MESsages

The official blog of Evergreen's Graduate Program on the Environment

Good Food, People, and Cause: GRuB’s 9th annual Day of the Bed Event

By Ashlie Tainer, 1st Year MES Student.

It didn’t take long after moving to Olympia in the Fall of 2014 before a local non-profit called GRuB seemed to keep popping up in conversation. I originally heard of GRuB from my roommate, who was interning for them at the time. GRuB stands for Garden-Raised Bounty, and it’s their mission to inspire positive personal and community change by bringing people together around food and agriculture. They do this by partnering with youth and people with low-incomes to create empowering individual and community food solutions.  There are several arms of GRuB, such as their agriculture-based alternative education, employment, and drop-out prevention programs. GRuB also serves the community through their Kitchen Garden Project (KGP), Growing Veterans program, and Community Support Agriculture (CSA) share.

Dancing Photo

Jo Arlow Photography

One day, my roommate came home with a job description of an internship GRuB was hiring for. I was already looking for ways to get involved with their work and after a few weeks I became GRuB’s Event Coordinator Intern, specifically responsible for planning their annual spring fundraiser called the Day of the Bed.

My position was a part of the Kitchen Garden Project (KGP), which partners with organizations and low-income people to create backyard and neighborhood food solutions. We connect people with the sustainable food movement by providing access to the knowledge and resources needed to grow fresh, healthy, and culturally appropriate foods. Started in 1993 by Richard Doss and inspired by the Home Gardening Project in Portland, OR, the KGP has built over 2,500 free backyard and community gardens for low-income people throughout Puget Sound.

The work GRuB does in the community is large, although the budget we have to work with is small. My job was to plan the  9th annual Day of the Bed Event, where community members and organizations participate on volunteer teams to raise money to support the cost of up to two backyard kitchen gardens, and then build the gardens along side the families receiving them. Following the garden builds was our KGP Build Season Kick-off Party and Potluck, for which I invited GRuB’s new and alumni gardeners, their mentors and the neighbors to come and celebrate with our staff and volunteer build teams.

I spent the first three months of my six-month internship posting flyers, sending emails, making in-person contacts and giving presentations to advertise the Day of the Bed and the opportunity to support a backyard kitchen garden for a local family who identifies as low-income and is interested in growing their own healthy food. I had teams signing up all the way until the week before the event, and ended with 11 total. The teams consisted of volunteers ranging from a variety of local businesses and organizations, such as The Brotherhood Lounge, the East and Westside Food-Coops, West Olympia Rotary Club, Slow Food Greater Olympia, Washington Service Corps, Girl Scout Troop #45294, the Office of Assigned Counsel, YWCA, and the GRuB School Alum and Board.

Each team’s goal was to raise $1,000, which covers the material and building costs of two backyard kitchen gardens. During the weeks prior to the Day of the Bed, teams rallied by holding raffles, creating Go-Fund-Me accounts, and reaching out to friends and family. The Girl Scout troop I worked with were the most motivated and enthusiastic group of 10- and 11-year-olds I have encountered to this day, and pledged to meet their fundraising goal by holding a garage sale-car wash-bake sale-lemonade stand, all mixed into one event. Their energy was contagious and every team carried their attitude throughout their own fundraising efforts.

Girl Scout Team Photo

Girl Scouts at GRuB – Jo Arlow Photography

We expected to accommodate an average of 70 individuals throughout the event, and that meant we needed food and hydration for all of them. We received large amounts of in-kind donations and support from local restaurants and farms, such as the Blue Heron and San Francisco Street Bakeries, Bagel Brothers, Starbucks, The Fresh Approach, Sullivan’s Homestead, Rising River Farm, and Kirsop Farm.

Throughout the week of the 9th annual Day of the Bed, I drove our trusty dump truck, “The Beast,” around to all eleven build sites to drop off lumber, soil, and tools in preparation for the big event. Every new gardener received three 8×4 raised gardens beds, seeds, starts and GRuB’s growing guide.  The KGP is committed to a gardener’s success and also provides volunteer mentors and free access to GRuB’s extensive gardening workshop series for those interested.

After 6 months of planning, coordinating and playing in the dirt, the Day of the Bed was finally here. On Saturday, May 9th, the eleven volunteer teams arrived at 9am to turn in their total funds raised and enjoy a free breakfast, while mingling with their GRuB lead builders and fellow teams. The weather was the warmest it had been all year and the GRuB farm was buzzing with excitement. In true GRuB style, we started the event with a circle-up and activity to get everyone acquainted. We took team photos and a large group photo before sending the build teams off to their build sites with our traditional cheer, “Go, GRuB, Grow!”

Marks photo

Jo Arlow Photography

Each of the builds took an average of two hours, and other than a few bent nails and one bruised arm, everything went off without a hitch. All of the build teams paraded back to the farm when they were finished, and were greeted with a delicious potluck and live music from the local family band, Fiddlie-I-Ay. The event included homemade Kombucha from the Bucha Mama Boys and picnic tables adorned with flowers from GRuB’s farm, and concluded with partner square dancing on the grass field in the sun.

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Fiddlie-I-Ay ~ Jo Arlow Photography

Overall, GRuB’s 9th annual Day of the Bed was a huge success and 11 teams from our community built 11 Kitchen Garden Project gardens in a single morning. Together, the teams raised over $7,000 to cover to cost of up to 15 backyard kitchen gardens. We had successfully put the day to rest.

Photos and additional information on GRuB and ways to get involved can be found on their website http://goodgrub.org/ or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/GRuB.WA?fref=ts.

Combining Perspectives for Comprehensive Environmental Management

By Sean Greene, 2nd Year MES Student.

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Conference Program Cover

Running from April 15 to April 17, 2015, the joint annual conference between the Washington Chapter of The Wildlife Society and the Society of American Foresters offered me a unique opportunity to interact with and present my research to hundreds of my peers. In particular, it opened up a subset of scientists that my work as a biologist for Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) does not normally allow for overlap with, namely foresters. Prior to the start of the conference, on April 14, I attended a class taught by the organizers titled “Forestry for Biologists,” which did exactly what the billing might suggest, namely instructing wildlife biologists on the basics of forestry management. Topics included: dendrochronology, the study of annual rings in trees; how to determine total merchantable board feet from a tree using only a diameter at breast-height and height measurement combined with tree species; the importance of snags, or standing dead trees, to local ecology; and much more.

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Dr. Jerry Franklin & Bill Richardson

A few conference topics stood out in particular both for their challenging of current paradigms and the intense debate that was sparked as a result. The first of these began with a presentation by Dr. Jerry Franklin, considered by many to be the “old growth guru” of the Pacific Northwest. Dr. Franklin has built a long, distinguished career touting the importance of preserving old growth forests from harvesting due to their vital role as habitat for a number of vulnerable species. In his presentation at this conference, however, he took the opportunity to defend early seral (succession) stage forests instead. Dr. Franklin stated unequivocally that these “young” forests were absolutely essential to maintaining species richness and biomass levels in the Pacific Northwest, but are being eliminated by overzealous logging efforts that leave behind nothing more than wide swathes of brush. These thoughts were echoed by Bill Richardson of The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, who spoke to the plight of elk populations that are being deprived of their preferred early seral stage forests by over logging, significantly impacting population levels. These perspectives are especially valuable in the Pacific Northwest where old growth forests are held on a pedestal, almost to the exclusion of all other seral stages.

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Dr. Lowell Diller & Harvested Barred Owl

The second presentation that drew my notice, and a fair bit of discourse among attendees, was a presentation by Dr. Lowell Diller, a biological consultant, discussing how to support Spotted Owl populations through the culling of Barred Owls. Dr. Diller discussed his experimental design for a series of cullings of Barred Owls, a bird native to the Eastern US that has progressively out-competed Spotted Owls, a species listed as threatened by the Endangered Species Act, for habitat. Any collection of biologists is obviously going to be uncomfortable with the notion of killing one animal to benefit another, but Dr. Diller gave a solid, measured argument for why his method was the best available to protect biodiversity. In the interests of making as little disturbance as possible, Dr. Diller uses a silenced shotgun to minimize noise pollution, fake owl mannequins and electronic hoots to mimic the targeted species, and takes special care to take down both individuals in a nesting pair so the remaining owls don’t suffer through the loss of a mate or learn to avoid future culling efforts. A number of tests and measurements are taken for each harvested Barred Owl and the skins are preserved and donated to museums or universities, so every effort has been made by Dr. Diller to ensure that this admittedly uncomfortable management method is as scientific as possible.

Finally, my presentation covered the use of several GIS (Geographic Information System) tools named Kernel Density and Hot Spot Analysis in order to track deer populations statewide through WSDOT’s Wildlife Carcass Removal Database. This was a project that I helped 2014 MES graduate Stacey Plumley with both in my role as a MES student and an intern with WSDOT. My presentation seemed well-received and there proved to be a fair bit of interest with our results, especially with a Montana graduate student studying deer populations on Whidbey Island and a Deer Researcher with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. This conference was an invaluable opportunity for me to hone my presentation skills and expand my educational horizons beyond my particular area of focus by gathering the perspectives of people from a variety of disciplines and states.

Looking back at CONFORWest 2015

By Rhianna Hruska, MES Communications Assistant & 1st Year MES Student.

As a newcomer to Washington State, I had only heard of the beauty of the San Juan Islands, but had yet to explore the islands myself.  So when the opportunity to attend CONFORWest 2015 arose, I knew I had to go.  CONFORWest is an interdisciplinary forestry and environmental studies conference for graduate students. The 2015 conference was held at the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories from February 5-8th, 2015.  Though the forecast predicted intimidating storms, once we arrived the weather was consistently pleasant for the entirety of our stay.  We took a ferry from Anacortes, WA to Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, and I got to meet a few of the conference attendees on the ferry ride over.  The town of Friday Harbor was easy to navigate and included local coffeeshops, bookstores, a whale museum, and seafood restaurants.  It was a convenient twenty minute walk between UW’s Friday Harbor Labs and the town itself.

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Whale Museum at Friday Harbor

I was blown away by the variety of presentations given at the conference.  One student from the University of British Columbia had collaborated with a video game company to create a fun and interactive game for elementary students to better understand how mycorrhizae impact their environment.  Another student from the University of Montana was studying the levels of stress experienced by deer due to airplane traffic in the region.  A Masters student from Simon Fraser University did qualitative research on environmental behaviors and perceptions in Canada.  A 2nd year MES student presented their research with the Washington State Department of Transportation that included data on deer populations from the Wildlife Carcass Removal Database.  I presented on ant species in Northern California and the presence of native and invasive species.  The eclectic mix of presentations and posters allowed me to learn more about topics in Environmental Studies and to pick up techniques from being exposed to other graduate students’ experimental designs.  I also enjoyed getting to know MES 2nd/3rd years that I had not met through elective classes.

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 1.57.41 PMThe keynote speakers were also inspiring and had incredible research stories to tell.  The first keynote speaker was Pema Kitaeff, who works for the University of Washington, Friday Harbor Laboratories.  Pema spoke about what it is like to be a part of a research diving team at McMurdo Station in Antarctica.  The divers were collecting data on nudibranch species.  The talk included photos from Pema’s six weeks at McMurdo and we had a chance to ask many questions about what life was like conducting research at McMurdo.

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 1.57.35 PMThe second keynote speaker was Constance Sullivan.  Constance manages the Ocean Acidification Environmental Laboratory (OACEL) at the University of Washington, Friday Harbor Laboratories.  Conference attendees were able to tour the OACEL before the talk.  Constance talked about the importance of ocean acidification research and its impact on the health of the environment in the Puget Sound.  Summer classes are available at Friday Harbor Labs and the classes can potentially be applied for MES elective credit with the proper permission.

 

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 1.57.29 PMThe third keynote speaker was Professor Richard Bigley, who is a member of the MES adjunct faculty.  Richard Bigley is also a forest ecologist for the Washington Department of Natural Resources.  Richard’s talk was on the historical use of resources in Cuba and the global events that influence their economy.  Professor Richard Bigley and Professor Dina Roberts will be leading an MES elective, Tropical Ecology, in Winter Quarter 2016 that includes a two week field trip to Costa Rica.

CONFORWest 2016 is looking for a core group of dedicated graduate students from any university to plan the conference.  Incoming MES students are welcome to be on the board.  The graduate students who are a part of the board will receive free admission to the conference and valuable planning skills to add to their resumes.  Though other positions can be created depending on a member’s skill set, here are some positions that the board will be needing: funding coordinator, treasurer, secretary, web page manager, activities planner, academic coordinator, and social media planner.  CONFORWest 2015’s planning committee consisted of several MES 2nd/3rd year students, an Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies Ph.D. student from the University of British Columbia, Okanagan, and a graduate student from the University of Alberta.

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Jakle’s Lagoon, San Juan Island

All of the photographs used in this post and more information on CONFORWest 2015 can be found at conforwest.com.  If you are interested on being on the board to plan CONFORWest 2016 or have any other questions, please feel free to email me at hruskar@evergreen.edu.

 

Olympia, Washington: Here I Come!

By Stephen D’Annibale, MES Admit Fall 2015.  

After having graduated with a degree in Geography from San Diego State University and having worked several years in the natural resource management field, I decided to advance my career and pursue a graduate degree in Environmental Studies. I learned about The Evergreen State College through a friend, researched MES, applied, and I am pleased to say that I have been admitted to the Fall 2015 cohort!

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Dr. Kathy Wolf speaking at the 2015 Rachel Carson Forum. Photo credit: Kennedy Krossen, MES 1st Year

Last week, for the first time ever, I traveled to Washington from California, then bussed to Olympia to attend the MES Admitted Student Afternoon and the MES 30th Anniversary Celebration. The admitted student afternoon was very informative, and I learned a lot about the abundance of opportunities that the program has to offer. Several students spoke about the diverse collection of projects that they were involved with, such as the Sustainability in Prisons Project. There was also an alumni panel, where a handful of graduates from the past years spoke about the variety of careers that they had been involved in since they graduated. After the evening ended, we attended the Rachel Carson Forum where we saw two interesting and inspiring presentations. The first was delivered by Gail O’Sullivan and Karen Nelson. These two brilliant women founded and now manage The Commons community garden/sustainable green space, as well as the Fertile Ground Guesthouse in Olympia. The second half of the forum was presented by Dr. Kathy Wolf from the University of Washington, who taught us about urban ecology and natural resource stewardship.

The following day, a small group of newly accepted MES students, alumni, and I went on a tour around campus. We passed through the organic farm first, where we learned all about the aquaponics greenhouse, the crops, and the cute goats. I was very impressed with the farm, and the staff were very knowledgeable and passionate about their work. Afterwards, we went for a walk through the forest, checked out the pretty beach, had a delicious dinner downtown, and enjoyed Olympia’s annual Spring Arts Walk and luminary procession (a part of the annual Procession of the Species).

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MES alum Drissia Ras at the MES 30th Celebration Brunch. Photo credit: Kennedy Krossen, MES 1st Year

Saturday was the MES 30th Anniversary celebration. In the morning, we ate a delicious breakfast while hearing from current and past faculty, program directors, and alumni. It was fascinating to see that the alumni have come from all over the world and to hear about the diversity of careers that they had developed. After seeing so many people having wonderful experiences both during and after their MES program, and after having explored the beautiful campus and the charming town of Olympia, it has been no trouble for me to accept my admittance into the program. I’m very excited to begin my graduate studies in the fall, and I am happy to start a new chapter of my life in Olympia.

Presenting at a Climate Change Conference: A story of opportunity, sacrifice, and unexpected collaborations

By Danae Presler, 1st Year MES student and Sara Ann Bilezikian Fellow.

danae

How I looked…………..& How I felt!

The student worker at the information desk hollers out “Last call for printing, closing up shop in 10 minutes.” It’s 11:50 PM on a Wednesday night and I’m huddled over a monitor, angrily fidgeting with a chart that does not want to fit on one page. It’s me versus Apple’s weird version of Word in a race against time. This chart is the last page of the last report I need to print off. The heaps of already printed reports are sprawled out to my right and left, overtaking neighboring workspaces that were abandoned hours ago. I settle for a smaller font than I should and hit print. Then it’s a quick sprint to my bike, a 4.5 mile ride home, and 15 steps to my bed where I promptly collapse after a long and frantic day. I set the alarm for 5:00 AM, turn out the light, and make a mental list of what remains to be done in the morning. In a few hours, I’ll be on my way to Canada to give my first presentation at an academic conference.

For the past year and a half I have been working with Ned Crosby, a political scientist, and Larry Pennings, a professional moderator, in researching, designing, and testing methods of discussing climate change and climate policies that might allow diverse groups of people to find common ground on the issue. A method that accomplishes this would be useful in many contexts, however, we have the U.S. Congress in mind. Currently, Congress is gridlocked on the issue of climate change, but does it have to be this way? We don’t think so.

Our research suggests that framing the issue of climate change from a risk management perspective can potentially bypass political headbutting that has characterized so many efforts to date, and enable people to find common ground without requiring agreement on all the scientific claims. So far, we’ve conducted four small-scale studies with groups of citizens who were chosen to roughly represent the views of the American public on climate change (in other words, people who don’t agree on the issue). Each study taught us important lessons about what works well and what doesn’t. I was heading to the International Conference on Climate Change: Impacts and Responses in Vancouver, B.C. to share our findings with academics and professionals from around the world and search for collaborators.

Several weeks before the conference I received a much anticipated email– my proposal to present at the poster session was accepted! Then, for reasons I still do not entirely understand, a week before the conference they signed me up to give a 20-minute talk instead. This was a big deal in my book. I would be sharing the stage with an experienced research team from the U.K. and a doctoral candidate from Iceland. At first, I was ecstatic. The words ‘professional development’ and ‘resume building’ played in my mind. However, when my alarm went off at 5:00 AM on Thursday morning most of those good feelings had been replaced with ill feelings of unpreparedness.

Thankfully, I had seven hours on three buses between Olympia and Canada to get my slideshow in order, whip together an elevator speech, and figure out how to make a website to house electronic versions of the reports I brought with me. Admittedly, I slept for half of the trip and had to spend my free time in the evenings and mornings finishing things up. Just after lunch on Friday, my friend and MES classmate Madeline Goodwin showed up and offered advice, moral support, and some much needed comic relief.

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Making friends at the bus stop

The conference itself was a mixed bag. The stats were impressive. We had representatives from 40 countries and from every continent but Antarctica! There were researchers from both social and natural sciences, officials from Canada, island nations, and elsewhere, citizens representing NGOs from all over the place, and the halls were teeming with graduate scholars. For a compulsive networker like me, it was paradise! Yet, it was not as inclusive or interdisciplinary as I was expecting. There was a heavy emphasis on Canada and the U.S. and not enough insight into situations in developing nations or social justice and indigenous perspectives, in my opinion. Additionally, while the conference was advertised as interdisciplinary, for the most part it was a hodge podge of disciplines; lacking the crucial integration that transcends projects from multidisciplinary to interdisciplinary. With a couple of worthy exceptions, the vast majority of presentations were very specific and tightly focused on a particular region, species, policy, or program, which was typically examined from only one discipline or field of study. Presentations were lumped into themes, often with natural and social scientists presenting one after the other, but because of the specialization of projects and little or no communication between speakers, the presentations were still quite disjointed. Yet, overall I was impressed with the breadth and depth of topics and was delighted to be a part of it.

