In the Fall we received this post from Toni Walkowiak, the most recent Rose Graduate Fellowship in Water Research recipient. Due to some web issues, we weren’t able to post to the blog so we apologize for this late posting but hope you now enjoy learning about the great work Toni is doing!
It is that time of year again! The weather is cooling, the colors of fall are beginning to appear and families are packing up their summer toys. The seasonal fun of Summer is coming to an end. Our minds are, reluctantly, switching to apple cider, pumpkin pie, and the fall harvest, which makes this a perfect time to discuss water resources.
No matter what time of year, water researchers are continuously thinking of innovative ways to encourage sustainable water resource practices. That being said, we must first evaluate whether people understand how water resources function and how people benefit from them, or if they even think about these things, at all. This is where my research comes in…
A quick disclaimer – studying all water resources are well beyond the scope of this research. Nevertheless, I have taken on the distinct and worthwhile challenge of gathering environmental perception data regarding wetland ecosystem services within Michigan. I know, you’re thinking… what on Earth? In non-science jargon, I am evaluating whether Michiganders are able to differentiate between what wetlands do (their functions) and how humans and wildlife benefit from these functions (their values).
To make things even more complicated, I am asking people to describe wetlands, discuss what services they provide, and why these services are important to them. I also ask them to think about what internal and external values wetlands offer.
Again, you say… what? Think of it this way… Wetlands provide an immeasurable amount of ecosystem services. For instance: wetlands guard the neighboring areas from countless flooding events (a function), which in turn protects those who live nearby (an internal value); and, wetlands help recharge the surrounding groundwater (a function) that provides a favorable water quality for drinking/irrigation throughout the immediate area (an internal value). Additionally: wetlands offer a myriad fish species and other amphibious life (a function) for animal/human consumption (an external value); wetlands also afford a wealth of educational opportunities (an external value) because of the biodiversity supplied by the wetland (a function).
Now we are cooking with peat (another external value provided by wetlands), and are able to dive into the specifics of my research design.
Throughout this summer and early autumn, I have been canvassing door-to-door and cold calling to ask Michiganders for their participation with my research experiments (a life changing endeavor).
These experiments range from an online card sorting experiment, where participants sort 30 digital cards into 2 categories: functions or values; to a semi-structured focus group discussion/interview forum, which asks participants a series of 8 questions regarding the values (internal and external) of wetlands.
The purpose of these experiments are to gather data regarding people’s perceptions of wetland ecosystem services, and whether they understand how wetlands operate for the benefit of the surrounding ecosystem.
Thus far, my research indicates that participants are a tad confused by what constitutes a wetland function or value. Namely, some believe that water quality is a function. On the contrary, water quality is a value that a wetland affords us. Consider this… water purification is a function that wetlands perform, which is another way of saying that the “water” is ready for consumption. Thus, “water quality” is a value because consumption is a benefit provided by wetlands.
In addition, it seems people are more influenced by the mindset of “not in my back yard (NIMYB)” versus the overall services that wetlands provide and we benefit from. That is to say, people would rather drain and destroy the wetland ecosystem than find an alternative solution that would leave the wetland intact, because as one participant stated… “I hope I am not paying taxes on land I cannot use.”
A sad reality in many ways, but all the more reason this research will have a broader impact to inspire educators as well as water researchers to push for wetland educational reform and wetland protection reform. Clearly, we have yet to completely explore what wetlands are truly capable of as one of greatest natural resources this planet offers.
Luckily, with this research, I have found a ray of sunshine lying hidden within Chippewa County: A 22-pond wetland complex that was created, outside of the mitigation laws, in order to encourage the return of native species, which include: waterfowl, insects, migratory birds, grasses, and trees, etc. This wetland complex offers a glimmer of hope for water researchers looking to demonstrate how people working together can make a difference.