Finding the Conservation-Management Balance

Hello everyone!

My name is Kendall and I am a new Sea Grant scholar, a 2021-2022 Natural Resource Policy Fellow, stationed in Charleston on the south coast. I was matched with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife at the south coast field office to work with management to develop a conservation and fishery management plan for a currently closed recreational fishery.

It has been a hectic and rewarding start to my fellowship so far! I have been researching conservation and fishery management plans and working with my fellowship host to build the framework for the imperiled red abalone (Haliotis rufescens) fishery. I already had a background in fisheries and particularly with the history of the red abalone fishery in Oregon, due to my position at ODFW as a shellfish biological aide prior to graduate school. What I did not have was a familiarity with the difficulties in creating a new type of management plan that considers multiple objectives and viewpoints that might counteract one another.

The most interesting revelation I have had so far during this process is that writing a conservation and fishery management plan is not common for fisheries, and is quite different from a typical fisheries management plan. The most imperative way it differs has to do with the concept that this management plan does not mean that there will be a fishery. Instead, there are two simultaneous objectives that could naturally be seen as opposites. The first objective is to protect and conserve the species in question, and the other objective is to develop a fishery for that same species. Working through this process so far has been a unique exercise in recognizing, appreciating and applying different stakeholder perspectives. Often it seems that agencies, organizations and individuals view these objectives as contrary to one another, and further, that one objective and perspective nullifies the other. My main task is to take each perspective and goal and find ways to merge the two together to benefit the red abalone population in Oregon, as well as honor the cultural, social and economic importance of the resource. I look forward to learning more about each perspective and working towards a common goal to create a sustainable, socially and biologically conscious fishery while continuing to explore the specifics of conserving an elusive and fascinating invertebrate species.

Hitting the ground running!

Hi there! My name is Jess Schulte and I am part of the newest batch of 2021 Oregon Sea Grant Scholars. I am working to gather data on the movement and foraging ecology of shark predators – specifically the broadnose sevengill (Notorynchus cepedianus) – in the Northern California Current System (NCCS). My research will provide the first insights into how this predator – and likely others – maintain these productive marine ecosystems through top-down interactions. My project focuses on integrating data from satellite and acoustic receivers and stomach content and stable isotope analyses from broadnose sevengills to better understand the ecosystem dynamics of NCCS systems, and will finally enable shark predators to be incorporated into our understanding of the area and wider NCCS (which has never been done before!). In other words, where do they go, what are they eating, and how does it affect us AND the fish that we eat here in the Pacific Northwest (salmon, halibut, crab, etc.)?

I am a first year PhD student at Oregon State University and before classes started this year, I was able to get out into the field to kick-off my research. We spent three days out on the boat, dropping hooks in the water baited with discarded salmon heads. We didn’t have to wait long to catch sharks…almost every time we dropped a line down, we’d quickly pull it back up with a sevengill on the end! For this field trip, we focused on deploying our acoustic tags. These tags provide fine-scale information on where/how the sharks are moving within a smaller, defined area (such as a bay). This summer, we will be deploying satellite tags that will track the sharks as they leave their summer bay residences in Oregon and head elsewhere. We will also be collecting stomach contents as well as tissue samples to do stable isotope analysis. The former will provide data on recent feedings, and the latter will provide foraging information on a longer scale – dating back weeks to months!

Additionally, my research will collaborate with local tribes through the incorporation of tribal youth into my fieldwork. We will be taking interested tribal youth members into the field to teach them techniques about shark catching and tagging while also helping me to better understand the cultural context around the research itself. I’m also looking forward to continued outreach and engagement, including a display at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Research Center! We’ll be setting up social media platforms soon so keep an eye out for those as well (in the meantime, those interested can check out the Big Fish Lab Instagram page. We’re also doing other great research on the movement of other shark species as well as shark physiology and stress responses!).

I am excited and proud to be one of the newest Oregon Sea Grant Scholars and contribute to OSG’s mission and values by informing methods for ecosystem-based management and promoting community and industry outreach and engagement. While I’m still getting a handle in first year of graduate school, I’m eager to full-steam ahead on my Big Fish Lab research in the spring and summer!

Myself, preparing a broadnose sevengill for an acoustic tag deployment in Coos Bay, OR

Sustainability at Tofurky

Since my last update, I have learned so much from a professional development standpoint as well as how to fail successfully.

