Thursday, June 18, 2009

Onto the Plains

It's 7 am and there's not a cloud in the sky over Winnipeg. Today's the day. I drive west out of town and onto the Great Plains for a month of field work for my research project on drought-related human migration on the Canadian Prairies. My first destination is Melita, Manitoba, a small town nestled ninto the southwestern corner of the province. With the help of a group of GIS whiz kids at UO I've been creating maps that show where historical drought conditions appear to be associated with rural population decline. One of the spots turned up in the maps is the Melita area. During the 1930s a large swath of the Prairies suffered through some terrible drought conditions, and many areas experienced population decline, but the level of decline was unusually severe around Melita. I'd like to find out why.

This is really the crux of this project: to find out why it is that during a period of harsh climatic conditions some households migrate out of the affected area, while others stay put and adapt in other ways. What distinguishes migrant from non-migrant households? The aim is to document the social, economic and cultural differences between migrant and non-migrant groups and look for patterns. And should patterns emerge, these will hopefully shed some light on the process of adaptation and migration decision-making more generally, information that may still be of use today as rural communities struggle with current and future climatic variability and change.

One of my MA students recently completed her thesis, her research having looked at historical drought-migration from the Drumheller/Hanna area in southeastern Alberta to the Peace River Country in the northwest part of the province. She found that the families that managed to stay on their land and ride out the drought tended to have particular types of farming experience and depended heavily on extended family networks and strong local community networks for support. A range of other factors also contributed to their being able to stay put. Families who migrated tended to be missing one or more of the key adaptation ingredients possessed by non-migrants. It was a very interesting MA project, and provides a number of useful findings to suggest how governments might help build capacity in rural areas to reduce the impacts of climate-related stresses on households, such as maintaining decent access to schools and social services. What's perhaps most telling is that most of what her study says we should be doing to reduce the impacts of droughts on rural communities is stuff we should probably be doing anyhow in order to maintain a good quality of life in rural Canada.

Well, enough blogging. Time to pack the tent into the rental car and be off.

No comments: