Category Archives: Public Policy

Finding a place in policy: where do the scientists fit in?

Somewhere, in a local government meeting, an idea is proposed, a policy brief is written, some voting occurs, paperwork is pushed around, money is allocated, and a new highway is built.

In the same region, some bighorn sheep are off trekking in search of their favorite grasses to eat. They come upon a road they can’t cross that wasn’t there before. The sheep stay put and eat the same old grass they were already eating.

Bighorn sheep iImage from Defenders of Wildlife.

When policymakers decided to build this road, it’s unclear whether they considered the consequences of this type of habitat fragmentation on the tiny ecosystems of bacteria that live inside of each bighorn sheep. More importantly, whether they knew their decision might lead to unforeseen consequences for bighorn population health.

We take for granted how intertwined policy and science really are.

Claire Couch is a 5th year PhD candidate in the department of Integrative Biology, studying wildlife disease ecology, but she’s also the president of a new Science & Policy Club at Oregon State University.

Advised by Anna Jolles in the College of Veterinary Medicine, Claire studies the bacteria that live in the guts of large animals like African buffalo, rocky mountain elk, and bighorn sheep. She’s interested in how the gut microbiome can contribute to disease resistance, but separate from her PhD research, she’s interested in how policy can be informed by science, and how science can be impacted by policy.

Claire says she’s always been interested in ecosystem health and fascinated by ecosystem dynamics between big scale (a region the sheep lives in) and small scale (the bacteria living in the gut) ecosystems. Through her research, she’s been exposed to diverse conservation issues for different wildlife species. For example, management and policy shapes where wildlife can reside, and where they are determines the factors that shape the gut microbiome. It became apparent to Claire that most scientists are not typically trained to understand and partake in policy, including herself, even though is it’s critical to all of our research pursuits.

(Left to right) Jane Lubchenco, Karen McLeod and Steve Lundeberg at OSU science policy panel discussion.

Claire started looking for ways to learn more and to become more engaged in science policy, but wasn’t finding exactly what she was looking for. OSU has some science-policy courses and clubs, but they are typically very specific to one type of science. So although she didn’t feel qualified to take the lead on this, she created what she was looking for: a science policy space that is more inclusive and general, with an emphasis on career development and general policy literacy.

In the first year since this group started, they’ve already packed in several activities including:  meetings with OSU faculty who are closely tied to policy, a seminar about how to communicate about controversial topics, a panel talk about how scientists can communicate with the press, a talk from a government agency research organization scientist, and a meeting with House Rep. Peter DeFazio. Finally, the group has an open-source data panel coming up.

House Rep Peter Defazio speaking with OSU Science Policy club. Image from gazettetimes

Claire wants to help scientists make their work relevant, but she hasn’t been doing it all alone. There are currently a few other club officers, and as Claire writes her dissertation, she’s looking to pass on club leadership. In the future, she hopes to see the club become more engaged with the non-OSU community members around us, host bigger events in collaboration with other groups on campus, and start up a mentoring program in which club members would be mentored by policy professionals.

To hear more about this policy club and Claire’s research and future plans, tune in to KBVR 88.7 FM or stream online March 1, 2020 at 7 P.M.

The Evolving Views of Plastic Pollution

Oceans cover more than 70% of the Earth’s surface and some studies suggest we still have over 91% of marine species that await discovery. Even as far back as 2010 some NASA scientists admit we knew more about the surface of Mars than we did about the bottom of our own oceans! Despite the fact we may not know everything about our oceans just yet, one thing is certain: plastics are becoming part of ecosystems that have never experienced it and we’re beginning to understand its massive impact. One estimate suggests that even if you had 100 ships towing for 10 hours a day, with 200 meters of netting and perfectly capturing every large and tiny piece of plastic, we could only clean up 2% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch every year. It would take 50 years to clean everything up, assuming we magically stopped using plastics on Earth. As one Nature research article suggests, the problems lies mostly with local municipalities; but that means with targeted local action, individuals can make a real difference and limit how much plastic makes it to our oceans. So you may be thinking “let’s tell all our friends these plastic facts and then everyone will stop using plastic, right?”. Not so fast, unfortunately a host of studies show just informing people about the scope of the problem doesn’t always make them change their behavior to ameliorate the problem in question.

Katy getting a seal kiss from Boots the harbor seal at the Oregon Coast Aquarium

Our guest this evening is Katy Nalven, a 2nd year Masters student in the Marine Resources Management program, who is using a community based social marketing approach to ask people not only IF they know about the problem of plastics in oceans, but she also seeks to understand how people think about this problem and what could be individual hurdles to decreasing plastic usage. Using a survey based approach administered at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, Katy plans to examine a few specific communities of interest to identify how the views around plastic usage from Aquarium visitors and local community members may differ and hopefully where they overlap.