What about those reports I was frantically working on into the wee hours of the night, you ask? Nobody read them. Not a single soul so much as skimmed them. It was a little disheartening to think of all the time I had spent putting them together, when I could have been climbing Mount Rainier or lounging on a beach in Key West (okay, let’s be real, I would have been doing homework or sleeping). The day after the conference, I worked up the nerve to call my boss. The conference and my presentation went well, I told him, but I begrudgingly admitted that I didn’t get any real interest in our work. Got a few “that sounds like exciting work” or “I’m glad you’re looking into that,” but no one who wanted to pursue the project further. Or so I thought, until a few days ago.

Out of the blue I got an email from a woman who works for the Department of Agriculture in the Philippines who went to my presentation and looked over the reports online and would like to work with us to adapt our method for a project she is working on. Her vision is different than what we intended our project for. Rather than using it to get U.S. Congress to take action on climate change, she’d like to use it to promote long-term sustainable food practices in her country in the face of a changing climate. It’s too soon to tell where this road will take us, but one thing’s for certain: I wouldn’t be on it if I hadn’t stepped outside of my comfort zone in two critical ways. The first was to present at a conference, and the second was to teach myself how to create a website and upload PDFs, thereby making our work accessible to the masses. You can peruse the reports for yourself at https://sites.google.com/site/aclimatechangeproject/.

I would like to thank the MESA Professional Development Fund for granting me a scholarship to attend this conference. It has opened many doors for me, and may have even fostered collaboration across disciplines and nations. Stay tuned!

Why I’m attending the “30 Years of MES” events on April 25th

By Hugh O’Neill, MES Alum ’90.

Well, in three words: context, community and celebration.

Context: I think it can be helpful, at times, to revisit our own and hear others’ stories to see how we got to where we are today (and where we might be going).  The MES 30 event is an opportunity to take stock and remember why we chose to spend time in Olympia, at Evergreen, studying the important environmental issues and questions of our day.   I also want to honor our MES lineage and express gratitude for the founders and shepherds that created and nurtured the program for three decades.  The MES years were an important part of my history and helped to launch and sustain my life direction.

Community: With nearly 700 MES grads and dozens of program faculty and staff over the last 30 years, we have a built-in community of folks with a common foundation of environmental understandings and shared experiences.  The MES 30 events are an opportunity to meet and scheme with familiar classmates and new potential allies (we could even create something new).  I’m looking forward to:

  • Connecting with long-time friends and fellow alumni and staff of different backgrounds and ages;
  • Swapping stories about our interests and passions, successes and mistakes, life lessons and learnings; and
  • Exploring ways to support one another and nourish our networks and endeavors.

Celebration: It should be a blast!  There are plans for good food, fun music, great people and a festive atmosphere.  Let’s raise a glass to our shared accomplishments, reflect on where we have been, and hatch some plans to make the next 30 years even better.

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Hugh O’Neill in his frisbee-catching days.

See you there,

Hugh O’Neill (1984 cohort)

Who Needs the Taj Mahal When There’s Research to Do?

By Kathleen Saul, MES Core Faculty & MES ’09.

I have not seen the Taj Mahal.  I have not visited the Virupaksha Temple.  I have not yet been inspired by the softly flowing River Ganga or the stately Himalayas.  I have not ridden an elephant.  I have, however, become quite fond of the inexpensive three-wheeled auto-rickshaws that dart in and out of traffic in the cities of India.  I have wandered the hillsides near Mumbai being where hundreds of volunteers replant trees and native shrubs in an effort to combat the destruction of India’s forests and open spaces.   I have observed the rooftop solar thermal installations now mandatory in Thane.  I have marveled at the creative use of food waste from hotels and restaurants to provide heat and hot water at a local hospital.  I also have seen the anguish on the faces of farmers and villagers whose homes and lands would soon disappear behind the rising waters of the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada River.

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 10.46.06 AMI returned from my third trip to the state of Maharashtra on the western coast of India at the beginning of April.  My trips have focused on learning about the people of that region, their needs, the work they are doing to supplement the programs implemented by the government, and the many means being used to bring electricity and energy to the rich and the poor, the cities and the rural communities.  This most recent trip was devoted to learning about the impact of the proposed construction of the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project–the world’s largest nuclear power complex (six 1650 MW reactors)–on the people of the villages near the chosen site.  Although I could write endlessly about the technology and environmental issues associated with that proposed facility, I wanted to better understand its social implications.  What did people understand about the proposed facility?  How did they get that information?  What impact did they think it would have on their lives and livelihoods (if any)?

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Fishing as a livelihood

A friend, documentarian, and former employee of the Indian nuclear industry accompanied me on my trip.  He had arranged interviews and focus groups in the villages and served as translator when the participants did not or preferred not to speak in English.  I also engaged a local driver and car to get us from place to place on the narrow, often packed dirt, roads.  The air conditioned car was often a welcome escape from the temperatures that ran in mid-90s, with humidity about 90%.

I had been advised that many people in the area surrounding the plant site had not seen foreigners before and that some of the communities were 99% Muslim, with women dressed in black burkas even in the heat of the day.  I wore conservative Indian clothing (a kurta or salwar kameez) but still stood out due to my pale skin, blue eyes, and the fact that I was a head taller than most people.  The little kids stared and giggled nervously.   Taking their picture and showing them the image on the back of my camera did wonders for breaking the ice.

