Friday, October 29, 2010

A whole new world...

Julie Mida, Sea Grant FellowIt's hard to believe this is my first blog post and I've already been at the Great Lakes Commission (GLC) for almost five months! I spent my summer getting to know my coworkers and familiarizing myself with the policies, agencies, and institutional structures that make up Great Lakes governance.

My transition from pure science to the science/policy interface has been eased by the science-based focus of my projects, and I have been pleasantly surprised to find the social science and policy aspects of my work just as interesting and engaging. For example, one of my primary responsibilities is to co-lead a project to plan and conduct a regional symposium on the management of non-native Phragmites australis. This invasive reed is taking over coastal and inland wetlands across the region, destroying native habitats and impacting human use of water resources by restricting access and impeding views. To address this issue, the GLC is working with Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources and Environment staff to bring together interested stakeholders in order to forge relationships and to develop a strategic framework for management on a statewide level. This symposium will be held in Lansing in March 2011, and I'm looking forward to seeing this project through from beginning to end. Since I devoted my graduate work to understanding the ecological impacts of invasive species in the Great Lakes, I have enjoyed the opportunity to see how this type of science is applied to complex decision-making processes.

I've also been heavily involved in the GLC's facilitation of the Great Lakes Wind Collaborative, a multi-sector coalition of stakeholders working towards the sustainable development of wind power in the Great Lakes region. One of my main projects is planning a State of the Science meeting on the ecological impacts of wind energy in the Great Lakes. Last week, I was in Lakewood, Colorado at the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative's 2010 Wind Wildlife Research Meeting. This year was the first time there was an offshore wind session at the meeting, and I really enjoyed learning about the unique ecological, scientific, social, policy and regulatory issues surrounding offshore wind development. With the lease for the first offshore wind farm in the US being signed by the Secretary of the Interior just a few weeks ago, it is a very exciting time to be working on offshore wind issues!

This is just a small samplling of the work I've been fortunate to be involved with at the GLC over the first part of my fellowship. My time here so far has been educational and exciting, and I have really enjoyed the opportunity to network with the Great Lakes community beyond the realm of academia. I am beginning to realize how important relationship-building, cooperation, and communication are to responsible governance of natural resources, and I am looking forward to delving even deeper into these issues in the latter half of my fellowship.   - Julie, GLC Fellow 2010

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Controversy and Resolution - Lessons from a Year at the Commission

Anjali Patel recently completed a one year, Sea Grant fellowship at the Great Lakes Commission and has now moved onto a law firm in DC. I caught up with her this week to get her perspective on the fellowship and what she’d learned about science and policy in the Great Lakes region.

“This was just a good year to be a the Commission – between the growing interest in wind energy, the federal restoration initiative, ballast water regulations and Asian carp there was just a steady stream of really interesting work!” said Anjali. “By the end of the year, I realized I had worked with just about everyone on staff on some type of project.”

Anjali started her work at the Commission in the summer of 2009, just after securing her law degree from the University of Michigan. Anjal has a history of working with communities and non-profit organizatinons, but interstate compact agencies, interjurisdictional cooperation, and multi-stakeholder consensus building was a whole new game.

From day one of the fellowship, she was thrown into a series of contentious Great Lakes issues at the science-policy interface. I asked her what surprised her most about this new world.

“I was really struck by how small the community is,” Anjali said. She quickly became familiar with the players because she often saw the same people at meetings, even when the topics were very different, such as wind development and Asian Carp. Staff and time are limited, so leaders from state agencies and NGOs often had to be experts on many different topics.

This one observation – about the intimacy and overlap within the Great Lakes environmental policy community – is connected to many of Anjali’s other observations.

We’ve all witnessed the ebb and flow of political will, but this became a driver of Anjali’s daily work life. When she began the fellowship, there was a growing momentum to develop strict rules for ballast water in ships travelling into the Great Lakes. Anjali took a maternity leave mid fellowship and when she returned, this work had been completely eclipsed by concerns for Asian carp. I asked her what she thought was driving the shifting attention, is it driven by the media? Anjali thinks it is partly a function of the small community. Staff time is limited, so when a crisis comes up, energy is diverted from other less urgent issues. The Great Lakes region can only make progress on a few issues simultaneously, particularly if progress requires regional consensus and coordination.

