Environmental Stewardship Initiative

  • Elizabeth Hendriks’ Presentation and an Introduction to our Next Speaker, Adam Shoalts

    Blog Contributor: Savannah Stuart

    The Niagara Parks Commission and Brock University’s ESRC were thrilled to have Elizabeth Hendriks join us on October 21st to discuss connecting the land and water to regional climate change impact. Elizabeth is the Vice President of the WWF Canada’s freshwater program and led the release of the 2017 Watershed Reports. These reports were the first national assessment of the health and stressors of Canada’s freshwater. During her talk, Elizabeth highlighted that the reports do not include 100% of our freshwater systems, as we do not have data to report on all our freshwater resources and there is still much to be investigated within our freshwater systems. You can view the Great Lakes watershed reports on the WWF website to check in with different watersheds’ health and threats. Lake Ontario and the Niagara Peninsula currently have “fair” health, but also have very high levels of threat.

    Overall, Elizabeth said the watershed reports gave evidence of moderately healthy systems. This can give us hope for the future, but she also stated that we need to do better. She encouraged us to become involved in local initiatives to protect our freshwater systems. With the dual crisis of climate and biodiversity loss, freshwater highly impacts life on land, above water, and below water. Freshwater systems do not have the same level of protection and conservation that some land masses do, which could be a prominent issue in ensuring their health in the future. Additionally, freshwater systems are inextricably connected with ecosystem health and the ecosystem services that the land graciously provides

    Our next speaker in the series will bring with him a great sense of adventure! Named one of the “greatest living explorers” by CBC and Canadian Geographic, Adam Shoalts will speak about incredible adventures in the great Canadian wilderness. A previous student at Brock University, Adam went on to complete his master’s and PhD at McMaster University, focusing on history, natural history, geography, and archeology. Adam is now an accomplished author with multiple books that have reached best-seller lists. Adam will share with us the value of the wild places he has explored and how important they are to our future. We hope you can join us on October 28th at 7pm for this online session.

    To learn more about this speaker series, and Brock’s partnership with the Niagara Parks Commission, please click here.

     

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

  • Dr. Jessica Blythe’s presentation and an introduction to our next speaker, Elizabeth Hendriks

    Blog Contributor: Allison Clark 

    Niagara Parks and Brock University were delighted to have Dr. Jessica Blythe lead the second session of October’s Speaker Series. Dr. Blythe is an Assistant Professor at Brock University and her research is centered around transformations in sustainability, equitable ocean governance, and climate change adaptation. Dr. Blythe’s talk encouraged the audience to think critically about resilience and climate change at a local and global scale. Dr. Blythe explained that transformations towards a more sustainable future will require focus on both environmental systems and social systems. For example, the costs of environmental change are distributed unevenly across geographic location, race, income, class, and age. Therefore, resilience to climate change will require social and environmental action. 

    Dr. Blythe explained how transformation towards a more sustainable and equitable future occurs in three phases: diagnose, imagine, and action. The diagnose phase includes identifying the root causes of climate change, for example, increased greenhouse gas emissions. The imagine phase includes imagining a more just, fair, inclusive world, where people can work together towards an environmentally sustainable future. The action phase includes the actions needed to address climate change from a sustainable lens. Action will require people from every sector and every part of society and will involve both bottom up and top down interventions. The key take-away from Dr. Blythe’s talk was that a transformation – towards a more sustainable and equitable future – is already underway. Dr. Blythe concluded by stating that we each have a role to play in creating a more sustainable future and that while doing so, we must engage with compassion, care, and collaboration. 

    The next session in this speaker series will be led by Elizabeth Hendriks, and is titled: Connecting the Land, Water and Climate Impact to the Region. Ms. Hendriks is the Vice President of WWF Canada’s freshwater program, where she works in water policy. In 2017, Ms. Hendriks led the release of the Watershed Reports, which is a program assessing freshwater ecosystem health. Additionally, Ms. Hendrik’s leads Canada’s Freshwater team, working to address declines in freshwater ecosystems through innovative remediation techniques. In Ms. Hendrik’s talk, she will discuss impacts and threats to Canada’s freshwater resources. This talk will highlight some of the ways we, as citizens of Canada and the Niagara region, can help address and fight biodiversity loss and climate change across Canada, and in the Great Lakes. We hope you can join us on October 21st at 7pm for this online session. 

