Saturday, August 5, 2017

Trading Manure for Fertilizer May Improve Water Quality

       The water in Dunn County is green. We know nutrient runoff is a major contributor to the algal blooms that can be found in Lakes Menomin and Tainter, but how can we most effectively reduce the amount of these nutrients getting into our lakes and rivers?  

Friday, August 4, 2017

Water Quality's Impact on the Red Cedar Watershed Economy

Environmental sustainability has gotten a lot of attention in the last few years, and with it, has come even more controversy. Many will claim that protecting the environment hurts businesses and cuts jobs by making it more complicated to grow due to more regulations. However, my research (accompanied by Madison Biggs and Chris Ferguson) has proved otherwise. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Solutions in the Sediment

What if the solution to remediating the lake lies in viewing the problem as a potential solution? This summer I was so fortunate to be a part of a research team that looked at the Phosphorus loading situation with fresh eyes.

Harmful blooms of cyanobacteria occur annually in the anthropogenically eutrophic lakes across the Red Cedar Watershed. Toxic conditions produced by cyanobacteria threaten the health of both terrestrial and aquatic flora and fauna. Many efforts have been made to remediate the lake system however removing the phosphorus which causes the blooms proves to be a challenge. Not all bad though, Phosphorus is an essential plant macronutrient as it aides in the production of energy. This study proposed using phosphorus laden sediment which has been carried off of farm fields as a soil amendment.

What Does Soil and Water Quality Mean for the Economy?

                “Investments in environmental issues are job-killers!”
                “It’s going to hurt the economy!”
                These are common misconceptions about the effects of tackling water and soil quality issues. However, after researching this concept at University of Wisconsin – Stout for 8 weeks, Chris Ferguson Ph.D., Ryleigh Prochnow, and I discovered that improving the health of the environment can have a positive impact on the local economy.

Riparian Buffer Impact on Stream Health in the Wilson Annis Watershed, Dunn County, WI

As part of the geography team this summer with the LAKES REU program we wanted to find out what measures of stream health riparian buffers impacted most. A riparian buffer is a zone or strip of dense vegetation along a body of water, such as a stream or lake. This zone aids in preventing erosion and pollutants, via stream runoff, from entering the water. The area we chose to examine was the Wilson Annis Watershed in Dunn County, WI. We chose this watershed because it was accessible and because of the implementation of the Wilson Annis Watershed Partnership, a program dedicated to help the watershed. Within the Watershed we chose fourteen sites along Wilson and North Wilson Creek to analyze, where we had to ask landowners for their permission to enter the stream through their property where we were, several times, warned about a bull potentially coming over to the stream.

How dairy you say that

The livestock farming industry has gone through a significant transformation in the previous few decades. Production has progressed from smaller, family owned farms to large scale farms that regularly have corporate contracts. A majority of meat and dairy products now are being produced on large farms with single species buildings or open air enclosures. When reviewing our existing data on agricultural operations I noticed that there was minimal information about the current discussions pertaining to concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) or the current policies being implemented in regards to them. However, few have addressed the ways in which the industry has been challenged towards improvement or the cumulative effect of multiple unregulated small livestock operations. If we hope to improve water quality, we must take into consideration all the various factors as well as the limits to our current resources and the ways in which we should go about expanding them.

Why has the number of smaller dairies farm decreased while the number of CAFOs has instead done the opposite? There are recurring themes as to why small dairies are decreasing. This includes factors like owners having limited resources or capital to stay in the business, having low efficiency rates, the stress of working 24/7, having no successor or having no interest from future generations to take over the business. Apart from this there are also themes found throughout as to why farmers are instead choosing to expand into larger dairy operations. This ranges from the ability to make more profit, become much more efficient, and the capability to have more time off and vacation time. This thus influences more small farm owners to transition into other fields or become CAFOs.

Actions and discussions towards changes in policies or efforts for water quality have gained more traction lately.  Recently there was a report developed by members of the Dunn County Livestock Operations Study Group (LOSG). What I found when observing these study group meetings was that the group included invited participants representing a cross-section of interests concerned with the impacts of CAFOs on groundwater, surface water and air quality within the County. They reviewed current ordinances and revisions of existing ordinances or creations of a Livestock Facilities Zoning Ordinance. In addition to this report there are other existing federal, state, and county regulations in place that help control the waste management of these livestock operations. The nutrient management plans help regulate the discharge of pollutants from livestock production facilities and monitor the spreading of them.

While Wisconsin has implemented conservation practices for all farms, counties are mainly held accountable for employing these standards. Under the current state law, a landowner’s compliance obligation is normally contingent upon an offer of cost-sharing. Large livestock operations must meet applicable permit standards, regardless of cost-sharing. Although conservation needs greatly exceed cost-share funding, some funds go unspent for lack of voluntary sign-ups. However, for the most part there are limited actions that can be done towards providing funds for smaller farmers.