Anjali got to watch how regional negotiations unfold. The Commission helped assist the Great Lakes states and provinces in developing a single resolution about Asian carp and the needed response. Commissioners from all ten Great Lakes states and provinces were able to agree that the best permanent solution for the health of both the Mississippi River and Great Lakes watersheds is ecological separation. Given the disagreement over short term solutions, the parties engaged in multiple conversations in which they expressed their underlying concerns and goals in order to craft language which was acceptable to all. 

“The Commission has a history of successfully building consensus and it was fascinating to see how it’s done. The sides weren’t nearly as polarized as the media portrayed, but it took face to face meetings to find the commonalities.”

Anjali was also really struck by the friendliness of Great Lakes community, despite the controversies. “People treat each other with respect even when things get heated. It might be the Midwest style.” She also had another explanation. Because the community is small, two people might be on opposing sides of the current issue, but find themselves on the same side of the next issue. So people tred lightly. Your enemies today might be your allies tomorrow. Rather than large polarized groups facing off over a controversial issue, discussions involved people who had established relationships that they wanted to maintain.

Before I said good bye to Anjali, I asked how her experiences and observations would help her in her new job with an energy law firm in DC. She said the Commission has trained her to write more quickly and cogently, a skill every lawyer needs. And her work with the Great Lakes Wind Collaborative will be a bonus as her law firm begins to focus on alternative energy issues. She also feels the fellowship has given her a broader perspective on how policy, industry and NGOs fit together. So when she’s focusing on the needs of a particular energy company she can see how it fits into the bigger picture. “I can now see how and why things happen and who makes it happen. And that’s just interesting.”

You can read more about Anjali’s work in these reports:

Report – The Role of Ports for Wind Energy
Prospectus – The Great Lakes Wind Collaborative

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Updates from a 2010 Knauss Fellow

I started the Knauss fellowship last February, and six months have never gone by so fast. I’ve been working in the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) Office of Science and Technology, focusing on habitat science.

It’s a bit staggering to sum up even six months of experiences in such a fast-paced environment, but suffice it to say that they’ve been diverse, challenging, and exciting. A freshwater ecologist by training, albeit with an interest in habitat, I was nervous that my background may not translate well to the marine environment. My first few weeks were slow, as I was getting up to speed with projects and acronyms. Feeling like I needed a chance to jump into something and contribute, I volunteered late one Friday afternoon to put together an abstract for an upcoming conference. I was in the office well after everyone else left that day, working with a leading habitat scientist in La Jolla, CA on the abstract, and we ended up getting it accepted. Lesson learned: there's plenty of work here that needs to be done and the experience is here for the taking. It seems like since that day, I haven’t had a chance to catch my breath in the office. It's definitely been transition from the academic and field environment to the office, but the last six months have flown by as I’ve contributed to a number of major efforts in our office.

I’ve worked on three major assignments in our office thus far: the National Habitat Assessment Workshop (NHAW), the National Fish Habitat Action Plan (NFHAP) Coastal Assessment, and the NMFS Science Board. The NHAW was held jointly with a stock assessment workshop in an effort to improve communication, science, and management with regard to habitat. The ~200 person workshop was in St. Petersburg, FL, and I was part of a small team in charge of planning, executing, and following through with recommendations generated at the workshop. I’ve also been fortunate to participate in some research, through the NFHAP coastal assessment. NFHAP is a network of habitat partnerships across the country, and they have requested a national assessment of the nation’s coastal waters. My experience with GIS and habitat science as well as connections I made at SNRE have allowed me to step immediately into the research team as a peer amongst some of NMFS’ best scientists. It’s been exciting to contribute to the assessment, an effort that featured travel to Boulder, CO and potentially to Galveston, TX and Pittsburgh, PA. Finally, a coworker and I have served as the Executive Secretaries for the NMFS Science Board. While planning, executing, and following through on actions from these quarterly meetings, I’ve had the opportunity to witness and sometimes contribute to very high-level science. Probably the most interesting experience on the Science Board was watching discussions during the May 4-6 meeting, which occurred in the early days of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.
While the work has been great, I've also enjoyed the travel and life in DC. I've already been to St. Petersburg, FL and Boulder, CO for work and expect to go to La Jolla, CA, Seattle, WA and Galveston, TX along with two other work trips. The young and vibrant atmosphere in DC has been entertaining when I do actually have a chance to relax- there's plenty of music, sports leagues, and I was surprised to find a number of nearby parks for outdoors activities. Another highlight has been the friends I've made within the fellowship class, many of whom I expect to keep in touch with long after my time here is through. In sum, the fellowship has been a blur thus far, but between the chance to put my education to work and the experiences I've gained, I've definitely enjoyed being where the action is.
- Maggie, Knauss 2010

Thursday, June 17, 2010

New Fellow Begins at the Great Lakes Commission

After a rigorous selection process, the next round of fellowhips recipients have been chosen - including two candidates from Michigan for two different fellowships.