Failing

These last few months have also given me what I’m sure I’ll call the “Scale Problem” for the rest of my career. As we have been trying to better manage our material wastes, one key piece of information that we have been missing is data regarding where and why we are producing waste in our production. To address this issue, the sustainability team and I decided that we would get back to the practice of weighing the waste bins on the production floor. The only issue was that the scale was broken and needed parts to be fixed.

I talked with several people, got the ball moving and was excited to get the scale fixed and begin measuring our wastes. A month later, the scale was still broken, and nothing had changed. I had wasted a lot of time chasing something that was simply wasting everyone’s time. At this point I had to reevaluate my goals and find a new path to get where I needed to go. I created a new measurement template that would go off volume rather than weight. This proved to be successful and allowed us to see where we are producing the most waste so that we can focus our efforts based on data.

My biggest lesson from all of this is that I can’t just wait on things to be fixed or anchor on the idea that something can’t be done because something is broken or not working as it should. I learned to be more flexible and to always be ready to find another solution to the same problem.

Another change that has come from the work I’ve been doing is that we may not have all the positions at the company that we need to be able to make the changes we want to see. When going through our production process and trying to make changes, one of the biggest realizations we had is that there was no single person in charge of continuous improvement of our process. This realization showed us an opportunity, as no one at the company has the capacity to pick up that work right now. Because of this, Chris, my mentor, decided to move onto trying to get someone to oversee continuous improvement. Now, we will be looking for a process engineer within the next year or so to help us continuously improve our process. Hopefully, this will help us to reduce our material waste and take some steps towards the 2030 goals we set as a company.

Managing capstone projects

Another fun development that has happened since my last post is that I worked with a capstone group from PSU to help me get a head start on Scope 3 emissions at Tofurky. Scope 3 emissions refers to all emissions that take place outside of a company’s own manufacturing (i.e., supply chain and distribution). For their project, they looked at our largest suppliers and through analysis of our sales and purchases last year, were able to give us a series of recommendations to get more thorough data around Scope 3 emissions. This has set us up for 2022 where we will be able to start asking our suppliers more questions as well as using more software to help organize the data we collect.

SEM

One of the coolest advancements so far in my time at Tofurky is that we are now a part of the Oregon Energy Trust’s Strategic Energy Management (SEM) program. This program has around 9 other businesses from around Oregon all participating to become more mindful about their energy usage.

With our team that we created; we have already set goals for reducing our energy usage with this program that will help us to achieve our 2030 goals. In November, we conducted a leak sweep where we walked around with an air leak detector that could help us locate any pipes that were leaking air. In one building alone we were able to find over 25 air leaks, showing us just one of the many opportunities we will have with this program to improve our energy performance.

Using the leak detector on packaging equipment

The next steps with SEM are the biggest for the program and Tofurky. Within the next couple months, we will be conducting what they call a treasure hunt. This will involve the entire Tofurky SEM team and any other employees who wish to join in walking through the manufacturing facilities and pointing out any opportunities that we may have to reduce energy use. I really like Oregon Energy Trust’s approach to this as they look for a large quantity of ideas at first and then narrow it down to the low cost, high impact projects. Through this, we should be able to reduce our energy use drastically within the next year and into the future as well.

The final part of this program that has been cool to me is that it has allowed for me to network with similar businesses. I recently got to talk with the Sustainability Manager at Bob’s Red Mill, and we talked about participating in each other’s treasure hunts. Not only is it allowing our businesses to build a community of practice, but it also serves as a great way for me to get more knowledge and experience from someone who has walked a similar path to what I want to do. I look forward to all that this program can give.

Spanish class

The final thing that I decided to do during my fellowship is join the Tofurky bilingual program. This program is a 16-week class of 8 English speakers and 8 Spanish speakers at the company. Each week we have time to learn vocabulary and grammar from a Spanish teacher, and then we are paired up to speak with someone native in the other language. This has been a wonderful experience so far because not only have I gotten to practice Spanish, but I have also gotten the chance to meet some people from the production floor that I’ve never met before. Most of our production employees also primarily speak Spanish, so this program really helps to bridge the language gap.

Composting Project

The final thing that I’ve done within the last few months is a composting project. Recently, Tofurky discontinued a few products from our product line and as a result, had a bunch of the dry mix that we used leftover. We didn’t want to just throw all that product out so instead we worked with a local composting facility to take all of it. We emptied pallets of ingredients into giant dumpsters and sent it away to be composted. This was just a small one day project but it was cool to see how much waste could possible be diverted in the future.

