Back to the land

- September 28, 2010

Kate Sherren
Kate Sherren. (Danny Abriel Photo)

Dal News presents a series of profiles of new folks on campus. Today, Dal News introduces you to Kate Sherren, professor in the Faculty of Management.

A curious child from a pulp and paper town is probably destined to spend her life thinking about people, resources and landscapes.

From modest foundations in small town New Brunswick, Kate Sherren has built a teaching and research career that’s taken her from the back woods of British Columbia to the barrier islands of Louisiana and the outback Australian bush.

“My first degree was in geography, so it’s a professional as well as a personal interest that’s led me to diverse points on the globe,” she jokes.

In August, Dr. Sherren became the newest professor in the School for Resource and Environmental Studies, part of the Faculty of Management, where she will be helping undergraduates and Masters students learn about natural resource management and geographic information systems.

She comes to Dalhousie after 10 years as a teacher and researcher at universities in Australia, most recently at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra working on an environmental research project with ranchers.

“When Canadians think of Australia, many picture a version of Florida but with strange marsupials and deadly snakes, spiders and sea life,” says Dr. Sherren.  

“While it’s true that most parts of Australia are warmer than Canada, it’s by no means one big tropical paradise. The continent’s southeast – where I spent the bulk of my time – is increasingly affected by prolonged droughts and extreme weather events, including massive wildfires.

“These events pose problems for all sectors of society, but especially people like farmers or those who have to manage resources like forests or water catchments.”

At ANU, Dr. Sherren and her research partners looked at the loss of paddock trees as a result of grazing practices throughout the sheep-wheat belt, and how this was affecting wildlife, stock animals, ecosystems and the people who rely on all three.

“One of our key findings was that landholders value their paddock trees, and their working landscapes more generally, for many reasons beyond the economic and pragmatic. It has been humbling for me to learn about the depth of passion some graziers have for their stewardship role in the environment.”

Dr. Sherren says she is looking forward to the challenge of continuing her research into the relationships between people and landscapes back on more familiar territory.

“Canadians face many resource challenges, particularly those living in small towns and trying to maintain their viability. How do communities that have grown up around a particular industry survive when market or environmental trends turn against them? Could distributed energy resources like wind or tides – less vulnerable to global trends – help build resilience in small communities while contributing to wider energy security? These are the kinds of questions I want to explore at Dalhousie.”


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