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Beyond the ecological

A place-based approach to understanding landscape changes


By Melanie Callahan

On the Newfoundland’s West Coast, researchers from very different backgrounds are working to understand the lesser-known impacts of spruce budworm outbreaks.

The project, Designing Regional and Local Scale Indicator to Quantify the Impacts of Spruce Budworm Outbreak in Western Newfoundland on Cultural Ecosystem Services, is being led by Dr. Camille Ouellet Dallaire, School of Science and the Environment, Grenfell Campus; Dr. Rachel Jekanowski, School of Arts and Social Science, Grenfell Campus; with the collaboration of interdisciplinary artist Megan Samms.

Spruce budworm is a brown moth that feeds on fir and spruce trees throughout the boreal forest of North America.

During an outbreak, tens of millions of hectares of trees can be defoliated, usually leading to the trees’ death.

“There has been research on the ecological impact of spruce budworm, yet there is little information on how spruce budworm outbreaks impact cultural, spiritual and recreational ecosystem services — culturally meaningful components such as fishing, hiking and creative inspiration,” said Dr. Ouellet Dallaire.

A group of people wearing hiking gear in the woods on a sunny day.
A group visits Gros Morne National Park to talk about cultural values.
Photo: Submitted

The researchers will explore these components that are often difficult to quantify.

Photography and storytelling

The project will include mapping cultural ecosystem services, such as fishing and visual inspiration and hold science and art residencies in Norris Point, an enclaved community within Gros Morne National Park.

They will also develop art-based methods to try and better understand how landscape changes can impact people and communities.

Dr. Jekanowski says their approach is innovative because it combines geospatial ecosystem services modelling with methods from the environmental humanities, including cultural mapping through photography and storytelling.

“It also provides a place-based approach to understanding impacts designed for rural and remote areas that could be applied in other boreal regions or to other landscape changes, such as disturbances from other forest insects, or large-scale natural resource developments,” she said.

“We wanted to activate the power of arts to evoke emotions and bring beauty together with landscape mapping and models.” — Dr. Camille Ouellet Dallaire

Dr. Ouellet Dallaire says the researchers have a shared desire to engage with perspectives of how people interact with the forest beyond Western means and monetary valuation.

“We wanted to activate the power of arts to evoke emotions and bring beauty together with landscape mapping and models.”

She also says changes in the appearance of forest structures and habitat availability, as well as in traditional ecosystem services, could have important repercussions on the benefits of the cultural, spiritual and recreational ecosystem services that local communities depend on.

“Understanding better how these changes in the forest impact people that live in these regions can help support and inform how we manage these landscapes,” she said.

The project’s success depends on key partnerships, including those with Natural Resources Canada, Grenfell Campus’s Office of Public Engagement and Gros Morne communities.

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