One of the dumpster bins filled with soy waste

Consulting on Consultation

Hello everyone!  I am excited to share my first post at the end of nearly three months in my position as the Tribal Federal Consistency Policy and Processes Fellow with the Oregon Coastal Management Program (OCMP) within the Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD).  To start, that title is a mouthful, so I’ll pull it apart to explain what exactly I am doing! 

Federal consistency is an authority granted to federally approved Coastal Management Programs (CMPs) pursuant to the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) of 1972. This authority provides CMPs – such as Oregon’s – the ability to review proposed federal activities for consistency with state and local enforceable policies.  These activities include those which will be carried out by a federal agency and those for which a federal agency issues a permit.  During the review, OCMP staff work with the applicant and the network of state (10 agencies) and local government partner agencies (40 jurisdictions) in the coastal zone to determine if the proposed activity is consistent with statewide land use planning goals, state laws, and local land use regulations.  Based on the results of the coordinated review, OCMP staff can concur, concur with conditions, or object to the proposed activity.  Without a concurrence from the OCMP, federal activities cannot move forward. 

My project has the primary goal of creating the policy and processes by which Oregon’s nine federally recognized tribes can meaningfully participate during federal consistency reviews.  Oregon is fairly unique (as compared to most states) in that state agencies are required by executive order and statute to adopt a policy for consultation and communication with the tribes.  DLCD’s existing policy establishes the over-arching goals and commitments that the department and the OCMP must meet.  It is the aim of this project to refine this policy and develop specific – but flexible! – processes and procedures to make the over-arching policy work: to lay out the foundation for a holistic and sustainable Tribal Relations program for the OCMP.   

One of the first steps we took was to formally offer the tribes the opportunity to request consultation on the development of this policy – asking if they want to “consult” on our consultation policy. We have continued to communicate and refine our messaging after that initial offer.  We are lucky to learn a lot about best practices through these exchanges – crossed lines are just a part of life when you’re trying to develop policy and procedures that essentially document a working relationship!  My perspective is that this project (and perhaps myself – I’m not complaining) are serving as the test subject so we can develop robust – and proven – best practices for the eventual Tribal Relations program.  To learn more about tribal interests and engagement, I have been able to correspond with and observe the proceedings of the Legislative Commission on Indian Services, including attending the annual Tribal-State Summit.  I am also able to participate in the state-tribal Cultural Resource Cluster, a forum where agencies and tribes can interact regarding issues that impact cultural resource protection.  We are also fortunate to have an advisor from the Coquille Indian Tribe providing guidance and insight along the way. 

I consider myself lucky to be able sit with – and dedicate my time to – the questions of how and where procedural interventions can be implemented to improve tribal relations practices.  This requires taking a systems-level view of the OCMP and its federal consistency authority.  So, in my first few months I have spent a significant amount of time reading and absorbing information about how the OCMP “works,” what a federal consistency review looks like, how and when network partner agency activities (e.g., permitting, rulemaking, planning, etc.) intersect with OCMP activities, and how and when network partner agencies are engaging with tribes.  This is to better understand how and where tribes are currently being engaged and look for opportunities to improve and/ or better coordinate engagement in the future.  I am excited about the work ahead and looking forward to one day meeting the great people at OCMP in person! 

Erosion control guidebook: fellowship outcomes and final thoughts

As 2021 winds down, my fellowship is also coming to a close. It has been a wonderful and challenging experience. I wasn’t lucky enough to make it back into the office to meet coworkers in person this year, but I got to work with and learn from lots of awesome people virtually. My mentor, Meg Reed, is fantastic and was absolutely crucial in helping me succeed in this fellowship.

My main project for my fellowship was the creation of an erosion control guidebook. I spent the majority of the year reading, researching, and writing about erosion control and its regulation in Oregon. The main topics of the guidebook included:

  • Physical setting of the Oregon coast: My goal was for the guidebook to introduce anyone unfamiliar with the Oregon coast to the basics, including wave climate, sea level rise, and the impacts of El Nino and La Nina events on the coast
  • Coastal Policies: The guidebook covers the 1967 Beach Bill, which designated Oregon’s beaches as belonging to the public in perpetuity, and the coastal land use planning goals (Goal 16, 17, and 18). Goal 18 contains the most detail because its requirements are the most related to coastal erosion and beachfront protection.
  • Beachfront Protective Structures: The guidebook discusses the impact of beachfront protective structures on the Oregon coast. It also discusses why a specific definition for a beachfront protective structure is needed, and provides the definition.
  • Permitting: The guidebook lists the agencies typically involved in permitting erosion control projects, and discusses their jurisdictions. The entire permitting process is explained, including typical permitting timelines, permit requirements, and approval criteria.
  • Types of erosion control: The guidebook divides erosion control mechanisms that are viable on the Oregon coast into two categories: nonstructural and structural. Nonstructural mechanisms include vegetative stabilization, dynamic revetments, beach scraping, and beach nourishment. Structural mechanisms include seawalls, riprap revetments, sandbags, and gabion structures. For each erosion control mechanism, the guidebook provides a literature review of the erosion control mechanism, its applicability to and use on the Oregon coast, and its usefulness in responding to sea level rise impacts.

I had the chance to do a series of 5 presentations in October and November to let people know that the guidebook existed; the most exciting and formal of these was to the Land Conservation and Development Commission. I also spent time learning Adobe InDesign so that I could present the guidebook information in a more visually appealing way.

I’m really proud of the work that I’ve done for this fellowship and of the final guidebook. However, this year has been tough. I’ve been fighting burnout and struggling with working from home. At the outset of my fellowship, I imagined myself finishing this fellowship as a super-productive master writer and communicator that had tackled several side projects in addition to my main fellowship project. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that that vision was both partially unrealistic and partially not possible due to the challenges of working through a pandemic. But I’ve learned other things from a challenging year of work. Stephanie and Sarah reminded me at the halfway point of my fellowship that part of the skillset I spent this year learning was resilience and the ability to advocate for myself in challenging situations.

Here are a few other non work-related things I’ve learned this year:

  • Regular check-ins helped mitigate the dread Imposter Syndrome. At the halfway point of my fellowship, I was beginning to feel like I wasn’t meeting expectations and that my inadequacy would be found out at any second. However, after a halfway point check-in with my mentor, I found out that she had a good understanding of my progress and was happy with it. This shifted my perspective and allowed me to approach the second half of my fellowship from a place of confidence rather than fear.
  • I learned how to plan and execute a longer-term project. For this project, I created a work plan, reevaluated it on a regular basis, and included review deadlines for outside parties to keep myself on track.
  • I learned strategies to help myself push through periods of low motivation, including changing my workspace, using the Pomodoro technique to break work down into smaller chunks, and figuring out what activities allowed my brain to rest and recharge.

I’m excited to take what I’ve learned this year and bring it into my next job: a PhD in coastal engineering at OSU beginning in March 2022. I’ll be studying dynamic revetments, which are one of the erosion control practices I wrote about in the guidebook. I’ll get to do fieldwork on the Oregon coast and outreach with the practitioners who work there. I’m excited to continue exploring the issue of erosion control from the academic perspective and to continue working with the awesome people I’ve met over the course of this fellowship.

Razor Clams in Oregon

For my master’s project, I am working on the ecological, economic, and socio-cultural impacts of razor clams for Oregon coastal communities. I am excited to partner with Oregon Sea Grant to continue my project into its final year. Though I will say, time is flying.

It’s hard to believe that I’m over half finished with my master’s project. Last summer, I interviewed razor clam harvesters, business owners, and communities leaders in Northern Oregon for part of my project. I am excited to add their thoughts and knowledge to my research! I believe that knowledge gained through science and experience are both valid, and there are many benefits to having both in the conversation. The importance of the razor clam fishery in Oregon hasn’t ever been studied, which is one of the reasons why I am so interested in this project. I get to add both scientific and ecological knowledge to help fill this gap in our understanding of the impacts of a healthy fishery.

That also means that I get to take trips up to Seaside and Astoria every now and again. For example, this past summer, I got to see the Peter Iredale shipwreck for the first time and go to the Astoria Column.

The months ahead will be filled with final data analysis and the preparation to defend next summer. I will also be preparing materials for ODFW to use for outreach to better connect with the razor clam harvesting community as part of my public outreach. Busy days are ahead, but I look forward to working with OSG and other OSG scholars in the coming months.

Aquaculture in Oregon

As I wrap up my first year as a fellow, I am reflecting on what I have learned about aquaculture in Oregon. From conducting a survey with the aquaculture industry, agencies, and researchers, I gained new perspectives on perceived barriers to expanding production, which I wrote about in my last blog. I have also done a lot of research on regulatory structure and ways to streamline permitting processes for new aquaculture operations, which I plan to write about in a future blog post after finishing up a report on this topic. Getting back to the basics though, I thought it might be useful to talk about the different types of aquaculture in Oregon. I am currently working on some educational content for the Oregon Sea Grant website that will go into detail about this information, and wanted to share some highlights here. 

