Environmental Stewardship Initiative

  • Inaugural EESI Partnership Roundtable

    Blog Contributors: Bani Maini & Bridget McGlynn

    On October 23, 2019, individuals from the Niagara Parks Commission (NPC) and Brock University gathered at Legends on the Niagara Golf Course for an inaugural roundtable event. The roundtable is the first in a series of events made possible via the Excellence in Environmental Stewardship Initiative (EESI), a partnership between the NPC and Brock University. The meeting provided an orientation to EESI, allowed for the sharing of recently completed research findings, discussion the implications of the findings, and allowed for progress to be shared on projects associated with the partnership. Corey  Burant  from the NPC and Dr. Ryan Plummer from Brock co-chaired the event.  

    Angela Mallette, a recent Master of Sustainability graduate from Brock, presented her research on “Understanding Perceptions of the State of the Environment in Relation to Ecological Measures: Intergroup Differences and the influences of Environmental Interpretation”. Through ecological assessments, and visitor and expert surveys, Angela observed ecological health as well as perceptions of ecological health. Her research provides a holistic approach to environmental assessment which includes ecological measurements as well as social perspectives.  

    The discussion Angela’s presentation provoked stimulated not only more research questions but also suggestions for potential NPC initiatives to better achieve their stewardship goals. Her research has important ecological and cultural implications for the NPC and the sentiment resonated with everyone present at the meeting. One of the aims of the partnership is to mobilize evidence-based research and suggestions in order to help with the management of resources at the NPC. These findings not only help with immediate resolution of existing concerns, but also open avenues for other potential areas of research and collaboration.   

    After Angela’s presentation and a stimulating discussion on the outcomes and implications of her research, faculty and students from Brock shared updates on the ongoing projects which are a part of the partnership. Samantha Witkowski, a current Master of Sustainability student at Brock shared her ongoing research on monitoring and evaluation approaches. Brock University Assistant Professor Dr. Julia Baird presented the early findings of the her latest research, made possible through an Insight Development Grant, which aims at assessing four different methods for evaluating ecological outcomes of environmental stewardship. Dr. Baird and Post-Doctoral Fellow Dr. Sherman Farhad also shared updates on an ongoing social network analysis project which aims at understanding the modes and extent of environmental stewardship knowledge sharing networks at the NPC. Updates were also shared on Dr. Jessica Blythe’s project related to the public’s perception of the NPC.  

    The outcomes of completed and ongoing partnership projects provide insights and opportunities that influence future environmental stewardship goals and objectives. The roundtable was a true reflection of the commitment and the level of engagement that individuals from both the organizations bring to the table. The event perfectly captured the essence of the partnership and underscored the importance of current and future roundtables.  

    Categories: Blog, Conferences, Environmental Stewardship Initiative, Event, Innovative Partnership, SSAS Student Contributor

  • Niagara Adapts Holds First Three Workshops

    Earlier this summer, representatives from seven local municipalities in Niagara and members from Brock University’s Environmental Sustainability Research Centre (ESRC), met for the inaugural Niagara Adapts workshop at Brock University. The morning began with presentations from Dr. Ryan Plummer and Dr. Jessica Blythe on climate change in Niagara. Next, each municipality gave a presentation on some of the climate change impacts previously experienced in their community as well as some of the actions taken so far. This portion of the day was especially interesting and valuable. It became apparent just how much we can learn from our neighbours. Throughout the entire workshop, there was a recognition of the novelty of the partnership, as well as an appreciation for the fact that we are more effective when we work collaboratively. “Why reinvent the wheel?”, as put by one workshop attendee.

    The second Niagara Adapts workshop, titled “Climate change impacts analysis”, was held on Friday, August 16th. We were joined by Dr. Brad May, a Canadian expert in climate change adaptation and risk assessment. It was a jam-packed, but very informative day. In the morning, we explored key climate change concepts, climate models, and climate change trends and projections (from global to local). Using a new tool (climatedata.ca), we accessed climate scenarios and recorded some projections for 2050 and 2100. Some of the findings were shocking. For example, under one high emissions scenario, it is projected that by the end of the century there could be up to 123 days per year above 30C (City of St. Catharines). That is more than one third of the year, with extreme heat days! In the afternoon, we identified potential climate change impacts and ran through a preliminary risk assessment exercise. Having members from a range of backgrounds (from engineering to environmental services) was exceptionally valuable, and enriched the brainstorming process.

