The Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources at UW advances the understanding and resolution of complex environmental and natural resource challenges.
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Haub School Creative Activities Grants
I am a PhD candidate in the Program in Ecology (PiE), based in the Zoology and Physiology department with an Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) concentration. My dissertation research focuses on plant population dynamics and how plant range limits are set. I am particularly interested in how range limits might be set by interactions with other organisms, such as competitors, herbivores or pollinators, and my work aims to identify where in a species’ range such interactions might be important drivers of population health and persistence. I quantify the importance of three key biotic interactions (herbivory, competition and pollination) across an aridity gradient in central Kenya, using a small understory forb, Hibiscus meyeri, as a model system.
My work will help us develop more accurate projections of shifts in species’ distributions by identifying locations within a species’ range where climate alone can be used to predict changes in distributional limits, and, conversely, locations where it is critical to quantify the effects of both climate and biotic interactions to make accurate predictions of shifts in species’ distributions.
The Good Kill Funding from the Haub Grant for Student Research and Creative Activities allowed me to spend time traveling through Wyoming, Alberta, and Saskatchewan investigating local hunting culture and wildlife management. The focus of this project was, fundamentally, on human relationship to land – the ways in which individuals and societies construe ecosystems and their interactions with and use of them. Specifically, I investigated the way that a “hunting relationship” with wildlife and land affects the environmental ethic of an individual, place, or society.
During my weeks of traveling, I was able to interview game wardens, wildlife managers, taxidermists, professional outfitters and guides, and hunters of all stripes, in addition to traveling through and in the various landscapes – prairie, mountain, desert – of the west. These explorations produced two distinct sets of creative work: a series of essays on the many kinds of ecological and contextual knowledge involved in becoming a hunter, and sets of place-based poems more broadly concerned with questions of violence, symbiosis, and connection between experience and environment. Both projects have been crucial components of my graduate work as a student in the MFA program in Creative Writing.
Right: a display of historic firearms and trophy mounts from the Boone & Crockett collection at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, WY
Within the tropics, increased cultivation of steeplands has become a significant concern for both producers and downstream stakeholders. Unsustainable cultivation practices including slash and burn agriculture and deforestation cause land degradation and increase vulnerability to climatic and natural disturbances such as landslides. The use of sustainable soil conservation technologies including rock wall terraces and agroforestry has been shown to increase land productivity while also reducing landslide hazard risk.
The Haub Grant for Student Research and Creative Activities allowed me to complete a study of agricultural steeplands in Honduras where rock wall terraces had previously been implemented. The purpose of the project is to establish the effects of terraces related to reduction of landslide hazard risk and agricultural system change. While in Honduras I was able to collect GPS data points required for validation of geo-referenced aerial imagery taken shortly after Hurricane Mitch devastated the country in 1998. The imagery allows for landslide identification and GPS data collected for fields with rock wall terraces allows for landslide hazard analysis. Local farmers were also interviewed to establish their perceptions of rock wall terraces and to assess changes in agricultural practices on terraced fields.
Interviews suggest that rock wall terraced fields have higher crop yields than similar fields without terraces. Additionally, in areas where precipitation rates are moderate, rock wall terraces have catalyzed a shift in focus from maize and sorghum cultivation to more lucrative, arboreal crops such as mangoes, bananas, tamarind, cashew, and avocado. This shift has broad environmental implications ranging from soil stabilization and erosion reduction to increased biodiversity. The change in agricultural practice has substantially increased and diversified income for rural farmers and allows for continued production with decreased land degradation.
Below: Honduran farmer Miguel Gomez stands on terraces constructed on one of his fields. Rock wall terraces decrease soil erosion and increase water holding capacity, allowing Gomez to grow avocado, banana, guava, coconut, mahogany, lemon, and other arboreal crops to supplement his income.