What is aquaculture and what is going on in Oregon?

Aquaculture is commonly defined as the farming of aquatic and marine animals and plants. This farming can take place in tanks on land, or within aquatic and marine environments. For example, kelp is often grown in the open ocean connected to long ropes. Aquaculture products or species have different purposes as well, such as food and other products, larval breeding, stocking, ornamental breeding, and restoration. A lot of farmed species are consumed directly after harvest, or in many cases go through additional processing. For example, Pacific oysters from Oregon are sold to be consumed raw on the half shell, or may be shucked and packaged before selling. Several aquaculture operations focus on producing larval or juvenile organisms. For example, Oregon has salmonid hatcheries that breed juvenile fish for stocking lakes, ponds, or rivers to supplement recreational and commercial fisheries. These fish are raised and released into natural systems to increase numbers available for fishing, or in some cases to restore populations. There are also private farms that produce and sell fish to private property and business owners who want to raise fish in ponds, lakes, or tanks. Lastly, fish and other species are commonly produced for public and private aquariums which is known as ornamental fish aquaculture. For all types of aquaculture, special permits from Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and other state agencies, are required prior to obtaining, transporting and/or raising organisms. 

What are some species grown in Oregon for food?  

Pacific oysters provide the highest economic value for aquaculture in Oregon. They are grown directly on mudflats, or in nearshore waters, using various techniques. For example, oysters can be grown using bottom culture, where they are grown directly on the ground with no equipment, and rack-and-bag culture, which involves keeping oysters in mesh bags attached to racks that elevate them off the ground. Oyster aquaculture requires no inputs to feed the animals, since the bivalves eat phytoplankton in the surrounding water, and can provide benefits to the environment, such as improved water quality and structured habitat for other organisms. 

Pacific dulse is a red seaweed that is native in low intertidal and upper subtidal rocky habitats from Alaska to California. In Oregon, dulse is grown in recirculating tank systems on land that are outside and open to sunlight for photosynthesis. The seaweed is tumbled around the tanks using heavy aeration. Dulse is currently produced in Tillamook and Port Orford. When dulse is cooked in certain ways, such as pan frying, it can have a bacon-like flavor. 

Purple sea urchins are a unique aquaculture species in Oregon with an unconventional production method. Wild purple urchins are highly abundant in Oregon’s nearshore environments, where they have decimated many kelp forests by voraciously feeding on the kelp. Urchins can live for long periods of time without eating, but they are not commercially viable when harvested in this state. Using a method called, “urchin ranching,” wild urchins are caught and fed seaweed in recirculating tanks to fatten them up until they reach a marketable size. A couple of pilot projects for urchin ranching are currently underway in Oregon. The Oregon Kelp Alliance (ORKA) has a great website with more information. 

What about larval production, stocking, and ornamental aquaculture? 

Some common fish species that are produced in hatcheries and released to the wild are Salmon (e.g., coho, chum, chinook) and trout (e.g., rainbow, cutthroat). Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife manages 33 public hatcheries that produce anywhere from 27,000 – 576,000 pounds of fish per year. 

The Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery is a prominent supplier of shellfish (oyster, clam, mussel) larvae in Oregon. They provide oyster larvae for commercial production along the West coast and internationally.

Ornamental aquaculture consists of several small businesses that don’t show up in formal data collection of aquaculture numbers, such as the USDA census of aquaculture. Therefore, it can be difficult to find specific information about these businesses and the types of fish they produce.  

These are just some examples of aquaculture species grown in Oregon. Check the OSG Aquaculture website in 2022 for more details, and contact me if you have any questions (ehrharta@oregonstate.edu).

Information Sources:

What I have learned by doing youth environmental education online

Time flies by and the Covid-19 situation in Taiwan is getting worse with the Delta variance. At this time, it is a pity that I cannot do in-person research and giving local marine issues exhibitions in the museum settings. However, it turns out that sometimes misfortune is a blessing in disguise. Specifically, I got an opportunity to make a marine environmental issue website to share with the public. Before discussing what I’ve learned during the website construction, I would like to talk a little bit more about OSU’s IRB application.

