Archive for the 'Environmental Studies' Category

Semester at Duke University Marine Lab: Opportunities for Education and Research

Becca Bolton’s Experience:

“Studying at the Duke University Marine Lab was probably one of the best decisions that I have made in my college career. It was a wonderful experience, and I would highly recommend the program to anyone that is interested. I learned so much about the marine sciences, and the program definitely heightened my interest in marine environmental issues. The atmosphere at the marine lab is extremely unique, and everyone on the island is very friendly and welcoming. The professors are great and all of my classes were interesting and a lot of fun. We were able to go out on the boats at least once a week, and I definitely gained a lot of experience working in the field. The program directors set up some fun activities for us to do on the weekends as well such as horseback riding on the beach, surfing, and sailing. You pretty much eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner with the same people every day so we all became pretty good friends. It is a definitely an experience that I will never forget.”

Learn how to become involved:


W&L Research Shows New “Adaptive” Fencing Reduces Pollution in Chesapeake Bay

Lexington, Virginia • November 29, 2010

A study by two Washington and Lee University undergraduates is investigating whether a new “adaptive” fencing program used to keep cattle out of streams that feed into the Chesapeake Bay watershed is as effective as state and federal cost-share fencing programs in reducing the in-stream concentration of harmful bacteria.

Peter O’Donnell and Thomas Jenkins hope that their research will encourage more farmers to participate in the farmer-friendly “Adaptive Streambank Fencing Program.” Established as a pilot in the Shenandoah Valley by the Shenandoah Resource Conservation and Development Council, the program is funded by private donations from the Chesapeake Bay Funders Network.

Jenkins, a senior environmental major with a focus on economics, also developed a computer economic model that is designed to help farmers make decisions about which types of fencing are most cost-effective for their individual circumstances.

“This research shows that adaptive fencing programs are effective for reducing bacteria and economically may be a better choice for certain situations,” said Robert Humston, assistant professor of biology at W&L and instigator of the research.

Some farmers have criticized the state and federal cost-share programs as too stringent in requiring high-cost conventional fencing and a 20- to 35-foot buffer between pasture and stream. The programs provide no funding for labor, maintenance or replacement of the fencing. Farmers usually must commit to maintaining all cost-share fencing for 10 to 15 years.

“With the possibility of increased pollution mandates for farmers to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, this is definitely a contentious issue,” said Humston.

“The government programs may work for some farmers, but it’s less appealing to those who have to bear the high costs of repairing fencing after flooding. Also, the large buffer area, impractical on some farms due to the topography, results in loss of pasture thus reducing herd numbers. Others aren’t comfortable taking money from the federal government. But as controversial as this issue is, when you talk to farmers they do all appreciate the value and importance of clean water in our streams.”

The pilot “Adaptive Streambank Fencing Program” originally provided up to 75 percent of the cost of minimum standard fencing-permanent posts, two-strand electrified wire-with no standard setback from the stream except that it needed to be “top of streambank.” Over the initial three years of the program, setbacks ranged from three feet to over 100 feet on some projects, with an average of 24 feet. Farmers commit to excluding their livestock from streams for at least five years.

The program has since been expanded to cover seven counties in the Shenandoah Valley and now provides reimbursement costs for materials only for the fencing, watering systems and livestock crossings.

“The program has become fairly popular,” said Humston. “Studies clearly show that conventional fencing greatly reduces bacteria in streams compared to no fencing at all. But before this research no one had studied the differences between adaptive fencing, conventional fencing and no fencing.”
O’Donnell, with a strong background in biology and biochemistry, led the research to test streams with different fencing for levels of e-coli, a bacteria found in high concentrations in cow feces. All samples were collected from streams with cattle feeding in adjacent pastures.

“If you see a problem with bacteria from cow feces then you can assume that there are also high inputs of nutrients since they also come from cow feces,” explained Humston. “While the bacteria will eventually die, the harmful nutrients go downstream and end up in the Chesapeake Bay.”

O’Donnell and Jenkins studied 15 streams-four with conventional fencing, six with adaptive fencing and five that were unfenced. While bacteria levels tended to increase in stream sections that were unfenced, the initial analyses suggest that bacteria decreased in stream sections protected by both conventional fencing, which reduced bacteria by a mean 32.6 percent, and adaptive fencing which reduced it by a mean of 20.9 percent.

Though a more thorough analysis needs to take into account other sources of variation between these study streams, Humston explained that the difference is probably attributable to the larger buffer area required by the federal programs. “Funding agencies have been hesitant to fund adaptive fencing programs because they would rather hold out for the better solutions provided by the large buffers that improve the health of streams as well as remove nutrients found in cow feces,” he said. “There are lots of things between cow feces on a pasture and a stream that will kill bacteria, whether it’s ultra violet radiation, small predators that eat bacteria or just drying out in the sun. Before this, no one had tested to see if the adaptive fencing program with its lower cost fencing and smaller or no buffers is just as effective,” he said.

“The students planned the entire experiment and executed it themselves, so it was the most hands-off experience I’ve ever had working with students. They did a fantastic job,” said Humston.