    To learn more about this speaker series, and Brock’s partnership with the Niagara Parks Commission, please click here 

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

  • NPC Stewardship Series: Teachings from Brian Kon, and an Introduction to Dr. Jessica Blythe

    Blog Contributor: Savannah Stuart

    Jessica Blythe

    The Environmental Sustainability Research Centre was thrilled to have our fall speaker series commence with Brian Kon, the chair of the Niagara Region Métis Council, renowned artist, and storyteller, among many other things. Brian offered the audience a change to engage with a different perspective of understanding and knowing the earth. He shared teachings and stories from his culture and explained how the translation of many words within the Métis language beautifully illustrate a deep connection with the earth. For example, “dancing” could be translated to “the Northern Lights”. 

    Brian also reminded us of the recent history of residential schools within Canada, the last one closing in 1996. He shared some of his journey in reconnecting with his culture- one that was taken away from many. Brian highlighted that it is important to educate on this history, as we can learn from the past to ensure a better future. Resources to further educate yourself on the discussed history include “Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Issues in Canada” by Chelsea Vowel and the “Indigenous Canada”- a free course available through the University of Alberta.  

    The evening ended with a call to action right in our very own backyards and neighbourhoods. Brian introduced us to different plants that are commonly found in our region and invited us to research further into the uses and characteristics of these plants. Having an awareness and understanding of the different organisms around us can have an impact on the way we relate to place and further, care for it.  

    The next speaker in the series is Dr. Jessica Blythe, a professor and researcher here at Brock University in the ESRC. Her background spans through disciplines as she connects social and ecological issues within her work. She is interested in resilience within communities and how resilience may relate to adaptation and transformation. Pulling from the grassroots film “Resilience: transforming our community”, Dr. Blythe will discuss resilience and climate change here in the Niagara Region.  Click here to register for the event!  

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

  • Introduction to the NPC Stewardship Speaker Series

    Blog Contributor: Allison Clark

      Brock University and the Niagara Parks Commission are pleased to announce the upcoming Environmental Speaker Series, happening this October. This series will be entirely free and will take place online, every Wednesday at 7pm. Throughout this series, four speakers will discuss topics such as: traditional ecological knowledge, sustainability, climate change, and anthropogenic impacts on the natural environment. To register, please click here. You will be taken to the Niagara Parks Speaker Series website, where you can enter your name and email to receive your weekly links for the live stream sessions. 

    The first speaker of this series will be Brian Kon. Mr. Kon is a leader within the Indigenous Community, acting as the Chair of the Niagara Region Métis Council and sitting on the Niagara Indigenous Community Advisory Board, focused on reducing homelessness of Indigenous people. Mr. Kon is an ambassador for the St. Catharines annual Celebration of Nations and is the owner of a diversity management consulting company (Sterling Frazer Associates), dedicated to helping organizations better understand disabled and minority populations. Currently, Mr. Kon is a member of the organizing committee for the Landscape of Nations, dedicated to re-writing the history of the War of 1812 through an Indigenous lens to be incorporated in Canadian school curriculums. Furthermore, Mr. Kon volunteers his time in local schools, helping to educate students and staff on Métis culture and heritage. Mr. Kon is also a visual artist, internationally recognized for his Dot Art, which is a modern version of traditional  artwork created by Métis people. 

    On Wednesday, October 7th, Mr. Kon will lead his talk titled: Mother Earth – We Need Her, She Doesn’t Need Us. Here, Mr. Kon will explain how, for thousands of years, the Indigenous people of Turtle Island followed the notion of respecting and caring for Mother Earth. As modern day people grow aware of environmental and climatic changes, many are looking back on traditional knowledge and ways of life. We hope you can join Mr. Kon as he discusses this topic next week. 

    To learn more about the partnership with the Niagara Parks Commission, please click here 

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

  • My Experience in the Master of Sustainability Program

    Bani Maini

    Blog Contributor: Bani Maini

    It is a daunting task to get up and leave the only way of life you’ve known to move to a new country. In my case, I left India to come to Brock and pursue sustainability science. I enrolled in the Master of Sustainability program in the MRP stream. The past eight months have been filled with academic and experiential engagement with sustainability and have exceeded all my expectations. Through classes, a research assistantship, and a Major Research Paper (MRP) project, I was able to explore my interests and develop my research skills. All the while I have been here, I have had tremendous support from the ESRC department.

    The Fall and Winter semesters included courses on foundations of sustainability, research methods, climate change transformation and adaptation, opportunities to learn project management skills, and engage with wonderful speakers and their work through transdisciplinary seminars. The breadth and depth of the academic courses introduced me to sustainability science in the most exciting way possible.