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Author Kathleen Saul with new friends.

While in the Jaitapur area, I stayed in an agro-tourism B & B.  The building was surrounded by mango trees as far as the eye could see.  Lucky for me, mango season started just as my visit came to a close and I did get to sample the most heavenly Alfonso mangoes I have ever tasted.  The B & B also had a garden from which they plucked the day’s vegetables—lots of fresh spinach, bitter gourds, and okra—served along with flat bread (potato paratha, dosa (made from fermented rice), roti, or chipati) and a variety of lentil dishes.  No meat at any meal, but I didn’t miss it!  The entire second floor of the building was an al fresco dining room with a long glass-topped table, plush chairs and an ornate chandelier, which was rather awkward since there were only two of us staying there at the time.

I learned that monkeys love mangoes.  We saw them perched in trees or sitting on roadside mile markers, sampling raw fruit.  I also had a close encounter of the monkey kind one afternoon when the dogs belonging to the B & B separated one monkey from a pack running through the mango grove.  The disoriented monkey tried to scale the wall of the kitchen, then came running across the porch, not two feet from where I had taken refuge behind a porch swing!   It then vaulted from a porch chair across a mud-brick wall and into the driveway beyond.

My encounters with people took place on beaches, in the fish market, in an empty schoolhouse classroom, standing next to the car, in the home of the local sarpanch (head of the village)—wherever and whenever convenient for those with whom I wished to speak.  I took copious notes.  I also recorded meetings with groups of people so I can learn more from the side conversations—information not captured in those notes.  I also observed.  I marveled at the empty beaches and lovely sunsets over the rocky coast.  I watched the fishermen ply their nets in the bay.  I watched them unload the day’s catch, basket load by basket load into waiting trucks.  I was astonished by how quickly the women at the fish market could sort those fish by species and sell them to waiting customers.  I observed the differences in the homes of those farmers who received a good sum of money for their lands and those who had no land to sell for the project.  I scanned the land deemed “barren” by the government but used by the locals for grazing cattle, or as a source of grass for fertilizing rice crops, or as a source of pea gravel which could be sold to construction companies.  I studied the faces of the people I met, trying to understand the emotion behind their words.  I took hundreds of photographs.  All those data will supplement my interview notes and technical information about the project provided by the various government agencies.

Maybe the next time I visit India I will see the Taj Mahal.  In the meantime, I have wonderful memories of the fascinating people I have met and the astonishingly beautiful place I have visited, far off the beaten tourist track.

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Kathleen in the midst of taking copious notes

 

Miniature Scientists Grow Up in San Jose

By Yonit Yogev, 1st Year MES Student.

I’ve heard it said that we all start out as little miniature scientists when we’re kids—exploring, wondering, inspired, and curious by how the world works.  While many people take that curiosity and run with it into adulthood, there’s a good part of it that remains in most people, even if they choose a totally different career path.

IMG_1254I was fortunate to be able to attend the first annual conference of the Citizen Science Association, called CitSci2015.  It preceded and was partly sponsored by the AAAS in San Jose in mid-February.  Citizen science holds a certain fascination for me, so I was excited to be able to attend the conference, learn more about citizen science from the inside, network with the many different folks who are involved with it, and contemplate my own place within its wide and open-armed world.

Citizen science, essentially the carrying out of scientific research with the aid of specially trained lay-people, is growing by leaps and bounds.  More and more agencies, universities, and organizations of all types and sizes are engaging interested citizens in data collection.  The issues and challenges  (primarily quality assurance and volunteer retention) are met with creativity, enthusiasm, and excitement.  The few remaining skeptics are increasingly going to be left behind, especially as innovative solutions to these problems are quickly found, shared, and implemented.  In a time of shrinking budgets, engaging citizens in scientific research makes sense, and can lead to a huge expansion in what scientists can actually achieve.

The conference brought about 600 people from all over the world.  The break-out sessions were divided such that each time period had break-out sessions on general themes which included:  Broadening engagement to foster diversity and inclusion, Best practices, Tackling grand challenges, Story presentations, digital opportunities, and Education and lifelong learning connections.  Some examples included Seventeen Years of Measuring Rain—Experiences from Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network; Creating a Welcoming, Inclusive, Diverse and Just Citizen Science Association; Adopt a Pixel:  How Innovative Mobile and Web-Mapping Technologies Are Empowering Local Communities and Transforming Chimpanzee Conservation in Africa; Monarch Citizen Science with Middle Schoolers:  A Graduate Student Perspective; Opening up the Zooniverse:  Building a Scalable Platform for Online Citizen Science.  Crowd-sourcing was a key concept heard throughout the conference.  For a two-day conference, there were so many options for sessions, it was difficult to decide which ones to attend!