    Most recently, on Wednesday, September 18th, the ESRC hosted the third Niagara Adapts workshop, called “Climate change vulnerability assessment”.  The workshop began with a lecture by Dr. Ryan Plummer, which was designed to provide an overview of the concepts of climate change vulnerability. Dr. Plummer also provided an introduction to climate vulnerability assessments, including how they can be implemented, the data that can be obtained, and the importance of such assessments to informing climate change adaptation actions. Following the lecture, we conducted a working session on ranking vulnerability indicators. This type of participatory approach is important for creating a context-specific vulnerability assessment.

    The outputs from all three workshops are essential components to begin the climate change adaptation process, and we are excited at all that we have learned about climate change in Niagara in such a short amount of time!

    To learn more about this exciting initiative please join us on November 27, 2019 at the official launch of Niagara Adapts at the Performing Arts Centre in St. Catharines – tickets are FREE!

     

    Categories: Blog, Collaborations, Environmental Stewardship Initiative, Innovative Partnership

  • SSHRC IDG: Brock University Partners with Niagara Parks Commission to Compare Environmental Stewardship Evaluation Methods

    Student Contributor: Seyi Obasi

    It’s no longer news that human actions are seriously affecting the ecological health of our environment. Humans have become such a powerful force on the earth that our choices can make or mar the future health of most, if not all ecosystems on the earth. However, despite being a power broker on the earth, we still depend on it’s environment for our wellbeing. This too, is no longer news. Because of our realization that we need to take care of the earth in order to assure the continued existence of both, the concept of environmental stewardship was born!

    Environmental stewardship includes all the choices and actions people make to care for and protect the environment in order to continue to enjoy it and make it sustainable for future generations. Such choices and actions include everything from individual actions like recycling, to community and organizational efforts to conserve and restore the environment. The number of environmental stewardship initiatives has been growing steadily, with several organizations, communities, groups and residents committing and engaging in stewardship initiatives and practices ranging from habitat restoration to reforestation projects and even to river restoration initiatives. The list is endless.

    But the important question is, are those stewardship initiatives working? Are they meeting the objectives for which they were implemented? Are there any changes that need to be made? These questions are hard to answer because although the number of environmental stewardship initiatives is growing, there are a range of reasons why it may not be possible to carefully and effectively evaluate the outcomes of these efforts after they have been implemented, especially using traditional expertise evaluation methods (e.g., access to financial or human resources).

    Evaluation is key in environmental stewardship, as it is the only way to know if the initiatives are working or not! In a bid to explore solutions to this issue, faculty from Brock ESRC in partnership with Niagara Parks received a SSHRC IDG award to investigate how alternative methods for evaluation such as using citizen scientists, stakeholders and remote sensing, compare with expert evaluation.

    The aim of the project is to compare field data evaluations about both the ecological health and the presence of two at-risk bird species (Bobolink and Eastern Meadowlark) at the Chippawa bird habitat grassland site and the Lilac garden site, two recent Niagara Parks stewardship initiatives in the Niagara Region. The evaluations from the expert, citizen scientists, stakeholders and remote sensing will be compared based on accuracy, cost, expertise requirement, and ease of data collection. It promises to be an exciting project.

    The data collection phase of the project was divided into four parts: First, the expert did his field evaluations, followed closely by the citizen scientists and then stakeholders consecutively. The final remote sensing component will be undertaken in the next few weeks. The project characterized stakeholders as people who use the sites or may have a vested interest in the sites (i.e., bird watchers, nature club members, etc.) but were not given further training specific to the project, whereas citizen scientists received resources and training specific to the sites/initiatives we are investigating.