    As a graduate research assistant, I received constant support from Dr. Ryan Plummer and Amanda Smits in their research work. I had a great opportunity to work on an environmental stewardship project through Excellence in Environmental Stewardship Initiative (EESI) partnership between the Niagara Parks Commission (NPC) and Brock University. The project was supervised by Dr. Sherman Farhad, who has been a great mentor. Through additional support from Dr. Julia Baird and Dr. Plummer, the project has been a major learning experience which I thoroughly enjoyed.

    In the pursuit of studying marine environments, I was given the full opportunity to explore my research interests. Dr. Jessica Blythe, who is supervising my research, supported all the MRP development phases while also being a constant source of motivation for me. While working on my MRP on area-based conservation in marine environments, I have built on my knowledge, and my determination to address some of the most challenging problems that affect the oceans has grown deeper.

    Despite how daunting it was, the ESRC provided the support and opportunity I needed to assimilate myself into a new environment. It has been inspiring to see everyone at the ESRC working tirelessly towards the common goal of betterment of the environment and society. This turned me into an optimist, and I have decided to follow their footsteps to work towards the common goal. Now, I look forward to developing my MRP research. ​

     

    Categories: Blog, Environmental Stewardship Initiative, Program Reflections, SSAS Program, SSAS Student Contributor

  • Affirming Stewardship in Niagara Parks

    Blog Contributor: Bridget McGlynn

    This past week on March 12th, 2020, the Niagara Parks Commission (NPC) ratified the stewardship plan “Nurturing environmental stewardship in the Niagara Parks: Strategic plan 2020-2030”. The ratification of the stewardship plan at the recent Commission meeting marks another accomplishment for the Excellence in Environmental Stewardship Initiative (EESI), a 5-year partnership between the NPC and Brock University. The co-creation of the stewardship plan by NPC and Brock University’s Environmental Sustainability Research Centre (ESRC) began in April 2018 when the Memorandum of Understanding creating the EESI was signed. The goals and objectives in the 2020-2030 Stewardship Action Plan dovetail with the overarching NPC Strategic Plan. The stewardship action plan also incorporates operationalizing monitoring and evaluation strategies and will continue to push forward efforts for the co-creation and mobilization of knowledge.  

    At the commission meeting, both NPC’s Steve Barnhart, Senior Director, Parks, Environment & Culture, and the ESRC’s Dr. Ryan Plummer spoke to the ongoing success of the partnership. To date, the partnership has been invaluable for furthering quality environmental stewardship research and for closing the research to action gap. Multiple Master of Sustainability students have completed thesis research within the partnership and a SSHRC Insight Development Grant (Drs. Julia Baird, Marilyne Jollineau, Ryan Plummer) was secured to investigate approaches in monitoring and evaluating and the effectiveness of environmental stewardship initiatives in Niagara Parks. The partnership is committed to ensuring academic research is transformed into action, as demonstrated by the inaugural EESI partnership round table in Fall 2019, where Angela Mallette, a Master of Sustainability graduate, discussed her research findings with NPC staff and leadership. The partnership also seeks to broaden engagement with stewardship initiatives through continuing to enhance student learning through experiential education opportunities and increasing community participation and learning opportunities.  

    This commission meeting also included the signing Memorandum of Understanding between NPC, Brock University and Ontario Trails Council, demonstrating a continued commitment to innovative partnerships.  

    Categories: Collaborations, Environmental Stewardship Initiative, Innovative Partnership, SSAS Student Contributor

  • Student Research Highlight: Participation in Trail Monitoring & Evaluation

    Blog Contributor: Bridget McGlynn

    On March 5th Samantha Witkowski, a current Master of Sustainability student at Brock, led a workshop in partnership with the Niagara Parks Commission (NPC) to continue her research on participatory monitoring and evaluating processes. This workshop was made possible by the Excellence in Environmental Stewardship Initiative (EESI), a partnership between the NPC and Brock University. Hosted at the beautiful Niagara Glen Nature Centre, the workshop included a variety of stakeholders, such as community members, Niagara Parks staff, and ecology experts, who discussed management possibilities for the trails in the Niagara Glen. 

