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Nature and neighbourhoods: Milwaukees’s Urban Ecology Centres

Posted in Models by Jessica Bird on January 14th, 2013

Source: Urban Milwaukee, via Tim Beatley
UECValley

Photo by Alec Brooks from Urban Milwaukee website.

From ‘Rise of the Urban Ecology Center‘ by Peggy Shulz

How a small non-profit in a trailer in Riverside Park rose to become a major player with centers erected in three county parks. “Save the park.” That was the single, not-so-simple goal of a very loosely organized group of concerned residents of Riverside Park in the early 1990s. Little did they know that two decades later, a trio of nationally recognized ecology education centers would grow out of their efforts. Today, school children in three distinct neighborhoods — Riverside Park, Washington Park and Menomonee Valley — boast an Urban Ecology Center where children learn about ecology and their environment through a wide range of programs and activities, including “outdoor laboratories,” a full year of trips for students at nearby schools, after-school programs and preschool programs. […]

The site of the original UEC, Riverside Park, was designed in 1865 by Frederick Law Olmsted as the western anchor of Newberry Boulevard, with Lake Park serving as the eastern anchor. In the years since the park was created, it had fallen into disrepair. With the intent of building an MPS middle school, a square block and a half of homes to the south of the original Riverside Park were torn down, beginning in the late 1960s. That land then stood mostly vacant for decades, with the exception of occasional garden plots. Even before all the homes were demolished, though, MPS changed its plans. By 1991, the entire expanse had become crime-ridden, including the area between what was by then a bike trail (but had earlier been railroad tracks) and the Milwaukee River. It was filled with trash and invasive plant species.

It was time to reclaim the park, but the concerned neighbors weren’t at all sure how they were going to do it. After a lot of thought, they decided to begin by cleaning it up, with the ultimate goal of using the park to teach neighborhood children about ecology and being friends of the earth. Litter and crime would be replaced with learning. A doublewide trailer was placed just north of Park Place and east of the bike trail. […] It wasn’t until 2004 that the award-winning Riverside Park location of the Urban Ecology center opened. […] The center now manages the county-owned portion of the parkland with volunteers. A capital campaign followed shortly thereafter, based on the long list of schools that already had asked to have their students participate in UEC activities. The early goal of saving Riverside Park was realized. “We essentially turned a problem into an asset,” [executive director Ken] Leinbach said. “The land was healed with volunteers, and kids were learning about their environment.”

Just as the Riverside Park location grew out of a desire to save the park, the Washington Park and Menomonee Valley sites were “natural” areas in the city that needed restoration. According to Leinbach, in planning all three locations UEC took certain factors into account: a nearby body of water, woods and fields; proximity to schools; and some measure of wealth in the surrounding neighborhood. “We knew we needed the neighbors’ help to sustain our program economically,” Leinbach explained. The mission of all three UEC sites can be boiled down to “intentionally/institutionally getting kids connected to nature with adult mentors,” Leinbach said. The founders never intended the center to be a model for anyone else. “I think you do something and it can become a model, if it works,” Leinbach said. “You don’t set out to create a model.” But it has turned into one, even internationally. […]

Dennis Grzezinski, a UEC board member, describes three aspects of the center that have contributed to its success: environmental education, a community center and a nature center. The variety of programming is based on just a few primary concepts, Grzezinski said. “Proximity of the students to the center promotes deeper relationships between the students and the educators as mentors or models,” he said. Schools that participate must be within a 2-1/2 mile radius. That makes it easier for the students to return to the center over and over and establish a connection to a natural place that has different seasons, where they can plant bushes and trees and watch them grow over time. […] “This organization … comes from humble, common-sense, low-budget origins,” Grzezinski said. “We do things on a shoestring budget. Environmentalism is about using resources carefully and not wasting them.”

When Leinbach was studying environmental education in graduate school, he recalls thinking that the world is a fragile place and we humans weren’t helping. Through the Urban Ecology center’s three locations, many humans are helping —reclaiming, rebuilding and maintaining fragile, natural places for the long term, and creating a stronger sense of community in the process.

>>> You can read the full article on Urban Milwaukee.
>>> You can learn more about the Urban Ecology Centers on their website.


Seasonal Calendars: learning from Indigenous ecological knowledge

Posted in Models, Research by Jessica Bird on November 14th, 2012


Seasonal calendar from the Ngan’gi language group in the Northern Territory (TRaCK)

From the SBS Podcast Indigenous weather knowledge bridges gap by Naomi Selvaratnam

Indigenous communities across northern Australia have helped to develop seasonal calendars using their environmental knowledge. The calendars detail the changes in plant and animal life across the year, and can include as many as 13 seasons.

