Kansas Governor's Water Conference 2017: A good place to start

When I began my journey to talk with folks in the Great Plains about playas, I had a goal to visit each state in the region twice. Upon learning of the Kansas Governor’s Water Conference, I decided it would be a great event to kick off my tour de playas! The Governor’s Water Conference takes place annually in Manhattan, KS, bringing landowners, state agencies, industry, and non-profit organizations together to discuss pressing issues surrounding water in the state. Well, I learned that there is one big pressing issue surrounding water in Kansas – there’s not enough of it! Almost every talk I listened to discussed how to deal with the impending water shortage to protect crop production, livestock, and wildlife in the Kansas.

Because this was the first non-academic conference that I’ve attended since starting my Ph.D. work in playas, it was certainly a learning experience. I had to transition out of my research mindset and think about water issues facing real people every day. I have a strong theoretical knowledge of playas, but I lacked familiarity with conservation efforts on the ground and challenges associated with converting playas back to a semi-natural state. I found out different government incentive programs

In addition to gaining some practical knowledge of Kansas playas, I also was able to meet some of the Kansas playa players. Yes, playa players. I met Jessica Mounts, director of the Kansas Alliance for Wetlands and Streams, and organization who hosts workshops and field days in Western Kansas to raise awareness of playa conservation. I also had the opportunity to meet with Dr. David Haukos, a member of my dissertation committee and biologist at Kansas State University who has been studying playas for 30+ years. He’s a BIG playa player. Through Jessica and Dave, I found out about a playa field day taking place in Colby, Kansas in January 2018. Look for more information coming soon on this event!

Overall, I was extremely impressed with the comradery among the agricultural and conservation communities in Kansas coming together to address water shortage and the declining Ogallala Aquifer. While I didn’t win the student poster contest, I was glad to attend the meeting and learn more about Kansas water initiatives and some of the work taking place with playas in the state. I look forward to returning to Kansas in January to tour playas and talk with landowners about benefits and challenges of having playa wetlands on their properties. Special thanks to Dr. Bill Johnson at University of Kansas for recommending I attend this conference!

Playa wetlands in a changing climate: Taking science to stakeholders in the Great Plains

Playa wetlands for the future!

Picture yourself traveling down I-40 through Oklahoma and Texas. Or across Nebraska on I-80. Likely, you aren’t envisioning large lakes or beautifully flowing rivers (with the exception of the Platte River!). The Great Plains tend to be fairly dry, yet they contain an incredible density of small, seasonally-flooded wetlands, known as playas. 

Playas are shallow, rain-fed wetlands throughout the Great Plains. When wet, playas provide crucial habitat for many wildlife species that depend on water to survive, such as ducks, frogs, and bug larvae. When dry, playas also support several other Great Plains wildlife species because they are often the only natural lands in a region dominated by agricultural production. Playas also recharge water to the underlying aquifer, filter nutrients and chemicals from the surrounding watershed, and add recreational value to the region.

In the next 50 years, the Great Plains temperature is expected to increase substantially, and precipitation will begin to decline in all seasons except the spring. These climate changes pose an additional threat to the already vulnerable playa ecosystems. In a changing climate, it will become more important for private landowners, conservationists, and researchers to join together to preserve playas and the functions they serve throughout the Great Plains.

It’s time to get the conversation started. In an effort to assist existing outreach efforts in the Great Plains, I have been traveling to field days and events throughout the Great Plains to provide learn about stakeholder perceptions, develop educational materials, and provide field demonstrations to describe playa sensitivities to climate change and suggest conservation efforts that may help to mitigate further degradation. Field days have covered general playa characteristics, playas in a changing climate, managing for biodiversity, best management practices, and conservation support programs.

Field days have been hosted by a variety of organizations, including Playa Lakes Joint Venture, Rainwater Basin Joint Venture, Ogallala Commons, Texas Department of Wildlife and Parks, Kansas Water Office, Kansas Alliance for Wetlands and Streams, and Ducks Unlimited.

The time is upon us to work towards an integrated, healthy, productive landscape throughout the Great Plains moving forward. We can control the fate of playas in the future by thinking about how we can manage playas for the future today!

Assessing Stakeholder Perceptions

In addition to attending field days, I am working with stakeholders to describe playa sensitivities to climate change and explore conservation strategies. In partnership with the University of Missouri and Missouri Transect EPSCoR Project, I am conducting a research survey aimed at gathering information on how communities in the Great Plains currently view climate change. I am also collecting data on how communities perceive the challenges and solutions for problems caused by climate change in playa wetlands and agricultural ecosystems. Through this survey, I hope to provide tools and support stakeholder engagement through productive discussions about issues impacting playa wetlands and their functions in communities across the Great Plains.  

The request for information through my survey did not originate from NCCWSC or U.S. Government funds. The survey is being conducted independently by the School of Natural Resources at the University of Missouri and the Missouri Transect EPSCoR Project.

We are inviting community members and stakeholders to provide input on their experiences regarding playas and climate change. Access the survey here.

