their Agricultural Biodiversity Conservation program after our evaluation of it. Thanks to WTS program manager Simon Greenland-Smith for shepherding the process.