To start the project, I will have to apply for OSU’s IRB. One thing worth mentioning is that my research subjects are mainly early adolescents – the youth; therefore, I will need to have additional steps when providing the documents to apply for the IRB. For those of you unfamiliar with the term “IRB” I will provide you some basic idea of what is IRB? According to the FDA’s definition, the term “IRB” – “Institutional Review Board” – is a committee that provides reviewing and approval of applications for research projects involving human subjects. So, what is the purpose of IRB in human subjects’ research? The main purpose of the IRB is to protect the rights and welfare of human subjects. Particularly, children are more vulnerable and require special considerations in the research. I followed the Research Ethics Committee Guidance Research Involving Children to design and conduct research that is suitable for the youth.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term “IRB” I will provide you some basic idea of what is IRB? According to the FDA’s definition, the term “IRB” – “Institutional Review Board” – is a committee that provides reviewing and approval of applications for research projects involving human subjects. So, what is the purpose of IRB in human subjects’ research? The main purpose of the IRB is to protect the rights and welfare of human subjects. Particularly, children are more vulnerable and require special considerations in the research. I followed the Research Ethics Committee Guidance Research Involving Children to design and conduct research that is suitable for the youth.

As for making an outreach website, I started to find information regarding marine issues around the world for my website. Something interesting is that although different places have different kinds of marine issues, it seems that these issues are not independent to each other. I found that they will finally point to one of the critical problems related to humans – marine food security. This is the ‘Aha’ moment for me. Because one of the challenges of communicating abstract issues with the public is that they are rarely related to people’s life experiences. And this finding could be one of the keys to making people link their life with abstract or/and complicated issues. In addition, by doing so people would raise their awareness on critical environmental issues especially marine issues in this case.

Overall, one of the challenges for me is that, although there is a large amount of online information, I need not only select specific marine environmental issues that are suitable for the public but also be careful to edit educational video and text contents that I wrote for the youth. To be more specific, knowing your audience is an important step in science communication.

Things that I have practiced from what I have learned are useful for scientific outreach. First of all, “being inspired”, is somewhat important when communicating science to the general public of any age. That is because people usually want to learn something new and interesting or exciting that more or less makes them see or learn the world differently. Additionally, researchers have indicated that in museum settings keeping the audiences engaged or pay attention can be difficult at the best of times. And in my case, not to mention science education (environmental education in particular) for the youth.

Following the guide that “children just starting out in primary school may only be able to focus on an activity for around 10 minutes or so” the contents that I selected should hook children’s eyes and not going too far that is beyond their understanding. Although there are challenges to work with the youth, one of the advantages of my research in youth environmental education is that local marine issues would be as place-based learning for the youth and this may hook their eyes. Also, I believe through learning new knowledge from this virtual museum, early adolescents could construct or refine their environmental identity and stewardship.

To conclude, no matter what age of my audience is, things that a general public audience would be willing to learn – from the museum exhibitions or the online learning website (or virtual museums) – are interesting, inspiring, and somehow related to their life experiences. Therefore, if someone would like to try doing science outreach, I would recommend you think about what excites you regarding your work and then build it into a talk that is suitable for your audience. Above all, you should amaze yourself first. Finally, the greatest thing I enjoy in science outreach is I can engage with people, create a scientific dialogue and listen to their life stories – their life experiences with marine science.

A reflection on my intentions for this fellowship

Fellowship Update

As I’ve talked about in past blog posts, I’m working on an erosion control guidebook that will give planners and other interested parties an overview of erosion control policy and implementation on the Oregon coast. This month, I completed a first draft of the guidebook. It was exciting to see the research I’ve been doing come together into a real document with good structure and flow. I’m also looking forward to the chance to promote my project in a series of presentations in late October and November. I’ll save the outcomes of my project for my next blog post, but I wanted to talk in this one about my goals coming into this fellowship and some of the things I’ve learned from it.

Intentions for this fellowship

I was initially excited about this fellowship because it would allow me to apply my coastal engineering masters degree in a completely new context. At the end of my masters, I had begun to realize that creative and clever engineering couldn’t provide a ‘silver bullet’ solution for the challenges posed by sea level rise and that policy, economic, and that other kinds of solutions were also needed. I was interested to see how my specific area of focus (coastal engineering) could fit into a larger view of coastal solutions, and this fellowship seemed like the perfect opportunity.