Organic carbon is present in freshwater ecosystems across the globe. Microbes consume DOC and therefore alter the total DOC concentration and availability in aquatic ecosystems. The focus of my project was to quantify dissolved organic carbon (DOC) dynamics and microbial DOC consumption. I completed a study of DOC changes around the Gillette Wastewater Treatment Plant (GWTP, near Gillette, WY) to identify the impact the wastewater effluent has on the DOC dynamics in Stonepile Creek. I found increased DOC levels where the wastewater effluent entered Stonepile Creek. There was also a significantly higher DOC uptake at and below the effluent in comparison to the initial Stonepile water. There was higher DOC uptake downstream from the GWTP based on a release of DOC from the GWTP. DOC is being released, yet not measured by GWTP. This potentially shows an increased downstream consumption and alteration of DOC by microbes, and thus growth, due to the DOC released from the GWTP. Beyond basic ecological applications, this project has potential for future wastewater management, where DOC concentrations are of great concern for drinking water safety.
Below: Sarah Gregory collects water from Stonepile Creek for her project looking at the downstream impacts of wastewater treatment plant effluents based on their release of dissolved organic carbon as well as changes in microbial consumption of dissolved organic carbon.
As a student in the MFA Creative Writing Program, I received a Haub Research and Creative Activities grant to fund a project to travel to central Argentina for a translation project in eco-poetics with writers in Argentina and from Chile. In February of 2010, I traveled to the Sierras of Cordoba and Los Riartes, Argentina in order to meet and discuss the work of several eco-poets and to begin the process of translating their poetry in to English. The project addresses different cultural perspectives on the environment, resources, and landscape. The poets that I worked with and translated from grapple with the questions: what are the ethical and social perspectives on environmental issues, and how do we make those relevant in our daily lives? The nature of this research required me to travel to Argentina to be able to converse with the writers whose work I was interested in, as several of them did not have access to email or telephone. Upon my return, I worked on translating their works into English and have since submitted the translations for consideration for publication in various journals.
Below: A mural inside one of the local Cordoba artisan's homes.
Argentina, Brazil, and Participatory Guarantee Systems: Success and Failure in Alternative Organic Certification
Due to the expenses and impracticality of the traditional organic certification process for small-scale farmers, the recognition and further development of alternative certification programs in Latin America, specifically Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS), could be a positive opportunity for small-scale farmers to contribute to the organic food movement and expand the possibilities for producing and marketing organic produce. My research conducted in the Summer of 2010, consisting of structured interviews and participant observation, explores an existing successful PGS in southern Brazil and investigates the reasons for its widespread acceptance by consumers and society. I also explore the possibilities within Argentina for small-scale organic farmers to incorporate alternative certification as a way to increase marketability. Latin America is a strong contributor to the organic agriculture movement and Brazil and Argentina in particular are at the forefront of promoting organic agriculture and exporting organic produce. The expansion of possibilities for small-scale organic farmers in these countries could have widespread positive impacts on local economies, human health, and the environment. This research contributes to broader globalization studies on sustainable development.
Left: Joy Johnson sawing a papaya tree on an organic farm outside of Porto Alegre, Brazil.
The Locapour Movement
Grape growing and wine production are increasing in areas of the United States that do not have a long tradition within the industry. While some parts of the country have climate conducive to maintaining traditional wine grapes, areas with long winters and high altitude rely on viticulture research to produce cold-hardy grapes - often hybrids of vitis vinifera and wild native grapes.
The Haub Grant for Student Research and Creative Activities allowed me to travel throughout Wyoming, Colorado, and northern California, during which time I researched sustainable practices in the vineyard and techniques of winemaking. Specifically, I looked at the relationship between the ethics of grape growing (responsibility to the land) and the authenticity of winemaking (the way technology is used to alter wine until a certain taste or color is achieved). The mass production of wine in a rating-driven market has led to a loss of diversity among varietals that are grown and less authenticity and sense of terroir in winemaking. The implications on the land are similar to that of agriculture; high yield affects both the health of the soil and quality of what is produced.