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Mount Rainier National Park

My own interest in citizen science came about a couple of years ago when I began volunteering at Mount Rainier National Park, and stumbled upon a citizen science project that was recruiting for volunteers.  My husband and I have participated for two summers now, and intend to stay with it for as long as the study continues.  This particular research is looking at the phenology of ten species of sub-alpine wildflowers.  We hike a specific trail, our guide pamphlets in hand, which takes us up through about 2,000 ft of elevation.  Small quadrants of 1×1 meter are marked in nine places along the length of the hike, and at each point we mark which flowers are in which stages of their seasonal cycle.  This is done at least 2-3 times per day for the entire length of the season, from first snow-melt to last seed dispersal and first snow (in that micro-climate, the season is only about 6-8 weeks long)!  The researchers hope to learn more about the effects of climate change on the phenology of these flowers, as well as learn to predict the peak flowering.  This study is a good example of the types of research that are particularly conducive to using citizen scientists to assist in data collection.

In general, citizen scientists also may be observing animals, plants, or other natural phenomena, often in their own backyards.  Sometimes they help with data processing, using computer programs on their home or work computers.  They also may assist in public outreach activities.

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Wildflowers in Mount Rainier National Park

A deeper dimension of citizen science includes the concept of the “participation of non-scientists in decision-making about policy issues that have scientific or technological components.”  (Kristian H. Nielsen, Aarhus Uni, Denmark)

This aspect resonates with the political ecologist in me—I think increasing involvement of non-scientists in the creation and direction of scientific inquiry is basic to democracy, and is critical to keeping science and scientists ‘honest’ and working wholly and purely for the betterment of humankind.

If you’re interested in taking part in a citizen science project, there are many local ones, as well as numerous opportunities to take part in national studies.  Google Bioblitz, Nature’s Notebook, Zooniverse, Stream Team, Audubon, COASST, USGS, NPS, DFW, to list just a tiny sample of what’s out there.  Whether you participate as a citizen scientist or eventually as a scientist utilizing citizen scientists, this is an up and coming area of research (three of the second-year MES students are doing their thesis on citizen science!) you need to know about—and hugely exciting for everyone involved.

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A Day at the Woodland Park Zoo

By Kristin Wilmes, 1st Year MES Student.

On an unusually warm Friday in March three students from the Wildlife Conservation and Policy class, professor Dina Roberts, my two-year-old and I met in a parking lot at the Evergreen campus and began the journey to the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. Throughout the winter term, Dina taught the class about wildlife conservation efforts and how wildlife science can be used to produce results for conservation projects. After working hard all term, a few of us from class decided to unwind by taking a field trip to the zoo and learning about conservation efforts the zoo is involved in. When I heard about this great opportunity to learn more about conservation in the field at such a fun place, I knew I couldn’t leave my two-year-old behind, so after talking to Dina, my son finally got to “come to class with mom.”

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The author’s son with a new friend

When we arrived at the Woodland Park Zoo, we met with Bobbi Miller, a field conservation coordinator. Before this field trip, I was not aware that zoos were involved with conservation efforts outside the zoo establishment. It was impressive to hear that Woodland Park Zoo has 40 different field projects in three main regions: Asia-Pacific, Africa, and of course the Pacific Northwest. In 2014, the zoo invested around $1.5 million dollars on these field projects. The one thing that impressed me was when Bobbi told us how their conservation efforts aim to preserve regions for animals and work with local communities in these regions to improve the locals’ livelihoods. The field projects strive to create “living landscapes” that consist of human use areas and protected natural areas in the same region. It is good to hear that these projects are taking into consideration the growing global population and working to create healthy ecosystems in which animals and humans can thrive together.

One project that caught my interest is located in the Yopno Urawa Som (YUS) forests of Papua New Guinea. Woodland Park Zoo’s Tree Kangaroo program in this region is not only helping to protect the habitat that the endangered Matschie tree kangaroo relies on; the zoo is also working with locals to grow coffee in the region. They have teamed up with Café Vita and local YUS farmers to grow coffee on small, sustainable plots in the region. This coffee can be found at our local Café Vita coffee shop. The sale of these coffee beans allows the indigenous people of the YUS forest region to afford school for the children and healthcare for everyone, while at the same time protecting more than 180,000 acres of this region for endangered species. This is the first coffee you can drink from this region because the area is so remote and there was previously no infrastructure to allow the locals to sell coffee beans. People from Café Vita traveled to this remote region to help train the local farmers on coffee cultivation techniques. It is moving to see local organizations and companies working to help people and animals in other regions of the world create sustainable livelihoods.

parkThe zoo has many other projects as well as the Tree Kangaroo Program. In the Asia-Pacific region, the zoo has programs that work to protect habitat for cranes, hornbills, elephants, orangutans, and tigers. They have a program in Central Asia working to protect snow leopards, and two programs in Africa, one project working to protect elephants and one working with gorillas. The zoo has most of its conservation projects located in the Pacific Northwest with emphasis on Washington. These local programs are working to protect northwest carnivores, the Oregon silverspot butterfly, swallows, Oregon spotted frogs, raptors, and pond turtles. The Oregon spotted frog project works with the Cedar Creek Correction Center to raise frogs, and a few MES students are involved in this project through the Sustainability in Prisons Project. Of course, these are not the only species that are being protected by these efforts. These animals are flagship species, which means they are charismatic species that conservationists use to raise money, educate the public, and protect habitat. This conservation work helps protect other wildlife that is in the same region through the protection of the flagship species.

