Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 8
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Norgaard awarded research grant for salmon preservation

“Ever since I could remember, ever since I was quite small, I have felt urgently that the natural world is in peril in some sense.”

Professor of Environmental Sociology Kari Norgaard was one of a handful of Whitman professors awarded a grant from the Support of Innovation Teaching and Learning Fund, a new strategic initiative developed by the President’s Office this year for faculty members interested in leading trips and conducting research with students. $150,000 went towards the initiative.

The project, called The Klamath Field Study Program, will involve bringing three to four Whitman students to the Klamath Mountain region starting in summer 2008 to conduct research on the Karuk Tribe of California, the second largest tribe in the state. When applicable, students will use the research they conduct in Klamath for their senior theses.

Why Klamath? According the Norgaard, the Klamath River used to be the third largest salmon producing spring in western North America. Prior to outside influence, there were eight different runs of salmon that flourished in the region. Now, as a result of environmental degradation, there is only one, she explained.

From a political standpoint, students will be able to study the five dams, which operate in the region, whose removal is pending. The dams have been controversial because, without fish ladders, “all the biological opinion shows that the dams are devastating to fish,” said Norgaard. Dam installation was a leading factor in the disintegration of viable salmon streams.

Norgaard became involved with the Klamath region initially because the dams were up for re-licensing. Today, it is likely that the dams will be removed. This is a triumph for the environmental community and, if executed, it will be one of the largest dam removals in the world to date.

Norgaard anticipates that the projects will vary dramatically, given the diversity of the region. “It is a very biologically, culturally unique area…including a great deal of species diversity… [and] the presence of three large native tribes.” Her intention is that students will be able to engage with the community whether they are interested in focusing on the political, cultural, or biological factors implicated in the case study.

Norgaard started conducting research in this area in 2003, and has been bringing students to this remote part of California with the support of Perry Grant funding. “When I say remote, I mean that it is a two-hour drive to the nearest stop light in any direction…even though it is in California, which is a very populous state, it is a very remote area.”

In addition to her work in Klamath, Norgaard is also conducting research with junior Leora Stein, through funding provided by an Abshire Grant. In a project entitled  “Climate Change and the Social Organization of Denial: A Comparative Study Between the U.S. and Norway,” Norgaard and Stein are currently conducting interviews in Walla Walla regarding residents’ perceptions and feelings about climate change.

“It is a really great learning experience working with people I don’t know,” said Stein. Stein is responsible for assisting Norgaard in interviewing and transcribing research. “In some cases I have been confronted by really different opinions that I maybe hadn’t considered before.”

Stein was approached by Norgaard last fall to help her with the project. In years past, she took Environmental Sociology and Introduction to Environmental Studies with Norgaard.

“I think she is a really fabulous professor,” said Stein. “It is really encouraging to see a professor doing work outside of her teaching…she is not only teaching but also so involved in her current work.”

This past week, Norgaard spoke to the Whitman community in a lecture entitled “How to talk to a climate skeptic.” Norgaard was invited to speak as a part of the week-long Focus the Nation event. In her lecture she addressed themes of environmental justice, which is how her work is often categorized.

“People who have less political power, opportunity and so forth are more impacted by environmental problems,” said Norgaard.

Norgaard took part in the Focus the Nation week at Whitman, was a small facet of the nation-wide event.

“I feel very strongly that climate change is such an urgent problem that we need to do as much as we can right now in terms of human rights and species survival,” said Norgaard, “so that is part of how I am contributing nationally.”

Norgaard facilitated in coordinating sociologists from across the country to teach basic climate change awareness in their respective college classrooms as part of the Focus the Nation week.

In May of this year, Norgaard will attend a conference through the National Science Foundation in Virginia, on research in the social sciences on climate change. She will be among 25 sociologist and environmental experts who will work during the two-day retreat to establish an agenda for upcoming research pertaining to her field.

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