Because of the increasing production in the Rocky Mountain region and elsewhere (wineries and vineyards now exist in all 50 states), I argue that the local wine movement may be the next trend to drive the industry. Similar to the local food movement, consumers are slowly shifting where they purchase their wine from grocery and liquor stores to wineries and farmers' markets. Additionally, the growing demand for local wine has the potential to expand the diversity of grape varietals available and allow for the success of smaller vineyards, putting less strain on water resources and having a lower impact on surrounding land.
Below: The full line-up of Wyoming wines, all of which are made from native, wild grapes as opposed to the more traditional European varietals (vinifera).
There is a shift occurring in the world of biodiversity research. Taxonomists, the scientists responsible for the description, cataloguing and revision of species, are retiring at a rate that far exceeds young recruitments, and natural history museums, the institutions originally designed to house their collections, are going out of business. Without them there is no one and nowhere to interpret, sort, describe, catalog and house the vast web of life, past and present.
Throughout the summer of 2010 I embarked upon an interdisciplinary exploration of the current state of taxonomy and natural history museums, the reasons why they are on the decline and the implications of this decline for conservation efforts and human perceptions of nature. The funding I received through the Haub Grant facilitated my journey to New York, London, the Netherlands, France and Italy. I visited natural history museums and explored exhibits to see what knowledge is being disseminated to the public, and I interviewed taxonomists about their perspectives on current trends in biodiversity research.
I return back to Wyoming with a mountain of collected information and ideas. Over the next academic year I plan to turn these ideas and experiences into a book that explores the uncertain future of taxonomic research through the rich histories of natural history museums and the colorful experiences of current scientists.
Left: A parade of mammal skeletons at the Paris Museum of Natural History, one of the many ailing museums visited by Herbinson during her research.
Landowner Preferences Related to Conservation Easements in Colorado and Wyoming
I was fortunate to be a recipient of the Haub Grant for Student Research and Creative Activities this spring semester. The grant was used primarily to assist with travel expenses and submission fees to the Western Agricultural Economics Association (WAEA) Annual Meeting in Kauai, Hawaii this June, 2009.
My Haub-funded research focused on identifying Wyoming and Colorado landowner preferences for conservation easements. The research has strong ties to previous research that has been produced by the Haub School and Ruckelshaus Institute. The research attempted to better understand a market made up of private transactions, and in doing so increase the efficiency of conservation easement acquisitions, thereby ensuring long term protection of agricultural land in the Intermountain West. Partial motivation for the research was a gap in current land use literature regarding landowner preferences. Much research has been conducted regarding what the public desires for conservation easements, however a void existed with respect to landowner opinions. As landowners are an obvious asset to any organization seeking to protect land from excessive development and resulting environmental degradation, the preferences of landowners are vital to ensuring future land protection.
Survey data was used to identify attributes of conservation easements, experiences and/or beliefs of agricultural landowners regarding land conservation, and landowner characteristics that influenced their decisions to accept or reject conservation easements. These influential factors will hopefully be useful to conservation organizations, policy makers, and landowners in Colorado and Wyoming seeking to better understand the conservation easement market. The results identified that the payment offered to a landowner in exchange for his or her development rights positively influenced easement acceptance. In other words, as payment increased so did the likelihood that landowner would choose an easement. However, the results also identified a number of additional factors that attracted landowners to conservation easements. Thus, it may be possible to increase the number of conservation easements in Colorado and Wyoming without increasing payments to landowners.
The completed research was presented to an audience of approximately 20 individuals at the Western Agricultural Economics Association (WAEA) annual meeting. The WAEA annual meeting included presentations from approximately fifty universities throughout the United States and Canada. The completed research was also selected by the University of Wyoming College of Agriculture annual publication Reflections as a second place selection for College of Agriculture student research. The completed Haub-funded thesis research is currently being adapted into three shorter potential publications.
First Annual Good Mule Conference
The first annual Good Mule Conference took place this past spring in conjunction with Martin Luther King Jr. Days of Dialogue on January 24-25, 2009. The purpose of the conference is to expose UW students to different forms of activism and social and environmental issues, and to instill in students the confidence to take an active role in shaping the world around them by providing support, inspiration, and tools to pursue this end. This year's conference was widely successful. Nearly forty UW students were in attendance along with various distinguished UW professors and staff members, community members, and student leaders. All persons played an integral role in bringing the conference into existence by contributing their experience on social activism related skills and issues.
The conference's special affiliation with MLK DOD earned conference participants special access to the event's keynote speaker, Nadine Strossen. Strossen, formerly the first female and youngest president of the American Civil Liberties Union, joined us for an intimate dinner Friday night. Throughout dinner, Strossen fielded questions about her career and perspective on a host of current events. This affair was an excellent prelude to the conference which officially convened early the next day.
Saturday morning arrived in a flurry of exciting events. Sara Axelson, Vice President for Student Affairs, gave a welcoming speech that reflected upon President Obama's words of service. Following, Faith Winter from the White House Project and our lead facilitator oriented attendees to the schedule and expectations for the next two days. Nell Russell, Vice President for Diversity, proceeded, jolting participants out of a sleepy state by having students dance as part of her interactive workshop on how diversity affects us all. A brief history of student activism was then outlined by Katie Kleinhesselink, coordinator of the UW Center for Volunteer Service. Lunch was graciously donated by Dominoes Pizza. During this time students had the option to screen "GO," a documentary produced by the humanitarian organization, Invisible Children.
After lunch, Faith Winter led a session on grassroots organizing which was complemented with an activity where students got to put into practice their understanding of the movement building form. The last informational session of the day concluded with a panel discussion on sustainability at UW. The panel consisted of the student representative from the Student Sustainability Council, Jamie Wolf; professor of Geography studies, Deb Paulson; Department Director from Physical Plant, Forrest Selmer; Director of Dining Services, Eric Webb; and Colorado State University facilities management utility engineer, Carrol Dollard. The discussion that ensued clued-up students to UW's efforts to be more environmentally-minded. The day came to a close after Kelsey Day, past ASUW president, spoke about political engagement as a type of activism.
A formal dinner took place later that night. It was an opportunity for attendees to meet and mingle with faculty, staff, and community members that do work that tie into social justice, diversity, or sustainability. Former Wyoming congresswomen, Jane Warren gave a keynote speech on learning to find balance in life as an activist. Her message was inspiring and pertinent to everyone in the audience.
Sunday's agenda focused on developing students organizing skills. Adrienne Zeller from UW's Events Planning office helped us realize important considerations to be made when planning an event. Professor Gracie Lawson-Borders from the Communication and Journalism Department opened our eyes to new media technologies that can be utilized for management purposes. Faith taught us useful fundraising tips, strategies, and worked with us to brainstorm fundraising ideas. Lunch that day was provided by Jimmy Johns. At that time, Anna Guyton, a graduate student in the sustainable business program, lectured on the ideals and practice of Fair Trade. Sarah Gorin a founder of the Equality State Policy Center from the WY State met up with us in the afternoon to demystify lobbying. Then participants were formally introduced to the Good Mule Project's subsequent aim, to host a website that taps into the power of online social networking to raise awareness of an issue and to organize people around a cause. Matt Stech wrapped up the conference by speaking about opportunities beyond college where an activist's values and experiences can be put to good use. Matt was a graduate assistant in the Student Leadership and Civic Engagement office for the 2008-2009 school year.
Throughout the conference several methods of evaluation were employed. Open discussion of what was liked, disliked and ideas for improvement were noted. Attendees also completed a survey at the end of the conference that gave them the chance to rate and comment on each individual segment of the conference. The information collected was compiled into a general report to be referenced in planning future conferences, allowing us to ensure it continues to effectively serve its purpose. 99.9% of the feedback gathered was of a positive nature. Most complaints or suggestions aired shared a similar theme; more time was needed to discuss this issue, or that issue. Overall, participants were thrilled to have an outlet to discuss their interest in making change and to unite with others who are mutually passionate about helping others.