Sustainability Apprenticeship and Independent Study (2010)
by Justin Windett
When classes let out for summer break students are left to decide how they will spend that time. Some must work full time to support themselves financially while others will make trips to visit other parts of the world. Having already traveled extensively the summer before and with no outstanding financial commitments, I wanted to gain valuable knowledge and experience in a career field that I am interested.
After doing research and contacting various individuals and organizations, I decided that I would work as an apprentice at two sustainability-oriented farms near Lawrence, Kansas. The experience wouldn’t cost me anything and I would be able to “get my hands dirty” doing what I love to do. Before school was adjourned I met with my advisor in the geography department to see if there was any way I could use the experience to earn credit for me degree at Park University. The staff was enthusiastic about my summer plans and created a special topics course just for me. I helped develop the syllabus for the class and added supplementary articles and essays to read as well as some journal writing about my experiences.
Working on the two farms ended up being an experience that I will never forget. I made deep personal connections with the people I lived with and got a genuine taste of what careers are like in that field. Besides tending to the vegetables I was able to establish a food forest, build a composting toilet, install a passive solar water heater and drive a tractor among other things. I highly recommend the experience to others interested in sustainable agriculture and that people who are involved in other fields of study contact their advisor to see if they can earn college credit for their extracurricular activities.
Field Experience Report for KU Field Camp (2010)
by Darren Epperson
The first week of field camp
, we went out with Professor Curt Sorenson and worked with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). We participated in an ongoing project put in place to help bring an ecological balance back to the area’s public lands.
Before European settlement, fires occurred naturally and burned freely through the forests as a natural processes, resulting in a healthy forest. Fires return nutrients to the soil, maintain the biodiversity and naturally thin the forest. However, post European settlement fires were suppressed as a consequence of the Homestead Act and settlement in the area. Ironically, this left the lands susceptible to more intense and destructive fires by increasing the density of a mono-species canopy, making it easier for fires to spread. This also led to overcrowding and competition for moisture and nutrition by the roots in soils, which in turn caused increased stress on the trees and plants, as well as a lower level in biodiversity .
The objective of the project was to observe and measure whether methods used by the Bureau of Land Management are completing their goals and improving the health of the forests on BLM public lands, within the jurisdiction of the Royal Gorge Field office. In cooperation with the University of Kansas, BLM is five years into an ongoing project to collect data and provide information for the general public as well as other agencies, showing the short and longterm progression of this project. Their main goal is to create a balance in forest ecology through forest restoration processes, which includes mechanical thinning, prescribed burns, reintroduction of native tree species (Douglas Fur, Ponderosa Pine, etc.) and better established forest floor. Completion of this goal will result in a healthier forest with more nutritious soil, an increase of direct sunlight on the forest floor, a reduced fire hazard and a naturally balanced habitat for wildlife to flourish.
At conclusion of our week in the field, observing both pre and post treatment areas, there is positive support that the overall objectives are being accomplished. There are, however, some temporary expected setbacks such as loss in vegetation, soils, and wildlife. These setbacks are only temporary because the trimming process causes short term disturbances, but this project will be beneficial to the treated area in the long run. By visiting other similar sites, such as Arkansas Mountain, the benefits can be seen.
The last two weeks of field camp, we focused more on the human aspect of geography. As we all know it is virtually impossible to study either the human side or the physical side of geography without bridging the continuum. We investigated the perception of water and its meaning through the eyes of its users in hopes of finding definitions that extend beyond the tangible scientific meaning and purpose. We looked at how supply, purpose and policy can determine the concept of water on a subjective level, but never straying far away from its physical implications. Below is an intro I wrote up for my preliminary investigation which gives a more clear objective of my investigation. I hope to continue future research on this topic in conjunction with Professor Soren Larson’s future research projects in this region.
Water can be a forgotten life source when the tap is flowing. Water can bring a specific definition and scientific purpose when discussed as a tangible element. But when the meaning of water is investigated on the premises of use, one’s perception becomes the foundation of its purpose and use. The Great American West has been defined by the perception of water in its physical existence and conceptual aspects. This region is vast and possesses great geographical diversity with Colorado in the heart of it. With climate variations ranging from 12” to 40” of annual precipitation, should a broad “hydrological assumption” (University of Colorado, 2007) be used as the foundation of governing control instead of considering actual conditions in many of Colorado’s micro climates? Most compacts and laws, both intra and interstate, were developed with the overall view established by a regional perspective and common use and were signed before 1950 (University of Colorado, 2007). This was before today’s scientific in-depth knowledge of the regions' past climates and predicted future shifts. Recent tree ring research has shown that out of the past 400 years, the last 100 have been the wettest (Meko, 1995). After the drought of 2002, citizens began to evaluate in greater depth this broad regional approach and its effectiveness to govern the individual needs of common use at the same time, avoiding the zero sum effect. Statewide governance has historically controlled the meaning of scarcity and usage of water. As time passes, should these compacts be left intact as the overall control of the meaning or should they be more flux as the climate shifts and the demands for water increase and change? The meaning of water and its usage is a subjective insight that is important to the future of Colorado’s ecology, both physical and social.
The primary objective of this project was not to focus only on policy or governance of water rights and its use. We focused more on the investigation of the meaning of water and its usage through the eyes of the people in Fremont county. By evaluating individual interviews, existing policies and recent works of area constituencies, we can gain better understanding of the issues at hand. This project is a starting point of a complex topic that resonates deep in the emotions of every individual. We are not looking for an immediate solution to all questions raised in this project. Our attempt is to identify some of the weakness and strengths within the system and speculate about the future of the area's infrastructure and environmental integrity. This is a region of importance because of its variation in climate, water use and diversity of population (i.e incoming “newbies”, multi-generational ranches). We used an establish rubric for interviews as a method of investigation in attempt to find out each individual's meaning of water and their take on its scarcity if any at all. Individual’s views of long term (chronic) and or short term (acute) of water issues can lead to better insight of how personal experience can affect perception of water supply and use.