Case Study #1: Wagon Hill Farm 

Part 1

Wagon Hill Farm is located in and owned by The Town of Durham, New Hampshire. The 139-acre property serves as a conservation site, a recreation area for residents, and a home to many diverse ecosystems. The property is open from 8 am to dusk, wherein residents can enjoy the variety of walking trails, sledding in the winter, kayaking, dog walking, weddings, picnics, and outdoor summer concerts. Within the property, there are community gardens, a man-made beach, cleared and maintained trails, forests, and a variety of grassland habitats.

With the action that Wagon Hill Farm receives, it is to no surprise that the land has experienced consequences. Erosion has become more problematic over the last several decades, especially of the salt marshes along the water’s edge, losing about a foot of marsh per year. This rare, receding land type supports a productive ecosystem and stabilizes the shoreline. The Town of Durham has been trying to mitigate the erosion by moving fences and warning visitors to stay out of vulnerable areas but in order to halt further erosion, stronger action is needed.

The initial conceptualization of a solution to tackle the erosion problem came about in 2014 where members of the shoreline management workshop met to discuss the issue at Wagon Hill Farm. Following the shoreline management workshop in 2014, the first Wagon Hill project meeting occurred in 2015. Since 2015, the team has met 15-16 times to discuss and come up with solutions for the erosion problem.

From the University of New Hampshire, team members include:

UNHSC Director Tom Ballestero, Research Associate Professor of Coastal Ecology and Restoration Dave Burdick, and Research Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Gregg Moore.

From the Town of Durham, team members include:

Department of Public Works Director Mike Lynch, Durham Parks and Recreation Director Rachel Gasowksi, Durham Town Manager Todd Selig.

From the New Hampshire Coastal Program, team members include:
Coastal Resilience Coordinator Kirsten Howard, CWIPP Chair Kevin Lucey. Other relevant researchers and stakeholders from the team include:

Mike Johnson from National Marine Fishery Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Strafford representative and planner Kyle Pimental, and Wetlands Bureau representatives David Price and Lauri Summer.

Figure 1

Mike Johnson from National Marine Fishery Service, and other town officials and researchers. Rachel Gasowski takes on the role of deciding how the space at Wagon Hill Farm will be used, as the Parks and Recreation Director. Todd Selig attends meetings and has a large role in signing grant agreements and defending decisions to the town council. Kirsten Howard takes on the role of organizing the meetings between group members, securing and allocating funding for the project, and facilitating open communication between different disciplines.

In order to work cooperatively on the project, the group has met around 15-16 times and continues to meet to discuss the erosion problem at Wagon Hill Farm. The meetings do not always include all of the group members; the core group includes about 6 members, and other members vary from attending almost all meetings, to some attending only a few when needed. The group meetings are organized by Kirsten Howard, who is responsible for setting up a time and place in which group members can meet and discuss. Town members and researchers fulfill their responsibilities within the project separately, and then come together to discuss their findings and how they will use the data or input collected. For example, all team members are not present when field research is being done at Wagon Hill, but the findings of that research are openly communicated when the group comes together to meet. In certain cases, members of the group will bring along colleagues or other people they believe to be relevant to the group meetings. These members do not attend every meeting, but are brought along either for their relevance within the project or for their input.

The process of deciding who would work together and what the process would be was done before the project even began. Kirsten first acquired funding for the project, and then reached out to the town to get their approval of the funding. Once the funding was secured, the town and Kirsten were able to reach out to relevant researchers for the project. The team decided to approach the University of New Hampshire team of researchers, as they had done for previous projects; the town already trusted the credibility of the University of New Hampshire researchers, and knew that it would not be a costly process to have the UNH staff on their team. Through their group meetings, they were able to decide what the process of tackling the problem would be; but they had to first agree on what the problem was and what was causing it. It was agreed upon from the start that erosion was the problem at Wagon Hill Farm, but research and discussion needed to take place before there was an agreement on what was causing the problem. Initially, the team concluded that there were a few possible factors causing the erosion: boat wake, sea level rise, tree shade blocking the amount of sunlight that the salt marsh was exposed to, humans and dogs walking along the mudflat, or ice in the winter. This area is where the team is not completely in agreement. As in any sustainability challenge, people have different opinions and connections to the problem, and therefore everyone does not see the problem in the same way. In this case, the town officials see the impact of humans and dogs walking along the mudflat as the main cause of the erosion, while researchers seem to believe that the erosion is due to naturally occurring events at Wagon Hill Farm.

There has not been a large role of the general public within the project at Wagon Hill Farm. Mike Lynch and other members of the group speak about the erosion problem at Durham Day, which occurs every year at Wagon Hill Farm. Aside from this event, Mike occasionally includes information about it in is newsletter, sent out to Durham residents every Friday. Neither of these outreach attempts allow residents a good opportunity to voice their opinions about the project. Upon visiting the site, we spoke with a community member involved with gardening at on the Wagon Hill Farm property. He appeared to be very interested in the issue, and was aware of the erosion problem that was occurring, but did not know anything about the current solutions that were being discussed and implemented at Wagon Hill Farm.

With the time and energy the team continues to invest, producing a successful solution is critical. In order to do this, more knowledge about the natural and human activity occurring at Wagon Hill Farm was needed. The group decided on several research tactics to better understand the effects of each of the possible causes of the erosion. UNH faculty was influential in determining how and what to research because of their expertise in their given fields.

To monitor land use by people and pets, several wildlife cameras were installed. These captured people, and their dogs, walking through vulnerable areas and trampling marsh grasses. Ducks were also caught on camera eating away the roots of the grasses which are needed to hold sediments in place. To assess the impact of the water itself on the shoreline, wave and tidal measurements were taken. It was found that the large tidal range and regular wave patterns, opposed to boat wakes, were carrying large amounts of sediment away from the shoreline. Light assess was measured and branches were cut to increase the sunlight on the salt marshes. Another research method included the installation of reinforcing bars into the banks to measure how much erosion is taking place overtime. Tom Ballestero led this research approach in which, he would return to each rebar, measure the amount that had been exposed and hammer it back in to be flush with the bank again. He is currently still taking these measurements.

With information the group had been collecting, they were then knowledgeable enough to work toward finding a solution. It was agreed upon that the shoreline needed to be stabilized to allow habitats to rebuild and halt the erosion, but the methods of doing so were disputed. Typical shoreline stabilization consists of rock or concrete armored walls. This method limits the habitat growth and does not allow the salt marshes to move further inland. Although tried and trusted at Wagon Hill Farm, seen where rocks make up the historical pier that has been standing for hundreds of years, the team decided on a more natural stabilization technique known as a living shoreline. This method utilizes native grasses, soils, fibrous rolls known as coir logs, tree roots and rocks to fill in and stabilize the shoreline. It also aids in filtering the water and creates a rich habitat for a variety of species. The group sought funding to make this soft approach a reality but their work was still far from over. Further research was required to decide upon the materials to be used at Wagon Hill Farm. The degree on vegetation versus hard structures to include was unknown because living shorelines are non-existent in the Northeast, this project, if a success, would be the first of its kind in the area. For more information and visual representations of the living shoreline, see the Wagon Hill Farm Outreach Poster.

To test the materials, small sections were installed along the shoreline in the area the group was interested in stabilizing. Sixteen inch diameter coir logs were installed in a “W” shaped pattern. As seen in Figure 2, there are remains of the deteriorated coir logs which allowed the group to better understand how these must be installed to make them most effective. Upon visiting the site, it was seen that a log that had also been installed had been carried out by the water from its original position into the middle of the mudflats. Researchers also noted that the tree stump with a extensive roots systems has done well preventing erosion around it as seen in Figure 3.

Currently, research is being continued at Wagon Hill Farm while more funding is being awaited. There was little work that could have been done over the winter, but as the warmer weather continues so will this project. One of the things to be completed in the near future is an archaeological survey of the property to ensure that historical artifacts are not being destroyed since this property has a long history of farming along the Great Bay. The installation of the living shoreline is not set to take place until Fall of 2019 because designs are still being finalized.

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Part 2

Sustainability Challenge

Sustainability challenges are defined by the problems that they address (Clark, 2007). These challenges go beyond the concerns of foundational disciplines and focus on understanding the complex dynamics that arise from interactions between human and environmental systems (Clark, 2007). The Wagon Hill case is a clear example of a sustainability challenge as it is directly addressing an issue that has arisen from human interaction with environmental systems. When speaking about Wagon Hill Farm, the case is referred to in terms of the erosion problem, as the challenge is defined by the fact that it is in place to solve the erosion problem. No two sustainability challenges are exactly the same; sustainability challenges can come from combining a broad array of disciplines, to address a multitude of different problems. With every sustainability challenge being different and complex in its own form, there is no “one size fits all” process that ensures a sustainability challenge can be solved, so the method of tackling each challenge is unique in its own ways. The Wagon Hill case is a perfect example of a sustainability challenge that deviated slightly from the typical process of addressing a sustainability challenge.