Jenkins used his strong background in economics to develop the economic model to look at the amount of time it would take a farmer to recover an investment in different types of fencing. “There are plenty of farm scale models,” he pointed out, “but none that directly addresses the problem of fencing streams to exclude cattle.”

He started by creating a basic model of a cow-calf farm, the predominant form of livestock agriculture in the area, and developed it further through talking with farmers, people at the Virginia Tech Extension Office and the Natural Resource Conservation Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Jenkins assumed that the farm would have a completed fencing project with water troughs and stream crossings. All the details of the farm, such as acreage, fence distance, buffer width, stocking rate and beef prices etc., are input according to each farm. “The farmer can enter how much land he or she has, how many head of cattle, how much pasture would be lost by putting in different types of fencing, what the initial investment is, the annual cost of maintenance etc. It’s very easy,” he said.

“If the economic model shows there is a substantial time difference before a farmer realizes the economic benefits of a particular fencing program, it gives the farmer a quantitative basis to make a decision and feel comfortable about not having a high risk for long term economic loss,” he said.

Jenkins added that one benefit of excluding cattle from streams is that the farmer can use the fencing to divide pastures and set up a rotational grazing operation. “It’s good for the cows, good for the land and good for the stream because the cows are moved around and not concentrated in one area. The farmer can grow grasses throughout the year and move the cows around for feeding. The farmer often doesn’t have to buy additional feed which is a huge saving,” Jenkins said.

“When you look at some of the water these cows are drinking, it’s not nearly as clean as well water, so there is a real health benefit for the cows having access to clean water,” he said. “But that’s hard to capture statistically because every farmer I talked to had a different story. For example, one farmer had five cows die from the water-borne disease leptosporidium each year before he fenced them, but none died once they were excluded from the stream. Another farmer noticed less hoof-rot in his herd once they were fenced from the stream.”

But Jenkins could include cattle weight gain and beef prices in the model. “I found a study that showed that cattle tend to gain about 5 percent more weight when provided with an off-stream water source,” he said. “When the cost of installing the fencing, troughs and crossings, and yearly flood maintenance are balanced against increased income from selling heavier calves, the farmer’s costs are recovered over time.”

Jenkins designed the economic model to produce different results over time, even for the same farm. “I added a random component to reflect what happens when a variable portion of the fence is destroyed or damaged by flood each year. If you run repeated simulations with the model it will give you the average number of years to recover the initial cost of the fencing,” he said.

“His model is probably conservative,” said Humston. “That’s good because you can tell a farmer he or she will recover a fencing investment in a certain number of years, but it’s probably going to be sooner.”

O’Donnell and Jenkins hope to present their findings at the Virginia Water Conference in March 2011. “I’m also hoping they can publish a paper on their research before they graduate,” said Humston.

The Chesapeake Bay Funders Network is a funding collaborative of private non-profit foundations helping communities to initiate and sustain necessary changes to promote and protect the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

O’Donnell was funded through a Mellon Grant to W&L’s environmental studies program. Jenkins was funded through a private gift from the Lewis Legacy Foundation.

Hurd Elected Fellow in Linnean

W&L Biology Professor Lawrence E. Hurd Elected Fellow in Linnean Society

News Writer

Lexington, Virginia • November 9, 2010

Lawrence E. Hurd, the Herwick Professor of Biology at Washington and Lee University, was recently elected as a fellow in the Linnean Society. The Linnean Society, based in London, is the premier professional society for taxonomy and natural history.

The Journal of the Linnean Society is one of the major outlets for publishing natural history and systematics articles. Charles A. Darwin (with A. R. Wallace) first presented his ideas on natural selection to this society, although it is recorded that most of the membership did not at the time fully grasp the importance of his theory.

The Linnean Collections include some original papers of Darwin’s, as well as historically important communications from many other scientists of the day.

Hurd’s membership was initiated by a nomination from Miguel Petrere, a leading Brazilian scientist, whom Hurd had met while doing research in Brazil. The election came after a vote of the current membership.

Hurd joined the Washington and Lee faculty in 1993 as a full professor and served as head of the biology department for 15 years. Previously, he was a professor of biology at the University of Delaware for 20 years. He is currently editor in chief of the Annals of the Entomological Society of America and fellow of the Royal Entomological Society of London.

In 2008 he was named to the John T. Herwick, M.D., Professorship in Biology, which was created by Dr. John T. Herwick, W&L Class of 1936, and his wife, Mary T. Herwick, as a memorial to Oscar E. and Edith D. Herwick, Dr. Herwick’s parents. .

Hurd has authored more than 90 publications in journals including Science, American Naturalist, Ecology, Environmental Entomology and Animal Behaviour. He is also co-editor of “The Praying Mantids” (Johns Hopkins Press, 1999).

Hurd’s research interests include tropical biodiversity, indicator species and human coexistence with nature; plant community succession and arthropod consumer diversity; and what regulates predator populations.

A graduate of Hiram College, Hurd received his Ph.D. from Syracuse University.

The Price of Sugar: How Much is Too Much

The International House hosted a screening of the film “The Price of Sugar” and followed it with a discussion panel. Panelists included faculty and staff from several departments. Leah Green, Professor of Environmental Studies and English and Laura Henry-Stone, Post-Doctoral Fellow of Environmental Studies were among those discussing how the United State’s sugar protectionism factors into the living conditions of the Haitian sugar cane cutters and the idea that the free trade of sugar could be a possible solution. The mission of the International House is to promote international learning by facilitating interaction and communication between students and members of the W&L community.

Students from Campus Sustainability Audit course attend the AASHE conference

On October 10, 2010, Environmental Studies Professor Laura Henry-Stone and five W&L students went to Denver to attend the annual conference of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). Dr. Henry-Stone, W&L’s ACS Postdoctoral Fellow in Environmental Studies and Sustainability, is currently teaching an environmental studies special topics course on campus sustainability. Sixteen students are using a new tool, designed by AASHE, called Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) to assess campus sustainability. W&L students Ellie Van Sant, Morten Wendelbo, Courtney Fairbrother, Ned Lundvall, and Lauren Acker attended the AASHE conference with Professor Henry-Stone to learn more about STARS and other campus sustainability initiatives around the country. During the pre-conference session on Sunday afternoon, the students attended a special AASHE student summit and were treated to keynote speaker Gretchen Bleiler, Olympic snowboarder, while Dr. Henry-Stone attended a session on Sustainability in the Curriculum. Upon their return, Ellie, Morten, Courtney, and Ned each visited one of four sections of Introduction to Environmental Studies to present on STARS and the AASHE conference, and Lauren reported on her experience to the education subcommittee of the University Sustainability Committee.

Law Professor’s New Book Explores Climate Change Litigation

Lexington, VA • Friday, January 15, 2010
Media Contact:
Peter Jetton
Director of Communications
The Courts have emerged as a crucial battleground in efforts to regulate climate change. A new book edited by Washington and Lee School of Law professor Hari Osofsky explores some of these cases argued in state and national courts, as well as international tribunals, in order to explain their regulatory significance and examine this emerging area of litigation.

The book, Adjudicating Climate Change: State, National, and International Approaches, was co-edited by William C.G. Burns and is available now from Cambridge University Press.

Over the past several years, tribunals at every level of government around the world have seen claims regarding greenhouse gas emissions and impacts. These cases rely on diverse legal theories, but all focus on government regulation of climate change or the actions of major corporate emitters.

Delving into these cases, the book demonstrates the role that these cases play in broader debates over climate policy and argues that they serve as an important force in pressuring governments and emitters to address this problem. But Osofsky emphasizes that these cases are not only important because they lead to greater or lesser regulation or push major emitters to reduce their emissions.

“These cases become part of a dialog about how we should regulate this problem,” says Osofsky. “What level of government is appropriate for regulating the problem? How should each level of government participate in the regulatory scheme?”

Osofsky herself became interested in climate change litigation while working in the area of international environmental rights and assisting the Center for International Environmental Law and Earthjustice with a petition to the Inter-American Commission claiming that U.S. climate change policy violated the Inuit’s human rights.

“At the time, almost all of the discussion surrounding climate change focused on the outcome of the Kyoto Protocol and post-Kyoto treaty negotiations,” says Osofsky. “But I realized that the Inuit case was just one of many actions already ongoing in national and state courts and international tribunals, and that these cases would have an impact on climate change regulation as these negotiations took place.”

Osofsky’s work continues to focus on, as she says, the “multi-scalar problem” climate policy creates for government.

“Our legal system is tied to specific levels of government and specific kinds of institutions,” notes Osofsky. “But climate change regulation cuts across every level of governance we have, from the most individual to the most international.”

In addition to her new book, Osofsky has a casebook on climate change law and policy forthcoming from Aspen Publishers. Her recent articles on climate change litigation have been awarded the Daniel B. Luten Award for the best paper by a professional geographer by the Energy and Environment Specialty Group of the Association of American Geographers and have twice been runner-up for inclusion in Land Use and Environment Law Review’s annual compilation of the top land use and environmental law articles.

This year Osofsky will serve as co-chair of the American Society of International Law’s 2010 Annual Meeting. She also is a member of the Climate Legacy Initiative’s Consultants Working Group and the International Law Association’s Committee on the Legal Principles of Climate Change, and teaches classes in which students assist the Southern Environmental Law Center with its work on climate change.

Prof. Osofsky received her B.A. and J.D. from Yale University. After clerking for Judge Dorothy Nelson of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, she worked as a Fellow at the Center for the Law in the Public Interest, with a focus on environmental justice advocacy.

Earle Bates Prize in Environmental Studies Awarded to Anna Stuart Burnett, ’10

The Earle Bates Prize in Environmental Studies is awarded to a graduating environmental studies student in honor of Earle Bates, a strong supporter of the Environmental Studies Program and a role model of environmental citizenship. The award recipient is chosen by the Environmental Studies core faculty on the basis of general academic performance, academic performance in the Environmental Studies Program, participation in co-curricular activities and contributions to campus and community sustainability.

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