This community based social marketing approach has many steps, but it’s proven more effective in changing behaviors for beneficial outcomes rather than just mass media information campaigns by themselves. By identifying a target goal for a community of interest you can tailor educational material that will have the greatest chance of success. For example, if your goal is to decrease plastic usage for coastal communities in Oregon, you may find that a common behavior in the community you can target to have the greatest impact such as bringing your own mug to coffee shops for a discount, or automatically saying “no straw please” whenever going out to eat. Katy is beginning to pin down how these Oregon coast communities view plastic usage with the hope that a future student can begin implementing her recommended marketing strategies to change behaviors for a more positive ocean health outlook.

Hugs from Cleo, the Giant Pacific Octopus, at the Oregon Coast Aquarium

Katy grew up in the landlocked state of Arizona constantly curious about animals, but on a childhood visit to SeaWorld San Diego she became exposed to the wonders of the ocean and was wonderstruck by a close call with a walrus. Near the end of a Biology degree in her undergraduate years, simultaneously competing as an NAIA Soccer player for Lyons College, Katy was looking for career options and with a glimpse of her stuffed walrus she got at the San Diego Zoo, she decided to look at Alaska for jobs. After a few summers being a whale watching guide in Juneau, an animal handling internship in Florida, and then another internship in Hawaii Katy decided she wanted to formally revisit her science roots but with a public policy perspective. Oregon State University’s Marine Resource Management Program was the perfect fit. In fact, once she was able to connect with her advisor, Dr. Kerry Carlin-Morgan who is also the Education Director for the Oregon Coast Aquarium, Katy knew this was the perfect step for her career.

Meeting Jack Johnson at the 6th International Marine Debris Conference. He and his wife are the founders of the Kokua Hawaii Foundation whose mission is to “provide students with experiences that will enhance their appreciation for and understanding of their environment so they will be lifelong stewards of the earth.”

 

 

Be sure to tune in to Katy’s interview Sunday August 19th at 7PM on 88.7FM, or listen live, to learn more about her findings about how we view plastic pollution, and how we can potentially make local changes to help the global ecosystem.

Earth, Water, and Fire (& Politics too)

What does it mean to be at the intersection of science, policy, philosophy, and cultural norms? This week our guest Brian Trick, a Masters student in the College of Forestry, will discuss some tremendous hurdles we Oregonians have with how we perceive and need healthy forests for the most important resource of all.

Sometimes you get sent out on a fire, spend two days on it, and then it rains on you. Trying to stay warming until it's time to leave. This my best Wilson brother, "behind enemy lines" look.

Sometimes you get sent out on a fire, spend two days on it, and then it rains on you. Trying to stay warm until it’s time to leave. This is my best Wilson brother, “behind enemy lines” look.

We need water to live; considering Oregon receives about 80% of its freshwater from forests it only makes sense to protect areas that carry water from mountaintops to our taps. There are federally mandated safety boundaries (riparian buffers) that surround rivers and streams in forests applied on public and private lands alike. These buffers restrict activity to help minimize erosion losses, temperature spikes in water, as well as sediment and chemical inputs to keep ecosystems functioning. Most of the water purification process happens (literally) upstream. Research projects suggest larger riparian areas will keep ecosystems functioning at a higher level; perfect you might think, lets make the riparian buffers extra wide right?

Not so fast, what happens if you own a small parcel of forest and there are so many streams the riparian buffers prevent you from doing anything on your own property? How much of a buffer zone around a stream is needed for a healthy ecosystem, while simultaneously allowing small land-owners to manage forests? Can we arrive at a ‘one size fits most‘ for protected riparian areas? This is policy at its best, if it works!

This is a complicated intersection of forest management and domestic policy and Brian Trick will help discuss some current events and what this could mean for a judicial precedent. In the event we help Brian save the riparian-buffer world, we’ll also delve into his upcoming job as a Forest Service smokejumper, but don’t worry this isn’t the first time he’s jumped out of aircrafts!

Tune in on Sunday, March 27th at 7PM PST on 88.7 FM in Corvallis or stream us online at http://kbvr.com/listen to hear exactly why Brian is (literally) a Hotshot!

Brian working for the USDA Forest Service in a rappel operation located in Salmon, ID.

Brian working for the USDA Forest Service in a rappel operation in Salmon, ID.

A Bridge over Troubled Water: Connecting Policy Makers and the Public

As a graduate student in public policy, Misty Freeman has a passion for bridging the communication gap between decision makers at the state and local level and the people who are affected by their policies. Working underneath Dr. Denise Lach, Misty’s dissertation work has focused specifically on the issue of water usage. As the climate continues to change and droughts on the West Coast worsen, Misty’s work becomes ever more important. By comparing the needs and resource availability of water among different rural areas in Oregon, Misty hopes to contribute to initiatives across the United States bringing critical thinking about rural needs to resource management policies at the state level.

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To lean more about Misty’s research and her personal journey, tune in tonight to 88.7FM KBVR Corvallis at 7PM PST, or stream the show live online at http://kbvr.com/listen!