Darwin-based CSIRO researcher, Emma Woodward says the project highlights the importance of incorporating Indigenous knowledge into scientific research projects. She told Naomi Selvaratnam the value of indigenous knowledge is frequently underestimated by scientists.

The following comes from the CSIRO about the most recently released seasons calendar from the Gooniyandi language group in the Fitzroy Valley in the Kimberly.

The Mingayooroo – Manyi Waranggiri Yarrangi, Gooniyandi Seasons calendar was developed by key knowledge-holders of the Gooniyandi language group from the Fitzroy Valley in the Kimberley and CSIRO, as part of a Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge project on Indigenous socio-economic values and rivers flows in northern Australia.

The seasonal cycle recorded on the calendar follows 4 main seasons: Barranga (‘very hot weather time’); Yidirla (‘wet season time when the river runs’); Ngamari (‘female cold weather time’) and Girlinggoowa (‘male cold weather time’). Gooniyandi people closely follow meteorological events, including wind speed and direction, clouds and rain types, as each event is linked to different behaviours of animals. Gooniyandi people can therefore look to the weather to tell them when it is the best time for hunting and collecting different plants and animals.

The Gooniyandi Seasons calendar represents a wealth of Indigenous ecological knowledge. The development of the calendar was driven by a community desire to document seasonal-specific knowledge of the Margaret and Fitzroy Rivers in the Kimberley, including the environmental indicators that act as cues for bush tucker collection. The calendar also addresses community concern about the loss of traditional knowledge, as older people from the language group pass away and younger people are not being exposed to Indigenous ecological knowledge.

>>> You can listen to the podcast on SBS World News Radio and download the Gooniyandi seasons calendar from CSIRO.
>>> You can also access seasonal calendars for other Indigenous groups from TRaCK (Tropical Rivers and Coast Knowledge) research hub.


Managing Ecological Trade-Offs: New Analysis Tool

Posted in Research by Kate Archdeacon on April 19th, 2010

Source: Stockholm Resilience Centre


Image: ndrwfgg via flickr CC

From Seeing the Hidden Services of Nature

Following an intense study of agricultural ecosystems near Montreal, a new tool that enables the simultaneous analysis and management of a wide range of ecological services has been developed by Ciara Raudsepp-Hearne of McGill University’s Department of Geography, Elena Bennett of the McGill School of Environment, and (Stockholm Resilience) centre researcher Garry Peterson.

Risk of missing hidden ecosystem services

Environmental management typically focuses on nature’s resources like food, wildlife and timber, but can miss hidden ecosystem services such as water purification, climate moderation and the regulation of nutrient cycling.  The researchers show that ecosystems that maximized agriculture offer fewer hidden ecosystems services than more diverse agricultural landscapes. The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science on March 1, 2010.  Landscapes that provide a lot of one services, such as pig production, can be costly because they have fewer of the hidden services, such as the regulation of nutrient pollution, which are also important to people, Ciara Raudsepp-Hearne says.  They also show that in some areas high amounts of agricultural production can go hand in hand with the production of other ecosystem services. The researchers framework can be used to help identify “best-practice areas” and contribute to developing effective resource policies.

Trade-offs and costs must be recognized

Bennett believes Quebec manages its environment fairly well, but that there are still trade-offs and costs to be recognized.  The big local message is that in terms of the landscape we have to be thinking about more than just one thing — we can’t just see corn, we have to see deer hunting, nutrients, and tourism, too, Bennett says.  The area surrounding Montreal was selected because it is typical of near-urban agricultural landscapes in many parts of the world.  I hope these methods can be applied to many other landscapes around the world, Peterson says, adding the tool will help decision makers trying to balance the goals of farmers, rural villagers and exurban commuters.

Read the full article.


The Science and Practice of Ecology and Society Award

Posted in Events by Devin Maeztri on May 6th, 2009

The Science and Practice of Ecology and Society Award is an annual award given to the individual or organization that is the most effective in bringing transdisciplinary science of the interactions of ecology and society into practice. Examples of possible winners include a high school teacher who develops a special curriculum, a mayor with initiatives and actions for her/his town based on scientific concepts, a journalist who brings scientific insights to a broader audience, or a NGO group who facilitates local knowledge production in rural communities. Hosted by Ecology and Society.

See the articles about past winners.

The purposes of this award is to recognize the importance of practitioners who translate the scientific findings and insights of the scholarly community to practical applications. We want to identify innovative practitioners so that their story can be an example for others.

For more information, please contact: Marco Janssen: Marco.Janssen@asu.edu or Michelle Lee: managing_editor@ecologyandsociety.org

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