In order to improve action towards an increase in cost-share budgets, community members should take further action to support government agencies like the Land and Water Conservation Department, which in turn will influence the efforts put towards improving efforts for water quality that pertain to agricultural practices. Working towards developing relationships amongst farmers and governmental agencies to create a bridge towards improving water quality is necessary. It’s also essential to reach out to younger individuals who are interested in agriculture or those taking over an existing operation and educating them about the benefits of using agricultural practices for environmental sustainability.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Neighbor Influence: Social Connectivity and the Adoption of Conservation Agriculture

           Whether it be to appease the ever-growing demand for organics or to become more environmentally friendly, conservation agriculture is on the rise. As defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization, this agricultural approach is described as having a focus on improved and sustained productivity, increased profits, and food security while preserving and enhancing the environment. There are many different practices that can fall under the title of conservation agriculture, however most definitions include these general ideas. To some, it seems like the obvious solution for everyone practicing conventional agriculture, which generally uses a lot of inputs (fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides) and intensive tillage, to begin transitioning to conservation agriculture in order to sustain our planet. So why don’t they?

The Loaded Question: “So is it too late to fix our lakes?”

            In a practical sense, as this summer’s research draws to a close, it is hard to for me to come to the realization that the majority of what I have been doing for the past eight weeks by surveying farmers and analyzing their responses is coming to an end.  But by the same token, I know that my true contemplation on all that I have learned is only just beginning.  In experiences past, I strongly believe that these situations of endings that feel more like beginnings have been some of the most rewarding, challenging, and memorable ones yet.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

What ever could I be???

It feels like some people come out of the womb with a purpose.  Not I.  I don't remember ever having an answer for that old chestnut "what do you want to be when you grow up".  Two problems really, first either I have never grown up (or it happened sometime around the age of 13), or I have never known what I wanted to be.
I like acting, but the chances of a making career out of that are slim.  So it's a hobby I love doing it but it is very unlikely it would ever go beyond that.  I also really like making funny voices, and have a passable villains laugh, but I don't think that really qualifies me for voice acting as I also have a slight lisp that I can't seem to break.  

So what else?

Inspiration or Would I Actually Do Anything Else?

This year the students gave us a few topics to choose from. Since two of them are very much related for me, I’m going to combine them.

What would I be doing if I wasn’t professor?
AND
What was my most inspirational experience and what did I learn from it?

I always liked school, reading, learning, and discovering new things, so I went to the University of Houston planning to become an archaeologist. I quickly discovered that I preferred talking to living humans, so I switched my focus to Cultural Anthropology. I was also lucky enough to take a class from Pauline Kolenda. She was an amazing teacher, and I learned a tremendous amount from her and from reading some of the literature on gender in anthropology. Eventually I took several of her classes and was able to travel with her to India (my first fieldwork experience). This inspired me to continue on the path to working on a PhD and becoming a professor.

A little bit of everything

For my guest blog, I am going to respond to all of the suggested prompts (except that one about animals...). But as a warning, I would not choose a career that involved blogging, my bucket list does not include starting a blog, and my most important experience in life will certainly not be writing this blog (although "never say never" I suppose). As someone who doesn't participate in any sort of social media (and as a Wisconsin kid with four brothers ready to tease you for anything), I have never felt too much like portraying my thoughts for all to see! That being said, I am glad to jump on board the LAKES REU blogspot this week to give all of the hard-working students some much needed time away.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Alternative lives: Science, Design, and Geography

As a small child, my plan was to become a marine biologist. I loved animals and the ocean. As I grew, my interests expanded but I continued to be interested in the environment and ecology. My major in college was environmental science. I thought that if people just had clear facts, we could convince everyone to do the right thing, and protect the environment. Over time realized that despite clear scientific evidence, humans often choose to prioritize other things.

After college, I began working in environmental education, thinking that education was the solution. If I could just get people to care about the natural world the way I did, to see the wonderful diversity of life the way I did, they would want to help protect it. I worked for almost a decade in science and environmental education. I enjoyed being outside, making science accessible to people, and sharing what I loved.

I ended up going to graduate school and becoming a geographer because of what I noticed visiting schools all over northern California. What I saw was the incredible disparities between schools and neighborhoods in terms of how much science education children got and even how much opportunity they had to play outside. Some neighborhoods were paved over and devoid of opportunities to learn about living things.


When I started graduate school, I wanted to become landscape architect and design enriching landscapes for children and youth. If I wasn’t a geography professor, I would likely be a landscape architect today. If it wasn’t for the financial crisis in 2008, which decimated jobs in landscape architecture, I might have continued and gotten a job in a design firm or with a planning office. Last summer I was sitting, sipping gin and tonics, with two of my close friends, who are also geography professors, and we discovered that we had all wanted to be landscape architects. So there you go, I'm secretly a frustrated landscape architect. 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Bucket.

I get "bucket lists".  I do.  It's a reminder to drink all the marrow from life.  But usually it's reinforcing an idea that life would be so disappointing if you didn't see that band live or visit those three countries or buy that car.  Our students posed a few questions to the mentors this week about bucket lists, roads not taken, and inspirational moments.  I'd like to take a stab at all three by way of re-imagining the bucket list idea a bit.