Saturday, June 25, 2016

Base Building

The last few weeks have been a real rollercoaster of information. Considering that geography is a new aspect to the LAKES REU, we have been devoting a lot of our time to collecting a solid base of information on the watershed. We've also spent a good chunk of time gathering our toolbox of software and hardware. On top of that, we've also been digesting an assortment of readings on multidisciplinary approaches to geography, political ecology, and social networks.

Most of the contextual information has been gathered in a few large gulps. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Census Bureau have provided large amounts of raw data to make some base maps to work with; however, the story of the Red Cedar watershed is a little more complex than that. From a meet-and-greet in Chetek, I learned that tourism provides a large source of income for locals, and without good water quality this tourism will disappear, leaving towns like Chetek dry of a major source of income. I've also learned how to operate some mapping software that I was not familiar with before, which I hope will be useful as we continue our work.

From here, I would love to figure out the difference in views between between locals, and those that visit the Red Cedar. I think understanding this difference would be very beneficial in crafting policy. I hope to gain more insight into this difference by looking into past surveys, and by giving input on surveys being sent out from my fellows in the REU.


Friday, June 24, 2016

"Where the quality of life goes down for the environment, the quality of life goes down for humans." – George Holland

As we draw to the close of our second week here in Menomonie, I have come to realize that I have learned an immense amount in a very short period of time. Presenting in front of the other groups has made me realize how many new techniques I have been introduced to. It also made me realize  that I am extremely passionate about the economics project that we have jumped into. The more I learn about Menomonie and Chetek, the more I care. It’s not just a matter of cleaning a lake or delving into local politics. These lakes are the hearts and identities of these towns, and the survival of these economies and people relies largely on its maintenance. Further beyond that, I hope that the work we do here can be a case study for other areas. If we can find solutions here, in the most polluted and impaired of Wisconsin’s lakes, then the possibilities and ramifications of our projects to help other parts of the world are immense.

Metacognition for Mega Growth

Yesterday afternoon I took my seat in a classroom on the first floor of Harvey Hall.  Preparing for our mini-project presentations, I set up my laptop, glancing around the room.  It occurred to me that I was sharing a space with ten people who had been complete strangers just twelve days prior.  In less than two weeks, numerous awkward exchanges of pleasantries, group meals, and several brief explosions of academic excitement (geek-outs, if I may) transformed this collection of people into a group of friends and collaborators, eager to share their own work and provide critiques and suggestions to the work of others.


Academically I have learned a lot in the past couple weeks. To mention just the largest, I've learned about the mechanics of a hedonic price model, the theory behind contingent valuation, and a lot about data collection. Perhaps most interesting and valuable is the one that seems initially simplest—data collection.

I think it is easy to look at a dataset and not necessarily think about where the numbers come from. I don't mean not to think about the source of the data or the mechanics of how it is collected, rather it's easy to fail to consider the people, the attitudes, and the contexts that underlie any given data point. I've thought about this a lot recently for two reasons.

Partially because designing surveys forces you to consider the context behind the issue that you are interested in in a way that working with already formed data does not. In order to write a good question you really have to consider all the different people that might be answering it and all the different ways they could interpret the question. I think I will be able to get so much more from the data when we get it back because of all the consideration we put into designing the questions and everything we had to understand about the communities we are studying to design it effectively.

The other aspect of the REU that has been making me really think about the data points separately is the interdisciplinarity of the project. Presenting to different disciplines, and listening to the presentations of the other projects allowed me to consider which methods or concepts complement our economics projects. I think especially the data collected by the anthropology team could greatly inform the our results from our coming survey.

I am looking forward to learning more economic methods and continuing to learn new perspectives on economics research though working interdisciplinarily.

Detecting Best Management Practices Using Remote Sensing

As a member of the geography team, this summer ill be working on a remote sensing project to detect best management practices. This involves analyzing and interpreting satellite imagery to see if these practices contribute less to the phosphorus pollution than others. The first part of this project will consist of analyzing farmer surveys to see if these practices are spatially clustered. We will then do a unsupervised classification to see where else they are taking place. The second part involves learning about incentive programs that offer farmers payments in exchange for converting farmland to natural vegetation. We will then compare images of before and after these programs were implemented to see how much farmland has been converted.

I'm looking forward to learning more about how different farming practices contribute to pollution and also more about the models that estimate phosphorus load. I'm also looking forward to working with other to students to see how/if we can incorporate GIS into their projects.

Oral Histories of the Red Cedar Watershed

Now that we're a couple of weeks and a few conversations with local folks into the project, I can say that by the end of the summer I will have learned a lot about interview techniques, thorough transcribing, and efficient field note taking. But aside from the technical skills of this project, I will be learning a lot about the communities in the Red Cedar Watershed. For example, I'll be looking into how people have previously approached the lake health, the perceived causes of declining lake health, the relationships that people hold between themselves and the lake, and more. I'm excited to see how people answer these questions differently, and think I will be surprised by the emerging narrative.

As I begin investigating these aspects along with my peers, I want to look into the history of people's relationships with the Red Cedar Watershed, and especially narratives from Native People. I hope to get a fuller understanding of how the relationship between people and the lake has changed, and how our perceptions of our relationship have changed as well. In order to collect oral histories, we will coordinate interviews, engage in conversations with an open mind, and attend community meetings. I'm looking forward to learning more through connections to the people of the Red Cedar Watershed, both past and present.

Housing and Hedonic Models

As a member of the economics team, this summer I’m learning about multiple aspects of how the lakes affect Menomonie. First, we’re using a hedonic model to examine the housing in the Menomonie area. Our goal is to collect data on houses in Menomonie that are both on and off lakes Menomin and Tainter. Controlling for variables in the individual houses, such as number of bedrooms/bathrooms and number of square feet, the difference in price will show the value of having real estate on the lake. Additionally, we will look at properties on a cleaner lake in the Chetek area. After controlling for different housing variables, the difference in price will represent the value of having a cleaner lake. This has been a major focus of our research so far this summer. We’re also looking at the effect that having a cleaner lake has on the businesses in the area and individuals’ willingness to pay for a cleaner lake.

            While we have done a lot of organizing and data collection so far, I’m looking forward to learning more about the mathematics behind the models – particularly the hedonic pricing model. I’ve done some coursework with econometrics before, but I greatly look forward to being able to apply the knowledge to a real-world problem and see how to create a model that fits the situation. I’m also excited to learn more about how our economics research will interplay with the other groups, such as geography and sociology, by interacting with the other students and mentors throughout the summer.