    The day began with coffee and a guided walk though trails in the Niagara Gorge for participants to enjoy and observe the trails prior to considering management practices. Our Niagara Parks guide spoke about the history of the Glen, current management practices, recent site improvements, and usage patterns. Upon completion of the hike, participants returned to the Nature Centre and the exciting discussions began! The Niagara Glen received an unprecedented number of visitors in Summer 2019, and as such much of the discussion revolved around ways in which Niagara Parks can manage the trails in the Niagara Glen while upholding their mandate of “Preserving and promoting the natural and cultural heritage along the Niagara River corridor”. Through their vision, Niagara Parks also aims to be an “innovative example of sustainability” and a “welcoming, accessible and inspiring place”. Consequently, brainstorming regarding management practices revolved around maintaining and improving current trail quality, encouraging visitor stewardship through education, and promoting alternative Niagara Parks trails. The varied backgrounds of the participants presented multiple perspectives on the current needs of the Glen, management priorities, and relevant key performance indicators. The workshop provided an excellent example of the transdisciplinary research being conducted at the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre (ESRC) as it brought together diverse stakeholders to address a local, solution-based research question.

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

  • Brock and Niagara Parks expand partnership to study trail network

    A partnership built on the mutual goal of environmental stewardship is taking another step forward.

    Two years after signing an initial Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), the Niagara Parks Commission and Brock University signed an additional collaboration agreement on Thursday, March 12 at Niagara Parks’ public Commission Meeting that will help the Parks assess and sustainably grow its extensive trail network.

    To be known as the Trails Assets and Tourism Initiative, the new partnership involves Brock and Niagara Parks, along with the Ontario Trails Council.

    Trails are an important natural asset of Niagara Parks. From the world-renowned Niagara Glen, which houses some of the province’s most sensitive plant and animal species, to the Niagara River Recreation Trail, which provides 53 kilometres of paved trails along the Niagara River from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Fort Erie, trail networks allow guests to connect with nature, learn about the unique environment here in Niagara and embrace healthy physical activities.

    “Over the past few years, we have seen a huge growth in trail use and demand for trail and cycle tourism in Niagara Parks,” said Niagara Parks Chair Sandie Bellows. “This initiative will allow us to work together with our community partners to respond to that growth and demand while respecting our shared commitment to the environment.”

    The agreement will include a needs assessment to help Niagara Parks with the trails master planning process, as well as experiential education opportunities for Brock students and initiatives led by Brock faculty members and grad students. Annual public events are also being planned to help pass along the results of the partnership to the community.

    Ontario Trails Council (OTC), a not-for-profit organization that promotes the development, preservation, management and use of recreational trails in Ontario, will bring its expertise in managing and operating recreational trails to the project.

    “The Ontario Trails Council is very excited to be working with the Niagara Parks Commission and Brock University, two national leaders in outdoor recreation and conservation,” said Wayne Terryberry, President of the Ontario Trails Council. “These organizations have a very successful history of cooperation, and the OTC can add it’s trail management expertise in a joint effort to enhance and develop the trail economy and healthy active living in Niagara Parks and the Niagara Peninsula.”

    The Trails Assets and Tourism Initiative builds on both the current MOU between Niagara Parks and Brock University, as well as the recent initiative to establish a binational trail network within the Niagara River corridor. In an MOU signed in August 2019, Niagara Parks joined the Niagara River Greenway Commission and the Buffalo Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority to officially connect the recreational trail networks on both sides of the border.

    This second MOU between Niagara Parks and Brock University is also part of Brock’s ongoing commitment to being a good community partner. In the past two years, it has signed similar collaborative agreements with Niagara Health, the Town of Lincoln, Community Care of St. Catharines and Thorold, Niagara Folk Arts, Pathstone Mental Health and others.

    Brock Vice-President, Academic Greg Finn said the partnerships meet Brock’s Strategic Plan priorities of expanding research capacity, offering a transformational academic experience for students and enhancing the life and vitality of the local region and beyond.

    “These collaborations are not just photo opportunities — they make a difference to people and the planet every day,” said Finn. “We are particularly pleased that Brock and Niagara Parks are working together in an area that is crucial to us all — the sustainability of our environment.”

    The 2018 MOU between Brock and Niagara Parks has been an unquestionable success, with highlights noted in the infographic attached to this media release.

    Known as the Excellence in Environmental Stewardship Initiative, the partnership has allowed Niagara Parks to access Brock researchers to further improve its sustainability and environmental stewardship goals, while giving Brock faculty and students an iconic landscape to actively engage in sustainability science.

    “We had high hopes when entering into the MOU with Niagara Parks two years ago and those expectations have continually been exceeded,” said Ryan Plummer, Director and Professor of the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre. “We’ve had a vibrant and engaging partnership with meaningful impacts for both parties. It is exciting to see this second collaboration taking shape with a broader constellation of partners and I have every confidence it will be equally successful.”


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    Categories: Collaborations, Environmental Stewardship Initiative, Innovative Partnership

  • 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