Congrulations to Julie Mida, the next Great Lakes Commission Fellow. Julie just finished an MS in Aquatic Sciences from the University of Michigan, where she researched the role of the opossum shrimp (Mysis relicta) in the altered food webs of Lakes Michigan and Huron.

Julie is a Michigan native who loves swimming, boating, creative writing and just being outdoors. She says her interest in aquatic ecology was a natural extension of her childhood experiences, “…catching fish from her dock, exploring ice formations on the frozen shores in winter and discovering the secrets of wind-swept dunes and pebble-strewn beaches in summer.”

Julie found many outlets for her passion in school and beyond. As part of her MS research project, she spent 10 days living and sampling abroad the EPA’s research ship, the Lake Guardian, and many long hours processing and identifying plankton samples in University and USGS labs. Julie isn’t just good at doing science, she’s also great at sharing her knowledge and enthusiasm. She received glowing reviews from the students in her lab sections and she found time to lead volunteer stream monitoring trips. Julie has a great combination of interpersonal and technical skills and we are thrilled to see where the fellowship takes her.

After just two weeks on the job at the Commission, Julie expects her work to focus on issues of invasive species, habitat restoration and coastal wind development.  We look forward to blog updates from Julie!

Finalist Chosen for Marine Policy Fellowship

Colin Hume was recently chosen to be part of the 2011 class of Knauss Fellows - Congratulations! Colin and about 40 other fellows will be heading to D.C. in Janauary 2011, but he won’t find out which agency within the exectirve branch will be his host until November.

Colin just completed a MS at the University of Michigan, with a focus on Conservation Biology and Environmental Policy. Colin grew up near Seattle where both the coast and mountains made a deep impression and influenced his professional as well as recreational choices. After graduating from Western Washington University with a degree in biology he worked on number of field research projects –snagging bear hair for DNA anlaysis, tracking the movement of carnivores, and searching for amphibians in wetlands.

Ecology is only one of Colin’s passions. After college, he also spent time in Afganistan and Ethiopia, as a photographer, videographer and fundraising coordinator for two NGOs. These experiences contributed to Colin’s creativity, leadership and organizational skills – traits that will likely make him an effective environmental practicioner.

During his years in the field, Colin developed a desire to play a larger role in the decision-making and management of our forest and natural resources. He hopes his MS degree and the Knauss fellowship will deepen his understanding of environmental approaches within the public sector and will help launch his career. We look forward to learning a little bit about the journey!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

International Marine Policy in Washington, DC

I have been working at the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Marine Conservation for just over three months now and I feel that I’m just starting to find my way. I am beginning to be able to decipher office email with all of the acronyms. Today I spent most of my time at work on the upcoming United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement. I got the opportunity to go to the UN Headquarters in NYC in March for a preparatory meeting and will go again at the end of May for the week-long Review Conference.

It has been a remarkable experience working with the most amazing professionals at the Department of State on important issues such as the state of global fish stocks. In addition to the opportunities in my office I have really enjoyed taking advantage of meetings outside of my office. I’ve been to both Senate and Congressional hearings on NOAA law enforcement, catch shares, and whale conservation.

It has been really amazing to realize how big the Knauss network is as well. I’ve run into former fellows in Alaska, Seattle, and at almost every meeting I’ve been to in the city. No matter where I go I meet great people who have former fellowship experiences to share and advice to give. The support and friendship of current fellows has been great too. There are always current fellows sharing upcoming meetings, happy hours, house warming parties, hiking trips, work experiences, concerts, and expertise on any marine issue you can imagine. Now I’m looking forward to a trip to Sitka, Alaska next month and maybe some international travel after that.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Real World Lessons, Great Lakes Style

When I returned from maternity leave earlier last week, I was amazed to realize half of my fellowship at the Great Lakes Commission is already over. It is an exciting year to be a fellow at the Commission. Since my fellowship began, there has been a lot of widespread attention regarding issues impacting the Great Lakes on both a regional and national level with the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Asian Carp issues catching the greatest headlines. While most of my work has revolved around wind energy and invasive species, I have also been engaged in developing contracts for Recovery Act (ARRA) grants and assisting in the preparation of policy comments on proposed national regulations and policies which impact the Great Lakes. The most interesting aspects about this fellowship has been the opportunity to observe lessons discussed in the classroom come to life in the real world.