    Data collection for the citizen scientists and stakeholder volunteers happened on two different days in the first week of July, just after the expert data collection. The project’s call for data collection volunteers received remarkable responses from residents of Niagara and members of different nature groups in Niagara. They showed such amazing enthusiasm to be involved, which was surprising given that they were expected to gather at the Niagara Parks office at 6am for data collection – yes, 6 AM! In addition to the volunteers for being ready bright and early, the researchers would also like to extend their gratitude to the Niagara Parks and their staff for their amazing support in recruiting volunteers, site preparation and support in other wonderful ways.

    On the collection day, both the citizen scientists and stakeholder volunteers were introduced to the project, expectations were clarified and questions answered at the Niagara Parks office. The citizen scientists received training and detailed manuals that had pictures of the vegetation and birds they were likely to find on both sites. And as the project team silently hoped that it would not rain, volunteers were excitedly driven to the sites to start data collection.

    The entire data collection process on both days was fun, engaging, exciting, educative and successful. At the Chippawa site, volunteers assessed the presence of the two at-risk bird species (as well as other bird species), while both vegetation and bird species were assessed at the Lilac garden site. Volunteers superbly engaged as they watched and listened to identify birds, and used sight and touch to identify the vegetation. They were deliberate and focused; they came with instruments and tools ranging from binoculars, powerful cameras and bird apps. There were even a few volunteers referring to hard copy vegetation and bird books! Added to that, friendships were struck and phone numbers were exchanged. It was so exciting and refreshing to see!

    And then there were ticks… or not. While the team came tick-prepared with protective suits and bug spray, there was hardly any tick drama, leading the whole team to breathe massive sighs of relief! 

    In addition to the satisfaction of contributing to an amazing project, one lucky volunteer from each group went home with a $500 gift card to Bass Pro Shops in a raffle draw done on the bus ride back from the research sites – another highlight of the day! All in all, it was a very successful, fun-filled two days of data collection. Now comes the fun part – analyzing the data!

    As environmental stewardship initiatives become increasingly important in Canada and worldwide, it is also important to explore a variety of methods to evaluate the success of these initiatives. The findings from this project will help decision-makers and stewards make informed decisions about appropriate, economical, and accurate methods for doing research.

     

    Categories: Blog, Environmental Stewardship Initiative, Innovative Partnership

  • Meet the Faculty of the ESRC: Dr. Ryan Plummer

    Blog Contributor: Kaitlin James

     

    Ryan Plummer

    Photo: Dr. Ryan Plummer, Professor and Director of the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre

    As the final instalment of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ryan Plummer, Director of the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre (ESRC) to learn more about his research, and role as the Director of the ESRC.  His multi-faceted program of research broadly concerns the governance of social-ecological systems. In striving to advance knowledge of collaboration and adaptation within complex systems, he has focused on exploring their theoretical underpinnings and ethical implications, modelling their processes, examining the roles of social capital, and investigating the influences of social learning. His multitude of publications in research journals such as Ecological Economics, Ecology and Society, Environmental Management and Frontiers in Ecology and Society to name a few, exemplify his scholarly quality of research, and vast amount of contributions to the field of sustainability science. It was a pleasure to interview him, and learn more about his research and role at the ESRC.

     Q1: What does your role as the Director of the ESRC look like?

    I feel privileged that colleagues put my name forward to serve as Director of the ESRC and made this recommendation to Dean Makus.  The nominal workload of a faculty member is adjusted with the role of Director to permit additional administrative responsibilities. Those administrative responsibilities include scheduling of courses, budgeting, overseeing staff and ensuring the operation of our Centre. I attend meetings and events as well as interact with governments, organizations and other institutions on behalf of the Centre.

    Q2: What are your research areas of focus? 

    My program of research broadly aims to advance environmental stewardship. I have three main areas of focus: resilience of social-ecological systems; management and governance of the environment (adaptive capacity; adaptive co-management; collaboration, learning, evaluation of outcomes); and, water resources management and governance.

    Q3: Why is your research important? What are some possible real-world applications? 