Characteristics of collaboration include a consensus driven approach, meaning that the team is committed to making decisions that most of the members agree with or can live with. With a consensus driven approach, there needs to be discussion and deliberation to the point where every can agree. Collaboration should also be a cyclical process, meaning that decisions are not made on the basis of a step by step linear process, but rather team members can bounce back and forth between steps of the collaborative process. Additionally, collaboration should have stakeholder involvement, meaning that there are members who have influence over the outcomes of the solution, and members who are affected by the solutions to the problem. Stakeholders should have some sort of responsibility for the outcome (Ansell and Gash, 2008). Collaboration should also put a large emphasis on trust; members need to have a commitment to the process and trust that the process will work. Additionally, the communication in a collaborative process should not be unilateral communication, but rather have an open two-way flow of communication (Ansell and Gash, 2008).

In looking at the degree of collaboration that is occurring at Wagon Hill Farm, there were some aspects of collaboration that were present, and some aspects that were missed. In the category of open, two-way communication, the Wagon Hill team did a great job of making decisions as a group, instead of making decisions separately and then communicating them to the group. In the Wagon Hill case, there were 6 core group members who worked together to make decisions about the project, and other members of the group were sometimes involved. In these meetings, the communication was open between the present group members, and all members at the meeting were involved in decision making processes. In regards to stakeholder involvement, the Wagon Hill team seemed to have an abundance of members who had the ability to help with the problem, but few members who were actually affected by the problem. In regards to the cyclical process of collaboration, the Wagon Hill case is a great example. The team moved back and forth between phases as they agreed on the problem, built the team, conducted research, and then continued to add to the team as they felt necessary to the project. They did not follow any set linear process. The sense of trust that is so crucial is definitely present in the Wagon Hill case; members had worked with each other on previous projects and had already developed an understanding and trust for each others work.

Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Research

Conducting research in a group setting is useful for sharing data, techniques, tools, perspectives, and theories between involved individuals. Both interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research allow the opportunity for this information exchange between disciplines which supports creativity and may allow the group to find solutions they would not have if working independently (Strober, 2010). While interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research have similar characteristics, transdisciplinary research extend beyond the realm of academic research to include other non-academic stakeholders.

In this case study of Wagon Hill Farm, research involved University of New Hampshire faculty: Tom Ballestero, Dave Burdick, and Gregg Moore who utilized their different disciplines to worked together and independently. The Town of Durham was also involved in the research process so employees like Mike Lynch. Other stakeholders like the Town of Durham, along with State and Federal groups, such as the NH coastal Program, also had large roles in determining research needs; thus making the research conducted for this project transdisciplinary.

Due to the strong relationship between the town and the university, academic researchers already had an idea of what research the town would need them to conduct. Although discussed thoroughly in group meetings, Mike Lynch had full faith in the UNH faculty, some of which he has known for decades, to use their expertise to bring the group the necessary information. This established trust and understanding can be rare to find in other sustainability challenges.

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Knowledge Co-production

In order to take action or create solutions for a given problem, a group must be knowledgeable about said problem to have a successful implementation. To generate this knowledge researchers and scientists work with other stakeholders to ensure that the research being conducted is applicable to the problem and will help make decisions. When knowledge is not co-produced it often goes unused because, such as in the loading dock approach where although it may be interesting, it is not practical for the given issue (Beir, 2016).

The team working on Wagon Hill Farm, was able to avoid collecting unnecessary data by defining the problem together to ensure all members understood what was needed to meet the conservation and recreation needs of the property. The group also assessed the knowledge they produced periodically to ensure they were collecting the necessary data. After deciding to implement a living shoreline, more research needed to be done to test materials, especially because living shorelines currently only exist in other areas of the country with less harsh winter climates and smaller tidal ranges. If the had not gone back to research living shorelines further, there would be a greater risk of failure when it is installed.

Bridging Boundaries

When working with a variety of people from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds it can be difficult to understand the language, tools, structures and methods of communicating each person brings to the table. The differences between science and politics are often a barrier to communication and understanding, especially when determining the validity of knowledge. Boundaries are necessary to maintain validity but they must be permeable enough to allow knowledge transfer, a key component of solving sustainability challenges (McGreavy, 2013). To overcome these challenges there is often a person or group that facilitates communication between group members and translates the languages to something all members can understand.

While initially it may be thought that Kirsten Howard from the NH Coastal Program is the boundary worker, her role in facilitating communication was rather limited. She set up meeting times and took notes, facilitating communication and discussion by bringing everyone together, but did not translate the work of researchers and concerns of the town. The scientific research findings that UNH faculty presented to the group were sometimes difficult for town employees to understand so having a boundary worker that could more efficiently translate information between parties could have been helpful to the group working on the Wagon Hill Farm project.