Preparing for the annual ASA, CSSA, SSSA Meeting

In a few short days I'll be headed to Tampa, Florida to attend the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America annual meeting. Last year, my colleagues (Leo Bastos and Martin Battaglia) and I wrote a brief article to help graduate students prepare for the meeting, so I thought I'd share that information as my first blog post on this site! While these tips were created for the ASA, CSSA, and SSSA meeting, they certainly apply to any professional society conference. Enjoy! 

Ten Steps to Prepare First-Time Graduate Students Attending the Annual Meeting

Reprint from October 2016 issue of CSA News

The ASA, CSSA, and SSSA Annual Meeting can be a bit overwhelming for first-time graduate student attendees. Follow these 10 steps to prepare yourself before the meeting, so that you can arrive with a plan of action and leave with a feeling of success!

1. Bring Business Cards You just met someone who could be a future employer. The last way you want to share your information is on a torn piece of paper, right? Bring business cards, which can be ordered online or through your university or even printed at home. Remember to include your name, current institution and position, address, email, and phone number. There are great tips online on how to make your own business cards in using Word.

2. Prepare Your Elevator Speech Everyone is so busy at the meeting, and if you have the chance to talk to someone in a hurry, having your elevator speech ready is the best strategy! An elevator speech is a brief introduction of yourself. It is usually less than 30 seconds long, so it may take you some practice to summarize your position, degrees, current research, and future plans in such a short time. Nonetheless, people will appreciate your preparedness and objectivity. Also, this is the perfect time to hand out one of those business cards you brought!

3. Be Intentional A researcher’s name came up many times on your literature review, and you would love to meet her/him in person. Face your fear and shyness by walking up to that person and introducing yourself. Even the busiest researcher at a meeting enjoys getting to know students, so sharpen up that elevator speech, have your business card ready in your pocket, and go for it!

4. Dress Code The graduate student dress code is somewhat more flexible, and it depends a lot on your personality. Normally, you would see male students wearing a button-up shirt, khaki pants and matching belt, and dress shoes. Female students usually wear slacks or skirts with nice shirts and comfortable shoes. Nonetheless, many people wear jeans and polo shirts. At the end of the day, it will depend on how comfortable you feel and on your personal style. Dress is typically a more professional (think suits) during your own oral or poster presentation.

5. Download MySci Meetings App Want to pave the road to great success at the Annual Meeting well in advance of the meeting? The essential app for mastering the meeting, the “MySci Mtgs” app, is available on both Apple and Android platforms. This amazing app will allow you to create your own agenda; browse for more than 3,000 papers by date, section/division, or session name; search for daily updated programs for oral and poster presentations; view appointments you make with other attendees and respond to messages they send to you; and keep information about exhibitors and the Career Center handy in your “To Do List,” among some other amazing things!

6. Make Your Plan of Action before the Meeting You can easily kick off with a great plan of action by answering some simple questions: What do I expect to learn from the meeting? Will I focus more on attending lecture and poster sessions, or will I spend more time meeting scientists, grad students, and policymakers as a way to build up a larger network of contacts? Is/are my major adviser(s) in agreement with me on this plan? Based on this, you should be able to quickly define two or three objectives that you want to accomplish at the meeting. Then, carefully review the points presented here. Before you realize it, your plan of action will be completed!

7. Attend a Variety of Sessions The Annual Meeting features sessions for scientific content, professional development, and networking, all of which occur simultaneously throughout the four-day conference. Once you have decided your objectives for attending the meeting, you can better identify which sessions will take priority in your schedule. But don’t be afraid to attend a variety of sessions. Fill your lunch time with a Lunch & Learn session. Take a few hours in the evening to attend the mixer for your alma mater. The Annual Meeting is not only a time to get up to date on your science, but also to make new contacts, keep in touch with former colleagues, and gain professional skills that aren’t offered at your university.

8. Don’t Be Afraid to Get Involved The ASA, CSSA, and SSSA Graduate Student Committee is an excellent way to get involved before, during, and after the meeting. As a member, you will work hand in hand with other grad students as well as early career members working in industry and academia. It will help you hone your leadership skills and look terrific on your resume! To become a member, attend one of our meetings, and tell us about your interest to get involved. To get a better grasp of our work, find more information on the graduate student program for the 2016 meeting at www.acsmeetings.org/ graduates and visit our website to learn more about the committee at www.agronomy.org/gradstudents.

9. Engage with Social Media Search and follow #ACSmtg on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to stay up to date on what’s going on at the meeting and also engage with other attendees. Be sure to tag the Societies in your posts, and you may even gain some new followers!

10. Be a Student Intern to Help Cover Expenses The ASA, CSSA, and SSSA staff are always looking for help during the Annual Meeting. You can volunteer and earn up to $100 by being a student intern. Interns help with tasks such as answering questions for conference attendees, collecting and distributing continuing education forms, and guiding visiting local high school students. Look for a link to sign up in the News Flash emails.

Hopefully, you now feel better prepared to attend the ASA, CSSA, and SSSA Annual Meeting. If you still have questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch with colleagues who have previously attended meetings, or email any of the authors on this article (contact information can be found on the directory pages, e.g., crops.org/membership/directory). We can’t wait to see you in Phoenix!

L. Bastos, M. Battaglia, and R. Owen, members of the ACS Graduate Student Committee