One of my professors in law school often talked about the need for political champions in order to drive the implementation of federal policies. Working at the Commission, I have the fortune to be educated on the institutional history behind and the rationale explaining some of the newly enacted federal policies which affect the Great Lakes. For example, one of President Obama’s campaign promises was to designate federal funds to “restore the Great Lakes;” this promise was fulfilled at the end of October when the President signed the $475 million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative into law. This large cash infusion is sorely needed by the region to implement restoration and protection activities, but it was not a new concept developed during the campaign period. Organizations and agencies working on Great Lakes issues have been pushing for dedicated federal funding for years prior to the passage of the GLRI. One of the difference between 2009 and the prior years was that the idea finally garnered enough political will with champions in both the White House and Congress in order to produce the needed results.

During graduate school, I took a class on social change and environmental movements where we studied the various theories that have been developed to explain how and why social change is produced. A few years ago, offshore wind development in the Great Lakes was only talked about in small circles; today it is on the development fast track in many Great Lakes states. High wind speeds over the lakes is not a new phenomena, so what changed that offshore wind has become such a hot topic? A webinar and stakeholder meeting I helped organize last fall to discuss regional collaboration for the sustainable development of offshore wind in the Great Lakes, gave me glimpses into some of the possible reasons. Part of the change comes from the way the issue is framed. Offshore wind energy development is not just an issue of “clean energy” or “energy independence,” it is also regarded as a mechanism to boost the economy of a region which is blessed with rich environmental resources but cursed with a failing manufacturing sector. Government officials and industry leaders have also espoused the secondary impacts of offshore and onshore wind development as potential means of reinvigorating and ensuring the long-term viability of the region’s manufacturing sector. There are also the issues of resource mobilization and strong network linkages. Both of the federal governments as well as the states and provinces have committed financial and personnel support to developing wind energy in the Great Lakes. Furthermore, there are a diverse array of stakeholders involved in the consideration of offshore wind energy in the Great Lakes from federal agencies and state/provincial government to local communities, developers, non-profit organizations, academic institutions, lawyers and consultants. The webinar and meeting I helped organize was hosted by the Great Lakes Wind Collaborative (GLWC), one of the many organizations working to facilitate the development of network linkages in support of the sustainable development of wind energy in the Great Lakes region. I look forward to continuing these lessons during the second half of my fellowship. If you have any questions about the Fellowship, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Friday, January 22, 2010

What does it take to become a NOAA fellow?

Not all of the NOAA Coastal Management Fellows have the traditional science and policy background you might expect.

Coastal Fellow Matt Nixon has cultivated a great enthusiasm for New England maritime history, both in his studies and in reallife adventures. It is fitting, then, that this particular coastal fellow should gain a crow’s-nest view of New England’s maritime future—harnessing the power of the Gulf of Maine through the wind, tides, and other forms of energy.

A denizen of the big city becomes a nature lover, an admirer of philosophy turns protector of the coastal environment—at first glance, the life of Coastal Fellow Daniella Hirschfeld is a study in contrasts. Only later is it evident that Daniella has absorbed the lesson in each experience, and her outlook is all the better for it.

Read the full story in the fellow newsletter.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Close to home: One NOAA fellow will be based in Michigan

Beginning in August 2010, Michigan will be one of six coastal states to host a NOAA Coastal Management Fellow. The fellow will be based in Lansing, MI and will work for two years on working waterfront issues throughout the state.

In Michigan, as in other coastal states, working waterfronts are becoming increasingly privatized.  Working waterfronts allow coastal access for commerce and recreation, combining the busy landscape of water-dependent businesses – ranging from commercial fishermen, to charter boat operations and marinas – with public access points and a variety of services.  The gradual loss of public access to the coasts has never been quantified and communities have few tools for managing competing uses for their coasts.  

Read more about working waterfronts in Michigan - here.

Interested in applying to work on this or five other coastal projects, including ones in Puerto Rico, Washington, Maine and Wisconnsin?  Visit the program website or contact Lynn Vaccaro for more information about the fellowship.  Note:  applications are due January 29, 2010!