To aid in understanding, some boundary objects that were typically used included drawings and other visual representations, like the photoshopped images used in the Wagon Hill Farm Outreach Poster. Tom Ballestero understood that the information he was providing was very technical and hard to visualize for someone that doesn’t work with shorelines. He was eager to draw this thoughts on a whiteboard during an interview conducted because even a quick sketch can effectively communicate concepts.

Connecting Knowledge to Action

The connecting knowledge to action phase of the process is where the data that has been collected is analyzed and can then enter the stage of implementation. The team needs to decide on the solution(s) given their data and conclusions, and decide on a method of implementing that given solution. Knowledge should be credible, salient, and legitimate, include collaborative efforts from multiple disciplines, allow adjustment to fit particular users, must seek to learn and adapt to bad outcomes, and promote well-being (Matson 2016). However, there are a decent amount of challenges presented during the knowledge to action portion of the project. One of these challenges includes: Do people see the solution as something they particularly need? This is speaking to the saliency of the knowledge; co-produced knowledge is salient if it makes an effort to fit the concerns of the people facing the problem (Matson 2016). An additional challenge is: Do people have valid reasons to believe the knowledge of the organization? The third challenge is: Do people see the knowledge producers as engaged in helping them and supporting their beliefs? The public must be able to trust that scientists and researchers are acting in the best interest of the people.

Within the Wagon Hill case, they are in the process of implementing their living shoreline solution to a changing erosion problem. The erosion that is occuring at Wagon Hill cannot be fixed by just one solution that completely stops erosion; instead the team had to create a solution that can slow erosion now, and a solution that can be altered in the future to fit the changing problem. Just as in any sustainability challenge, there is no one easy solution. Instead the solution needs to be mutable and applicable to the changing problem. Speaking to the saliency, credibility, and legitimacy of the knowledge produced, the Wagon Hill team does not really know what the opinion of the public is on the knowledge they have produced. The public is not fully aware of the living shoreline solution that has been created to solve the problem, so they cannot fully assess whether or not they consider the knowledge to be applicable or relevant.

Part 3


One major component of collaboration that was missed in the process at Wagon Hill was their failure to involve the people who are affected by the problem. There was little to no input and involvement of regular town citizens could have been beneficial in this project. The people of the town should have been involved in the process of defining the problem, in order to ensure that the solution to the problem is a solution that effectively addresses the concerns of the people.

In looking at the Wagon Hill case as a whole, this was a great example to study, as the collaborative process at Wagon Hill exemplified many of the core concepts in the typical process of using collaboration to solve sustainability challenges. This case had great examples of overcoming specific barriers to collaboration, establishing trust between group members, and two-way communication. The Wagon Hill case presented a great real life example to allow better understanding of the different components of using a collaborative process to solve sustainability challenges.

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Case Study #2: Tides to Storms


Climate change is a very real and very destructive threat, with impacts that can extend well into the future. There are many coastal towns, especially in the Seacoast Region of New Hampshire, that are trying to plan accordingly. But how do they know what to plan for? One type of data that towns are now looking at is sea level rise. With this information towns are expecting an increased risk of flooding and wondering what preparations they may need to make. Coupled with reports of sea level rise are data concerning coastal flooding from storm surge: a rising of the sea and local waterways due to a storm. Together, coastal towns are very susceptible to rising water. With this susceptibility comes the uncertainty of which areas in coastal towns are most likely to be flooded, and coastal towns may not be sure what to do in the event of extreme flooding. Each coastal town is unique in its relationship with the coast and will be affected differently as well.

The Rockingham Planning Commission acknowledged this and started a project aptly named Tides to Storms to help prepare and deal with these uncertainties as coastal towns are becoming more and more exposed to detrimental flooding. The project was successfully completed in 2015 with a goal to assess and map the vulnerability of New Hampshire coastal towns and infrastructure to flooding from risk of storm surge. Through the efforts of this project we now have a regional understanding of what some of these impacts may look like and where they may occur. In addition to this the Tides to Storms project also produced another assessment report and set of maps for each of the municipalities they thought to be the most affected. These maps contain risks to certain roadways and transportation infrastructure along with risks to other facilities and natural resources that surround the town. These reports also contain information concerning recommended actions for towns to take to not only help adapt but to improve resiliency against coastal flooding and storm surge in the future.

Stake Holders

The Tides to Storms project has many different stakeholders playing into the decisions and proposals being made. The whole project is being led by the Rockingham Planning Commission (RPC), which is made up of county planners and G.I.S. (Geographical Information Systems) technical staff. Within the Tides to Storms project the most crucial stakeholders are the residents from each New Hampshire municipality; Portsmouth, New Castle, Rye, North Hampton, Hampton Falls, Seabrook, and Hampton. Ultimately all the decisions that are made based off the finding from the research directly affect the citizens of each of these towns.

Each municipality assembled a committee of stakeholders to work on the Tides to Storms project. These committees involved groups such as building inspectors, first responders, financial and real estate advisors, and town decision makers among others based on the recommendation of the RPC. The town residents are primary stakeholders since they are directly impacted by sea level rise and property damage, while first responders would be secondary stakeholders since their jobs would involve responding to emergencies that are caused by flooding from sea level rise. Other stake holders may include local business owners that may either lose business property from rising sea level, or would have secondary impacts on their businesses due to loss of tourism or poor economic conditions. The state Department of Transportation (DOT) is also a stakeholder in areas where state owned infrastructure is in the path of flooding. Each of these stakeholder groups were very similar throughout the municipalities, but varied depending on specific issues that were present.

Town Specific Concerns

Towns like Portsmouth and New Castle have very high value commercial and residential development in close proximity to the water, with property owners facing a lot of potential damages and economic losses from flooding. Specifically, in the case of the Portsmouth historic district there are many public entities that lie within the zones that could be affected by sea level rise or storm surge, making the town government a critical stakeholder.

Moving down the coast toward Rye, NH, more stakeholders arise. Many of the problems that would be caused by storm surge and sea level rise in the town of Rye would directly impact Rt. 1A. One problem in Rye are the shale piles that are meant to protect the shoreline during storm surges (Figure 2). As storm surge has increased the shale pile has become overwhelmed, resulting in shale covered road after large ocean storms. Given that the NH Rt. 1A is being affected in these situations means that NH Department of Transportation comes in as a stakeholder. Their point of view is just to repair the wall after each storm instead of putting in a more permanent structure, due to the funding that would be needed. In many situations the number of different stakeholders can significantly affect the ability for a goal to be accomplished.

Figure 2. Rye Shale piles protecting home and Rt 1A from rising sea level. Photo by Katie Bennett.

Moving down the New Hampshire coast toward Massachusetts, residential development becomes greater. A large amount of residential housing in Hampton, NH borders a salt marsh that floods under current sea level rise (Figure 3). In this case the residents of these neighborhoods are key stakeholders. The town is not only a stakeholder because they will be the one implementing any suggestions made by the RPC, but because they recently built pubic facilities like police and fire stations within the area that currently floods. This makes them stakeholders in two aspects; from the point of the decision makers, and the people affected by the decisions made.

Figure 3. Sand bags used to try to protect a home bordering the rising salt marsh in Hampton, NH. Photo by Katie Bennett.

The farthest point down the seacoast, Seabrook, has an added set of stakeholders. In Seabrook the worry is less about infrastructure and more about sand dune preservation. Over the years residents and beach goers have created paths through the dunes which effectively act as weak points for erosion. These dunes act as a natural buffer for homes along the Seabrook coast during storm surge. These dunes also are home to an endanger species of bird, the Piping Plover. In the case of Seabrook stakeholders include coastal residents, town administrators, activists for the Piping Plover, and possibly other environmental activists.

Sustainability Science in Tides to Storms

The Tides to Storms project has aspects of collaboration, transdisciplinary, and boundary work. All of these pieces make it an excellent example of sustainability science.

The project is transdisciplinary because of the different academic and non-academic disciplines that worked on the project. An example of this is teams that were created within each community that brought together groups such as first responders, city planners, financial experts, the Rockingham Planning Commission, and others to discuss solutions to the projected sea level rise in each area. The Tides to Storms project did not follow the ideal transdisciplinary research process because the non-academic stakeholders were not involved in the original identification of the problem and formation of the project; the RPC did this independently. However, once the maps were presented to the towns and discussion between the different academic and non- academic stakeholder groups began, the became transdisciplinary.

Co-production of knowledge has also taken place in the Tides to Storms project. Representatives from different the different stakeholder disciplines are co-producing solutions in their working committees to respond to the projected sea level rise. Specifically, the recommendations that have been given to the towns by the RPC are co-production because the RPC used scientific data from their models combined with the feedback they received from town committees to form these recommendations.

The Tides to Storms project also exemplifies boundary work between the town officials, members of the committees, citizens of the towns, and the RPC. Each of these groups has their own standards of knowledge and potentially conflicting opinions on the best ways to prepare for sea level rise. The maps that the RPC generated are boundary objects that are able to present unchanging information and enable discussion between the different disciplines (Figure 4). This boundary object is an example of interdisciplinary work as GIS experts, the RPC, and pre- existing sea level rise data was brought together to produce the model.














Figure 4. Maps created by the RPC of the municipalities showing future sea level rise from rising seas (right), and storm surge events (left) (Rockingham Planning Commission).


The Tides to Storms project was a great starting point for boundary work between the RPC, New Hampshire municipalities impacted by coastal flooding, the New Hampshire state government, and local stakeholders. The maps generated by the RPC allowed discussion to begin about how to be proactive about sea level rise and respond to flooding that has already begun to occur. While each municipality has their own specific problems related to sea level rise, they all assembled similar committees with stakeholders to formulate a comprehensive plan guided by the RPC to meet their individual needs. This project has allowed for sustainable solutions to begin being discussed and formulated.

Case Study #3: Vernal Pools


This case study will examine the role of sustainability science in addressing the need to conserve vernal pool ecosystems and the need to facilitate economic development in Designated Development Areas in Maine, USA. This case study will also look at the development of the Maine Vernal Pool Special Area Management Plan (VP SAMP) and its role in helping to solve this problem.

Vernal Pools and Vernal Pool Regulations

Vernal pools are natural depressions in the ground that fill every spring from rainwater and snowmelt. Vernal pools are seasonal, fishless, and important habitat for various species. Species like fairy shrimp spend their entire life cycle in the pool while wood frogs and some salamander species use the pools to breed. During breeding season, these species use the pools for up to three weeks. When not using the pool, wood frogs and some salamanders species occupy the surrounding forested wetland and uplands. The surrounding areas are equally critical in sustaining a healthy population of these species. Vernal pools also provide food and resting areas for other organisms like dragonflies, racoons, and turtles (“Vernal Pools Background- Slides”). In addition to benefiting a variety of species, vernal pools are also an important part of many biogeochemical and hydrologic cycles, influencing the health of the vernal pools’ watershed (“Conserving Vernal Pool Ecosystems and Supporting Municipal Growth through Stakeholder Engagement – Case Study.”). While these pools provide many ecosystem services current regulations are not sufficient in protecting them.

Fig 1: Vernal Pool and Research Team

Current regulations exist at the state and federal level and are not sufficient in protecting vernal pools from development. Regulations are also not sufficient in encouraging development as it is not clear who regulates what and what regulations exist where. Due to this both state and federal regulations have ecological, economical, and social shortcomings (Levesque et al 2019). For instance, one regulation may not protect enough of the surrounding forest that is just as critical of habitat as the vernal pools for certain species. In other cases, regulations are extremely specific and fail to protect certain pools due to specificity of wording in regulations (Levesque et al 2019).


There are multiple problems regarding the conservation of vernal pools.

  1. As mentioned previously, current regulations are not sufficient in conserving vernal pools.
  2. In addition, developers and landowners do not know what regulations protect what pools.
  3. If developers and landowners don’t know who regulates what pool and can’t predict whether their permit will pass or not, developers might abandon development all together and develop elsewhere.
  4. By choosing to develop elsewhere a town could lose revenue or sprawl could occur.

To solve these various problems, multiple stakeholder groups worked together over their mutual discontent with current regulations to create a solution (Levesque et al 2019). This solution would end up being the Maine Vernal Pools Special Area Management Program or VP SAMP.


There are five large stakeholder groups that participated in the project. These groups all had various stakes in the project and worked together collaboratively to solve the problem. The first group were the federal and state agencies that had created the existing regulations. These groups included representatives from the Army Corp of Engineers, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Maine Department of Agriculture, and the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development. These groups had a stake in this project as they often dealt with confused and upset landowners who think that the existing regulations lack clarity and predictability. Talking with landowners and passing their permits on a case to case to basis is costly and time consuming for these organizations. In addition, these organizations are in charge of identifying the vernal pools remotely which is also costly and time consuming. This group also agrees that the current regulations fail to fully protect vernal pools (Levesque et al 2019).

Fig 2. Federal and State Agencies involved in project

Municipal officials also have a stake in this project and are made up of planners, planning boards, an Economic Development Director, other select boards, and councillors. These people were concerned about this problem as the lack of regulations made it hard for them to complete town wide planning. This was also a concern to them as their town could lose revenue from development if developers did not have a clear understanding of current regulations. Officials were also involved because they wanted to change the perception that vernal pools are another “hoop” for developers to jump through (Levesque et al 2019).

The third group are landowners with vernal pools on their property and developers. These groups want to solve the problem as they currently have to navigate two regulatory systems to find out if they can develop their land and the regulations lack predictability, are inconsistent, and lack clarity. Sometimes these groups are unable to develop property due to vernal pools but at the same time don’t know if a vernal pool exists or if it will be regulated. All of this causes delays to development and is costly (Levesque et al 2019).

The fourth and fifth groups are land trusts and university researchers (including ecologists, economists, and planners). Land trusts care about this project because they thought current regulations were sufficient and were scared that changes to them would cause vernal pools to be less protected. Meanwhile university researchers were concerned with the long term sustainability of vernal pool ecosystems as well as the economic health of Maine municipalities under current regulations (Levesque et al 2019).


The initial formation of this group was led by a researcher from the University of Maine and the first meeting was an informal meeting over coffee with six stakeholders to discuss mutual discontent with current vernal pool regulations in 2010. Over time, the group grew to up to 50 members representing the various agencies mentioned previously (Levesque et al 2016). During these meetings groups would share relevant information and started to develop the VP SAMP. In addition, these subgroups also met so that people’s expertise could be used as needed. For instance some groups included ecologists who would develop identifying criteria for the exemplary vernal pools while other groups wrote the Maine Vernal Pools Special Area Management Plan or analyzed market conditions and developed a fee mechanism. While these groups would divide they would always come back to share relevant information to the rest of the group.


Through the collaboration of multiple organizations, agencies, and researchers a Maine Vernal Pools Special Area Management Plan or VP SAMP was created over the course of seven years (“About SAMP”). The VP SAMP is a mitigation option that landowners and developers can choose to use the VP SAMP to help offset impacts to vernal pools that exist in Designated Development Areas (but only if the town currently allows it).. To use the VP SAMP developers and landowners can pay a fee to the municipality. The fee is based on the value of the property with and without the current vernal pool on the property. If landowners choose to pay the fee, the money is transferred to a third party land conservation organization and is used to help conserve higher quality vernal pools in rural areas that have been identified by the municipality. This allows a municipality to grow, stops sprawl, and encourages vernal pool conservation as well asprovides funding for the process (“About SAMP”). In addition, SAMP is a helpful tool as it reduces the workload of regulators who otherwise would have to existing regulations themselves and it provides information to landowners and developers in gauging whether or not they can develop land in certain areas or not.

Is This a Sustainability Challenge?

In defining sustainability science we must first define what a sustainability problem is. A sustainability problem is a problem with a vague problem definition, an undefined solution, a problem with no set endpoint, and a problem that is irreversible, unique, and urgent (“Sustainable World”). Sustainability science is a field defined by the problem it is trying to solve. Sustainability science is place based and tries to solve the problem while ensuring sustainable development at the same time. To do so, sustainability science ensures that the needs of the environment, economics, and people involved in the process are adequately met (“Sustainability Science”).

This project is a sustainability challenge as it is a wicked problem and is place specific to Maine, USA. Regulators can’t conserve all vernal pools while at the same time encourage development in all areas and the VP SAMP doesn’t allow for all vernal pools to be conserved and all areas to be developed. This problem is also a sustainability challenge because it addresses multiple systems. In this problem we are addressing the needs of the environment, economy, and of people. All of which are important to sustainability.

Does it demonstrate transdisciplinarity and/or interdisciplinarity and how?

Transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary are different types of collaborative processes that are both necessary in solving sustainability problems. To understand what these are you must first understand what a discipline is. A discipline is a specific structure used by different academic fields to solve problems. A discipline can include a specific communication network, a individual culture system, and a specific conceptual structure that those in the field understand and use to communicate with each other (Strober 2010).Therefore, interdisciplinarity is when two or more academic disciplines work together to solve a problem. To do so, mutual definitions of words and other things are needed to adequately communicate and solve the problem.

Transdisciplinary research is the integration of knowledge from multiple academic disciplines (interdisciplinary) as well as the integration of knowledge from non-academics such as stakeholders. When completing transdisciplinary research stakeholders and academics work together to solve the problem at hand in a way that allows academics, stakeholders, and other involved partners to work together and learn from one another, is socially relevant to all involved parties, and aims to create solution oriented knowledge (“Inter and Transdisciplinary”). Transdisciplinary research is normally completed in three overlapping phases. The first phase is when the group defines the problem. The second phase is the co-production of knowledge between group members including data collection and discussion. The third and most important phase includes applying the knowledge created to action in a way that addresses the problem to be solved.

The creation of the VP SAMP demonstrates both interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research. The project demonstrates interdisciplinary research as academics from various backgrounds worked together (ecologists, planners, and economists). This project was also transdisciplinary as these academics worked with other stakeholders who were not academic (municipal planners, regulatory agencies, etc). This project is also an example of transdisciplinary research as multiple phases occurred to develop the VP SAMP. The first phase, definition of problem occurred when the stakeholder group met and explored the different kind of policies that would meet the needs of all stakeholders. The second phase, co-production of knowledge occured when stakeholders worked together to research the problem, develop the VP SAMP, and discussed things as a group. The third phase, knowledge to action occurred as the finalized version of the VP SAMP was made and it was adopted into use by municipalities in Maine (“Actions Speak Louder Than Words”).

In what ways did it incorporate different ways of knowing and ethics?

Ways of knowing and ethics incorporate non traditional forms of knowledge and values into solving sustainability problems. Different ways of knowing usually include four different types. Practical knowing, artistic knowing, foundational knowing, and generalized knowing (Perry and Duncan 2017). Practical knowledge is knowing things from previous actions or just generalized knowledge that you accumulate as you age. Artistic knowing is knowledge that is known by creating representations through stories, visual art, etc. Foundational knowing is knowledge of how people interact with each other and with the world around them. It can also be experiential, ancestral, and spiritual. Generalized knowing is knowledge gained through general school (Perry and Duncan 2017).

Ethics involves people’s values, their moral compass, and their sense of right and wrong. One could argue that sustainability in itself is an ethical field as it values people, planet, and profit. However, sustainability fails to incorporate all types of values into its processes. Most importantly, ethics in sustainability investigates how humans should live while accounting for their connections with other humans, the economy, the environment, and future generations (“Ethics”).

This project uses knowledge from a wide variety of people who all understand the project in different ways. For instance, regulators don’t always understand things the same way an ecologist does and a ecologist doesn’t understand things the same way a economist does. The variety of backgrounds allowed everyone’s different ways of knowing to be shared and allowed for the values of each stakeholder to be heard (Levesque et al 2019). Allowing the values of everyone to be shared also demonstrated use of ethics in this project. Stakeholders decided to value vernal pool conservation and designated growth area development in this project.

How was knowledge co-produced?

Co-production of knowledge is the creation of knowledge, data, and information through a research process involving people from multiple fields, levels, and backgrounds. It is the second phase of the transdisciplinary process and uses a variety of different stakeholders and academics from different disciplines. All parties must be involved in every part of the process in order for it to be considered co-produced (“Co-Production of Knowledge). This can mean that while the scientists are collecting the data city officials are offering feedback on what type of data is needed for it to be useful for the city. Due to this co-production of knowledge can be broken down into three steps,

1.) the creation of a research question

2.) the collection of data and

3.) interpretation and analyzation of results

Knowledge was co-produced as throughout the research process people from different fields and backgrounds worked together to develop the VP SAMP. During this process participants co created and learned knowledge through respectful discussion, the generation of ideas, and the generation of solutions (Levesque et al 2019). Throughout this, participants also kept track of progress, brainstormed and examined knowledge that was created and presented information to other groups (“Actions Speak Louder Than Words). If a certain mechanism didn’t work during the development of the VP SAMP after group discussions the mechanism was redeveloped. During this time knowledge was co-produced because everyone was able to work together, gather feedback, provide criticism or advice, and continue to work together until a product was met that fit the needs of all involved.

In what ways did boundary management occur?

Boundary management involves many different facilitation methods that allows for all involved parties to create salient, credible, and legitimate research and solutions to sustainability problems. A boundary manager enables exchange between producers and users of knowledge, supports the production of context specific divisions, and explains things to participants in a project who may not understand what another may be trying to explain. Boundary managers are also important in helping each individual group member maintain their separate identity so that that person remains credible in their respected field. The boundary manager also makes sure to facilitate a mutual understanding of shared information so that all parties can contribute with full knowledge of the problem. Sometimes, boundary managers use boundary objects to help explain complicated subject matter. (“Vernal Pools Background Slides”)

During this process there was no explicit boundary management organization worked to keep each party salient, credible, and legitimate (“Actions Speak Louder Than Words”).

Was knowledge translated to action? What helped that occur?

Knowledge to action may be the most important step in sustainability science as it allows for successful sustainability solutions to be implemented after research has been completed. For this knowledge to be accepted into practice it is most important that the knowledge remains salient, credible, and legitimate. Salient knowledge is knowledge that is relevant to the people who are going to use it. Credibility refers to whether or not a person is believable. For instance for research in science to be credible it has to have used the scientific method. Lastly, knowledge must be legitimate to be accepted meaning it is justifiable and unbiased. If the knowledge meets these standards it is then likely to be accepted into practice (“Knowledge to Action”).

Knowledge was translated to action during this project when towns implemented the VP SAMP into their developer permit process. To be implemented, the VP SAMP first went under public review and comment before being revised and adopted in 2016. By spring 2018 one municipality had adopted and implemented the VP SAMP and another is in the process of adopting it as well. In addition, stakeholders also helped the town implement the VP SAMP by educating and helping towns understand the VP SAMP as well as helping towns apply for funding to help them (Levesque et al 2019).



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