Environmental Stewardship Initiative

  • 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