    While conventional approaches to management and governance had some noteworthy successes in the past, their limitations are increasingly apparent in the contemporary era (and future) characterized by complexity, uncertainty and contested/conflict values. We must figure out how to manage human behaviours and make decisions (individually and collectively) in this context with positive outcomes (social-ecological).

    I am energized by my research because of the breadth of applicability in terms of real-world applications. For example, my research on adaptive co-management – a strategy bringing together collaboration and adaptation for making decisions and taking actions about an aspect of the environment – has been applied in contexts such as biosphere reserves, climate change adaptation and risk-management rivers, small-scale fisheries, and sustainable tourism. The launch of the Excellence in Environmental Stewardship Initiative involving the Centre and the Niagara Parks Commission (NPC) in April of 2018 is an exciting local example. Here a team of faculty and students from our Centre are leveraging knowledge of stewardship in partnership with our NPC colleagues to address challenges and realize opportunities in an iconic Canadian landscape that is ecologically significant and under considerable pressures.

    Q4: What does sustainability science mean to you and why is it important? 

    Sustainability science for me is a ‘different’ type of science. It is premised on an integrative perspective of humans and Nature, consistent with our contemporary understanding of how the world operates; takes a transdisciplinary and problem-solving approach; extends beyond the academy and embraces pluralism of knowledges and knowledge co-creation; emphasizes the need for collaboration; and, aspires to advance knowledge and action for sustainability – understood as an ongoing iterative process as opposed to an end state.

    Sustainability science is important to me because it recognizes the scholarship that has been done in the past and needs to be done in the future. It provides a rubric for individuals to situation their scholarship and legitimizes/encourages breaking with some past entrenched academic conventions. It is a different science – and an approach critically important to our society and planet.

    Categories: Blog, Environmental Stewardship Initiative, Faculty Contributor, Student Contributor

  • NPC holds public sessions to showcase environmental stewardship efforts

    Blog Contributors: Alicia Goddard & Samantha Witkowski

    NPC Stewardship Event

    Photo: Master of Sustainability students (left to right) Brooke Kapeller, Angela Mallette & Alicia Goddard.

    Have you heard? Brock University’s Environmental Sustainability Research Centre (ESRC) and the Niagara Parks Commission (NPC) have formed a partnership called the Excellence in Environmental Stewardship Initiative (EESI). On September 26th and 27th, the NPC held public information sessions to showcase environmental stewardship efforts in the Niagara Region, including the work of the EESI. The sessions proved to be a beneficial experience for graduate students involved in the EESI, and the public. Samantha Witkowski, a first-year student in the Masters of Sustainability program at the ESRC, said, “The experience was valuable for me as it was my first time meeting NPC staff, and my first public information session.  It was fascinating to see all the engagement taking place between collaborators and the public.”

    At the session, participants had the opportunity to learn about a variety of stewardship projects that are underway in the Niagara Region. For instance, the NPC has a two-year plan that aims to restore two kilometers of shoreline with native vegetation that will increase diversity while stabilizing the shoreline banks.  Alicia Goddard, another incoming graduate student with the Masters of Sustainability program stated, “I am impressed with the stewardship of the NPC. They are recycling hazardous trees that needed to be removed after they died from Emerald Ash Borer infestation by incorporating them into the Niagara River at select locations, increasing fish habitat.  That’s awesome!”

    Since the discovery of Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) beetle on NPC property in 2012, the park has lost a significant number of ash trees.  The park has responded by planting upwards of 20 different species of native trees, which will assist them in reaching their goal of having 75% of the species found in the park returned to the native condition.

    Another unique project began in 2004 when NPC partnered with Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program. Since that time, six hectares of turf grass on the Niagara Parks’ Legends on the Golf Complex is now returned to a more naturalized state.  An additional four hectares of previous agriculture fields are reforested.  The chemical use continues to be reduced, and water consumption by the golf course has significantly reduced, with 14 hectares removed from irrigation and annual upgrades occurring on the remaining infrastructure.  The Ussher’s Creek habitat is also improving with the addition of nest boxes and monitoring of water quality underway.  The golf course is now a certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.

