VACEA Fieldwork Update - Summer 2012

by Amber Fletcher

 Photo of Amber

The year 2012 has been an interesting and productive one for the VACEA graduate student researchers. Interviewing was completed in the small community of Rush Lake, Saskatchewan, during the winter months. We interviewed 21 people from the community, which has a total population of only 50, and its surrounding area. This high response rate is a testament to both the generosity of the community and the relevance of the VACEA project’s focus. In March, we were honoured to be invited to attend the annual ratepayers’ dinner in the Rural Municipality of Excelsior and to provide a presentation on our research. Accompanied by Dr. Dave Sauchyn and Dr. Polo Diaz, we presented a summary of our research process and some initial observations. The supper provided us with another opportunity to answer questions about the project and, importantly, to say “thank you” to all the residents who shared their experiences with us.

 From late May to mid-June, three student researchers (and one dog) moved to the community of Pincher Creek, Alberta, a beautiful setting located just between the mountains and the prairie. The project was met with almost overwhelming interest from the community, whose members are currently negotiating a delicate balance between environment and industrial development. In total, we interviewed 53 people in the Pincher Creek area. Participants included those working in governmental or non-governmental organizations, retirees and country residents, environmentalists, ranchers, and of course, environmentalist ranchers. Pincher Creek is a dynamic community with a strong network of local organizations and producer groups, which can be crucial to a community’s resilience during times of weather-related crisis or stress.

Late June to early July was a good time to visit the community of Shaunavon. We spent several weeks living just west of this prairie community, which also welcomed us with great interest. We interviewed 43 members of the community and its local governance institutions, and learned a great deal about the community’s strategies for adapting to climate extremes, particularly drought. Community members emphasized the centrality of informal networks to their adaptation strategies, with neighbours often helping each other in the face of drought or wildfire. We also had a first-hand experience with extreme weather events, as several tornado warnings were issued for the area during our visit.

We spent several weeks of July living near Taber, Alberta. Although the corn harvest had not yet begun, we were able to take in some trick riding, saddle bronc, and also some mutton-busting at the Taber Pro Rodeo, and saw a great show of community pride at the rodeo parade. Our time in Taber wasn’t all play, however: we interviewed 43 people from the community and local organizations, which extended from the MD of Taber into the northern portion of County Lethbridge, where we were able to view the effects of locally implemented Beneficial Management Practices and to tour some new innovations in the Intensive Livestock Operation (ILO) sector.

 Throughout the course of the fieldwork, we interviewed a grand total of 140 participants from a variety of backgrounds. Thank you to everyone who participated in the research or who helped us out with finding local contacts, spreading the word, or even offering tips about what to see and do in the community. We are confident that the results of this research will be helpful to communities and governments alike, and we look forward to bringing the results back to the communities in the near future.