Saturday, August 9, 2014

Leaving Neverland, searching for Narnia

I admit it. 

I fell off the blog train somewhere past the second star to the left. But it's time to grow up and fulfill my duty to the REU blog page. Now that the summer is over, I view this blog as my super informal conclusion that has nothing to do with my research and everything to do with what I learned. In it, you will find a bunch of nonsensical nonsense... or infinite wisdom (depends how much alcohol you consume and how long you sit and stare at it). 

May you find enlightenment. :)

BMPs and BFFs

This summer, I surveyed Wisconsin farmers to understand trends in BMP adoption by capturing the economic landscape of Wisconsin farms. Best Management Practices (BMPs) are ecologically sensitive alternatives to conventional farming practices. Soil loss and declining soil health are of heightening concern to Wisconsin farmers, policymakers, and citizens as these issues can be detrimental to profits and yields and can damage water quality through sedimentation and nutrient loading. BMPs can mitigate soil loss, but their effectiveness is still debated.

Friday, August 8, 2014

"We're pretty good at doing stuff"

I tutor Sociology at Colorado State University, and the question I receive most frequently from my forlorn students is "uuuhhhhh, why does Sociology even matter?" This has become my favorite question, because the answer is simpler than you would expect...

Empty nest feeling

I've put off writing my mentoring blog post because every time I start thinking about the students I've mentored over the years (and especially those from this summer) I get too choked up to keep writing.  It's hard being a mentor, for me, mostly because if you do a good job then these students who you've watched grow and learn and mature and who you're so proud of go off into the big world and don't need you anymore.  Which is both really sad and really happy for me.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

We tax for baseball?

I spent my summer surveying citizens in and around Menomonie and faculty, staff, and students at UW-Stout. The goal: to find out how much the community values a cleaner Lake Menomin and which cleanup policies they would be most supportive of.

I asked people whether or not they’d be willing to support three different payment mechanisms that would fund a lake cleanup—an additional 0.1% sales tax, a $10 monthly water bill addition, and a $120 annual property tax addition.  

I found that, by far, the greatest support is for an additional 0.1% sales tax. In my sample, almost 90% said they would pay the sales tax if it cleaned the lake for the whole summer (67% if it cleaned the lake for an additional month of summer), while only about 50% supported both the water bill and the property tax additions.

What this means for policymakers is that if they need to implement some sort of tax to bring in revenue to fund a lake cleanup, they should choose a sales tax addition and not a water bill or property tax addition. If a 0.1% sales tax were put to a popular vote, it would pass with a substantial majority

Sales tax additions of 0.1% have worked in Wisconsin (think of Baseball Stadium District tax in Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Washington, and Waukesha countries), and the overwhelming support in my survey suggests it would work here as well. If people can get behind a tax to fund a baseball stadium, certainly they can get behind a tax to protect their health and livelihoods.

A 0.1% tax, or a mere $1 for every $1000 spent, sounds small. But when applied to the entire Dunn County, it could bring in close to $400,000 annually. Keep this tax for a few years, and the county will have generated over $1 million for lake cleanup efforts. I don’t know if $1 million is enough to clean Lake Menomin, and it may not even be a dent. But it’s a start, and with lake toxin levels at dangerous levels for human and animal health year-round, we need a start.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

An Ode to Menomin

Oh wondrous puddle of emerald hue
With thy phosphorus-tinctured waters.
The summer's day holds folks at bay
With a symphony of odors. 
Each season brings a cornucopia
A fetid, liquid plasma
Of vig'rous cyanobacteria
and accompanied miasma. 
Thy verdant shores drive away hordes
of visitors with playthings.
Olfactory hurdles and waves a-curdled
Diminish their sunbathing. 
What mysteries lie beneath your waves
Wrapped in an undulating viridian strand?
Can we comprehend your lacustrine ken
While perched upon the land? 
Measure and sample carefully
To frame thy nutrient cycles properly;
A claim of knowing might sound indulgent,
But eliminating the causes would make us effulgent. 
Oh wondrous puddle of emerald hue
Oh raucous, glaucus algae.
The summer's days we've worked away
To tease apart your quandary.