Thursday, May 16, 2013

Taking the Last Flight Challenge by Investigating Sustainable Development

BIOL/GEOSC/GENSCI/ENVSTD 297 - Investigations into Sustainable Development

Spring semester was a whirl wind of great service opportunities, thought provoking case studies, great guest speakers, and connections to the campus read, The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw.  Students took part in service-learning through a survey model allowing them to participate in a range of sustainability efforts throughout the Treasure Valley.
Guiding our investigations were the three pillars of sustainable development: society, economy, and the environment. Everything we learned, evaluated, or took part in was connected back to these three pillars through reflection and class discussion. Students’ reflections were poignant and thoughtful. One student reflected, 

“The Lake Lowell case study provides a great example as to why conservation is so complex. Just like in The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw, it's not as simple as having good guys who want to save the environment and bad guys who want to destroy it, which I feel is a common misconception. Social and economic issues are equally important environmental impacts when it comes to conservation issues. The Lake Lowell case represents the current messy style of many environmental issues where everyone talks about what they personally want or need, without taking the whole system into account. I noticed this in The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw, as well, the government wants one thing, the zoo lady wants something else so it's just all out war from there. In order to come up with effective solutions to environmental issues, people need to view the system as a whole and work on new answers to problems rather than just choosing a winner or a loser. Build the dam and kill the macaws or don't build it and no one can have power, neither of those are good options”.

As we looked at local and global issues we began to see more similarities than differences. The survey model of service-learning enhanced our learning and helped us to make these local to global connections, from a variety of perspectives. Our community partners included: Foothills Learning Center Community Education -KidWind Project on Wind Energy; Idaho Fish and Game Planting Native Plants and Monitoring Wood Duck Boxes; USDA Rangeland Resources Research on Microclimates; BLM Triangulation of Riparian Vegetation and Water Quality Data; and Idaho Bird Observatory.

The semesters service-learning was kicked off with wood duck box monitoring with Idaho Fish and Game. During this experience we learned that the wood duck, like the scarlet macaw, is a cavity nester whose nesting habitat has been disrupted by the dam building here in the United States. Students felt a large sense of accomplishment after helping the community partners with their various sustainable development efforts.  Students also felt a strong sense of value in working with K-12 students in the KidWind Project because they felt it important to excite the next generation about STEM fields and the importance of sustainable development.

Highlights of the semester ranged from our invitation to dinner with Bruce Barcott, to the many service learning opportunities in the field and participation in a mock US Fish and Wildlife Services committee to determine if the scarlet macaw should be listed as endangered.

Investigations into Sustainable Development will be offered again Fall 2013. 

 -Jill K. Hettinger, Boise State University Service-Learning

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