    Meanwhile at the Chippawa Grassland Bird Habitat management plans call for enhancing the existing grasslands by ensuring a variety of mixed native grasses that will not only increase habitat for grassland birds but other species including native pollinators, reptiles, and amphibians.

    In addition to these NPC-driven projects, the work of the joint partnership between the NPC and the ESRC was on display. ESRC students and faculty have been assisting the NPC with the development of a ten-year Environmental Stewardship Plan.  The ESRC has conducted an inventory of past stewardship projects allowing the NPC and partners to look back so informed discussions and decisions can be made within a common framework.  This framework has allowed for focus groups to meet and develop stewardship goals and objectives. Check out an interactive map of past and ongoing stewardship efforts.

    Additionally, 2nd year ESRC Master’s student Angela Mallette is currently studying how the public views the natural health of the Niagara Glen Nature Reserve, as compared to scientific data in the same area. Concurrently, 2nd year ESRC Master’s student Brooke Kapeller is investigating how the various parts of stewardship across the Niagara Region relate to positive outcomes and success.  As you can see, the EESI partnership between has many benefits, including giving graduate students the opportunity for hands-on work experience and unique research opportunities that further enhance the partnership.

    As the NPC works hard at preserving the Niagara Region corridor from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario we hope that you check out their projects and, if you have any suggestions or would like more information, reach out to them!  The initiatives underway will make up NPC plans from 2019 and beyond.

     

    Categories: Blog, Environmental Stewardship Initiative, Experiential Education, SSAS Student Contributor

  • Focus Group with Niagara Parks Commission

    On July 25th, members from the ESRC headed to the beautiful and historic Oak Hall in Niagara Falls for a focus group with key representatives from the Niagara Parks Commission. This productive meeting focused on developing our shared vision for environmental stewardship going forward. The development of this vision is one of the many expected outputs of the exciting new Excellence in Environmental Stewardship partnership between the ESRC and Niagara Parks.

    Photo Credit: Brooke Kapeller

    Categories: Applied Research, Blog, Environmental Stewardship Initiative, Innovative Partnership

  • Exploring the Niagara Glen Nature Reserve

    Blog Contributor: Angela Mallette

    Last week, myself and some fellow SSAS students that are still in the area for their co-ops/research, headed to the Niagara Glen Nature Reserve for a hike. My thesis research will be taking place in the Niagara Glen this coming summer, and we had met to go on a hike through a part of the Glen I hadn’t been to yet. Our hike had a productive purpose as well – I needed people to pilot my survey after hiking the trails. It was late in the afternoon, so the Glen wasn’t overly busy. We made our way down Eddy trail and then to Whirlpool trail, along the water and then up the Whirlpool staircase.

    The Niagara Glen is a hidden gem of the Niagara area. Despite living in the GTA my whole life, and visiting Niagara Falls almost annually, I had never even heard of it until this past year. The section of the river that runs along the Glen has bright turquoise-blue waters and intense rapids that are classified as class V rapids on a scale of 1-6. The whirlpool just upriver is class VI. Aside from the amazing sights of the river, I was also very excited to learn about the geology of the Glen (if you like fossils, potholes, or rocks in general, definitely go and check it out). Or, if you prefer plants, the Glen has hundreds of species, some of them rare or even unique to the Glen. If you prefer history, aside from evidence of a fascinating geological history, there is also a century old cobblestone path built when a railway used to run along the river about 100 years ago.

    The Glen is a site that is so unique geologically, ecologically, and historically. As I learn more about it, I’ve come to realize the significance of this site for my research. It is a significant and sensitive ecosystem but is also subject to hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. It is a perfect case study for sustainable ecotourism and its challenges. I am looking forward to beginning my research in the upcoming weeks and spending more time at the Glen. Thanks to Ben, Zach, Brooke, and Branden for coming out for an awesome hike and to pilot my survey!

    Categories: Applied Research, Blog, Environmental Stewardship Initiative, Innovative Partnership, SSAS Student Contributor