There are three main sectors I have in mind when talking about the multidisciplinary teams working to solve coastal issues. Obviously, there are many more areas of expertise that could be included, but these are the three that I feel are the most closely related to my continuing career:

  • Scientific: Scientists are instrumental in studying and understanding the challenges that impact coastal communities. Academic institutions or scientific agencies like DOGAMI have the ability to study problems and their potential solutions and contribute to a greater understanding of the coastal environment. They can also study the effectiveness of potential solutions. However, scientists have to be careful that their work is useful outside the scientific world and can be used by other practitioners
  • Policy: Policy-makers are able to use federal, state, and local laws to guide the development and conservation of the coast. Policy-makers have the important role of taking scientific knowledge and working with governing bodies and the community to come up with the best possible outcomes for coastal environments and people. Policy-makers can help coordinate between coastal issues and a huge range of other interests in a community, from economic to transportation to safety and much more. However, sometimes policy-makers don’t have the specific subject expertise for policies they are considering or are forced to rely on scientific information not suited for direct application in policy. Policy changes can also occur over a much longer time scale than scientific research and engineering.
  • Engineering: Engineers have the role of applying scientific information, policy restrictions, and individual site conditions to design creative and safe solutions to solve the solutions coastal communities are facing. Engineers bring valuable experience and practical knowledge of construction. However, they can be limited by funding (needing to use a less ideal, but cheaper solution). Engineering also sometimes acts as a “band-aid” solution without fixing the cause of the problem.

The coast is important to me, and I want to protect it in the best way I can from the threats of sea level rise and overdevelopment. I feel that communication and collaboration between these three disciplines is crucial to managing current and future coastal challenges, and I want to contribute to this by working at the intersections of them. I’ve interned for coastal engineering consulting firms (engineering sector), gotten my Master’s in coastal engineering from Oregon State University (science sector), and am now working on this erosion control guidebook with DLCD (policy sector).

Waldport
Golden hour in Waldport, August 2021. (Pictures included here not because they’re directly related to the post, but because what would a blog post about working on the coast be without some beautiful pictures of the beach?)

Experience in the policy sector

After 9 months of my fellowship, I can identify a few things I’ve learned about the intersections between engineering, policy, and science:

  • As part of my project, I’ve been writing about different kinds of erosion control for an audience of policy-makers and planners. I’ve enjoyed getting to use my expertise with reading coastal engineering academic papers to make the information more easily accessible for people in the policy realm who aren’t as familiar with engineering literature.
  • During my internships at coastal engineering firms, I often had to quickly learn all about the history of an area of the coast. Searching for relevant project reports in the area took time and resources for me as an intern, so I am trying to use my guidebook to collect as many resources in one place as I can for anyone involved with the Oregon coast to use.
  • I’ve learned a lot about the process of coastal policy-making in Oregon, especially around the subject of erosion control. After observing the Goal 18 exception processes and using recommendations from a public focus group to guide my project, I feel much more confident in participating in public processes like these, both from a professional and personal perspective.
  • Through observing public processes, I better understand how scientific and engineering information is leveraged in a policy context. The most useful information was presented with conclusions that were clear and understandable to people without any experience on the science/engineering of the issue. For example, rating systems like DOGAMI’s erosion hazard zones were useful for policy-makers because they were simple, created by scientists, and enabled policy responses to vary based on clearly delineated hazard zones.
  • By learning about the history of development on the Oregon coast, I understand why policy today is restrictive about coastal development and erosion control. While I sometimes personally wish that policies were more restrictive in some cases and less restrictive in others, understanding the history behind their development helps me appreciate their value in protecting different aspects of the coast.
  • Funding for projects is difficult to come by for state agencies, especially when they are often responsible for the upkeep and updating of basic tools rather than the flashier projects preferred by funding organizations. Collaboration between state agencies and scientists could be beneficial in securing grants.

I am confident that, whatever my next job, this fellowship will have prepared me to better connect the worlds of science, engineering, and policy. The coastal issues facing us in the near future will be complicated and will affect all aspects of coastal society, and I hope that this experience will position me to be a valuable member of multidisciplinary teams.

Newport
Newport Jetty, September 2020

Environmental Sustainability at Tofurky

As of June of this year, I started my 11-month journey at Tofurky as its Environmental and Sustainability Program Coordinator Fellow. At Tofurky, my role is to not only create an environmental management system (EMS), but also to create a series of programs and practices to create more sustainable culture overall. Given enough time, I may also delve into measuring Scope 3 emissions to help the company to not only record their impacts from our supply chain, but to also set goals to work towards over the next decade. 

I may only be a couple months in, but I already couldn’t have asked for a better experience from this program. From the people I’ve met to what I’ve learned, I have been able to develop my skills, both technically and interpersonally. In this blog I’m going to talk a bit about what I’ve completed so far as well as some of the lessons that I’ve learned during my time.

Starting out:

Hood River

The first couple of weeks felt like I was trying to drink from a fire hose. Adrienne (another OASE scholar) and I were loaded up on everything about Tofurky. We learned all about the history and culture of the company and as well as receiving an introduction to the production floor, where we learned all about the process that goes into making every Tofurky product. All of this information was super useful, but also made the work I needed to do a bit more daunting.

Something that really helped me to get past the daunting feeling of all the work I would need to do was the support of my mentor, Chris. His professional experience has helped guide me to success on my projects, ensuring that I have the support I need while still allowing the work to be my own. During our meetings, Chris always ends up dropping some useful life tips on us. Some of these have even guided how I approach a lot of the work I am doing now. One of the most common tips that we heard was to Keep It Simple Sweetheart (K.I.S.S.). This helped us to not only put the proper amount of time and effort into projects, but also encouraged getting feedback throughout a project rather than only at the end.

I truly began to feel more confident and knowledgeable in my position once I started creating prototypes and showing them to other people. Chris always emphasized the importance of getting something out there. Without it, we have nowhere to start, and that just delays our projects even further. This also encourages failure and growth, showing me that I need input and help from others to truly create a well-functioning tool.

Environmental Management System (EMS):

The overall purpose of an EMS is to have all of our environmentally related data in one place so that we can both track and manage it in an effective way. In turn, this allows us to make data-driven decisions throughout the company. As a mission-driven company and a B-Corp, Tofurky wants to be a leader in the plant-based proteins industry. This means that we want to be able to show others all the things that we are doing in order to either inspire them to do better, or to hold other companies accountable to their responsibilities to the planet.

My first EMS prototype was super rough, but as Chris advised me, it was somewhere to start and would allow us to move forward. To get input on the EMS and to create a pattern of talking about it, I created a monthly meeting with key stakeholders. We spent our first meeting talking about data, how it could be used for analyzing our position, and discussing what people thought about it, where it could improve, and how useful these meetings would be in the future. Although I was pretty nervous going into this, I found that many of the people who I thought would be critical were actually more excited that we were finally looking into all of this again. What I learned from this is that change requires initiative as well as someone to own it. Without these, many things that people may have an interest in will actually go untouched.

Going into my second EMS meeting I was a lot more excited. Not only did we have our 2030 sustainability goals completed by Adrienne, but we had also completed our first waste audit that morning. When talking about the future of this meeting, I could see a process emerging. These monthly meetings would be to talk about data, but we would need more meetings to go in depth on other topics. I could see the web of effort expanding, that we would soon have sustainability talked about throughout Tofurky on a much more regular basis. On top of all of this, I was also excited to talk about our new goals that show our commitment to a better planet.

Waste Audit:

My most recent achievement was the completion of Tofurky’s first every waste sort. Last week, seven volunteers and I went to the Hood River Garbage transfer station to sort through the pile of trash from our compactor at our main production facility. Not only did we get to see all of the garbage that our facility had produced for the last 2-3 days, but we also got to enjoy all the wonderful smells associated with it.

This entire experience was super useful for several reasons. One of the first is that both the COO and CEO of Tofurky were volunteers at the sort. Having them both there was great because it let our top-level management see what our impact really looks like. Doing a waste sort is also great because it creates a platform for change. Because of this sort, I will now be able to show with data how we can divert from landfills, change our process, and overall reduce costs purely through changing how we work with waste.

Waste sort set-up
The Waste Sort Team

Up Next:

My next few months are going to be jam packed with a ton of work. Not only am I going to be working on processing, analyzing, and reporting the data on our waste audit, but I also have to begin working on our material waste management. A project related to is observing and developing a plan for our production floor to try and help reduce our material waste percentage or to at least help divert more waste from landfills. To do this I will be talking with supervisors as well as employees to try and figure out what will and won’t work. Something that is also exciting is that I will be reaching out to a number of groups to develop end of life destinations within our production process. All of this work combined with looking upstream will hopefully lead to a large reduction of waste produced as well as ending up at a landfill.

Overall, these first few months with Tofurky have been truly amazing, and I’m super excited for the future to see all the new things I learn, the people I meet, and the change I create.