zooAfter talking to Bobbi Miller and learning about the conservation work the Woodland Zoo employs in the field, our small group got the chance to roam the zoo and enjoy the animals. The cutest part of the day was watching the three baby tigers playing together. We also saw giraffes, hippos, elephants, and bears. The snakes turned out to be a big hit with my son and he came out of the trip with a new stuffed snake friend. Watching a child’s reaction to these incredible animals makes one understand how important these diverse conservation projects are. I was able to see his eyes light up with excitement every time we came to a new animal exhibit. It shows me that zoos are not only a way for us to see these remarkable animals. When the zoo goes above and beyond to do conservation work in the field they are giving children today the chance to see these species thrive in the wild tomorrow.

Sustainability… in Prison?

By Tiffany Webb, 2nd Year MES Student and MES Ambassador.

I don’t think I have ever encountered anyone with dreams and aspirations of working in a prison. I can certainly say I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I applied for an internship position with the Sustainability in Prisons Project in 2013. I was set on Evergreen’s Master of Environmental Studies degree, but wasn’t quite sure where my professional life was headed.

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Nature Drawing Workshop at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Dr. Carri LeRoy, SPP Co-Director and Evergreen Faculty.

Moving from Alabama to Washington State was a huge step, but I was excited and ready. I had just finished my B.S. in earth system science from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, completed a grant-funded sustainability project, and rounded out some climate vulnerability work I had been doing with the NASA DEVELOP National Program.

Now I was looking for exciting justice-oriented work in my new Olympia home, and SPP offered that. But I found myself questioning my place in prisons. How could I fundamentally disagree with a system, yet work within it? Even further, how can I apply “sustainability” to a system I don’t actually wish to sustain? These questions have been a driving force throughout my time with SPP. I have worked with the Sustainability in Prisons Project for nearly two years now, and have come to realize the importance of inside-out change makers. So often, those who want to make broad-scale cultural and systemic change clash with institutions of power, sometimes stifling the efficacy of their campaigns. SPP has taken a unique approach by forming a long-term partnership with such an institution, while simultaneously initiating programs that benefit those who are currently incarcerated. From organic gardens to inmate-led environmental classrooms, the SPP model has been integrated widely in WA prisons over the past 10 years. This has inspired changes within individual prison facilities and more broadly across the entire department of corrections—SPP now has a national network!

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Talking with a few women after a lecture at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW). Photo by Lindsey Hamilton, SPP Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Coordinator.

SPP is also connected to Evergreen, which allows a bridge between higher education, students and faculty, prisons and staff, and prisoners. Through the partnership between Evergreen and Washington State corrections, I am not only able to learn about issues of mass incarceration and theories of prison reform within a classroom, but I am actually able to be part of providing resources and educational programs for incarcerated men and women. Inmates constantly express interest in environmental resources and information for how to be part of the green economy once they are released, and it has been eye-opening to try and meet their needs. This is a population and perspective that many environmental organizations tend to neglect and I have witnessed the importance of these incarcerated individuals within the broader environmental discussion.

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Presenting one of the first rounds of certificates to inmates who regularly attend the lecture series. Photo by Joslyn Trivett, SPP Network Manager.

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Presenting at SCCC. Photo by John Dominoski, DOC Staff at SCCC.

Working with corrections staff, prisoners, and environmental community organizations has broadened my understanding of environmental justice— just how many populations are we leaving out of environmental initiatives? This position has inspired me to speak out as an ally for incarcerated individuals and to further advocate for prison reform, both from an environmental and social justice lens. I plan to stay involved with SPP and volunteer with other organizations working inside prisons, with ex-felons, as well as tackling prison policy and other issues in the criminal justice system. While this endeavor has presented a plethora of professional opportunities, the most important thing it has offered me is the experience of meaningful work with people who have a diverse range of perspectives and interests. This is an experience I will carry with me far beyond my time at Evergreen and with SPP.

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SPP program coordinators with the WCCW SPP Liaison after a virtual tour of sustainability programs.

I will be graduating this year, so I am sad to be leaving my position, but excited to know that a fresh mind will be joining the program. Leaving SPP also means losing connection with some of the most inspirational people I have met: prisoners who teach and facilitate environmental courses; people of color who empower themselves and fellow prisoners through amazing spoken word and art pieces about racism in America and the criminal justice system; and even corrections staff who are trying to make prison conditions better, dedicating what little spare time they have to supporting and furthering SPP programs. That doesn’t begin to cover the surprising range of inspiration I have felt in prisons; these memories and emotions will be with me no matter where my journey takes me next.

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Talking with a woman at WCCW before the lecture with Yoga Behind Bars. Photo by Lindsey Hamilton.

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The Evergreen State College
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