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UMFK students engaged in hands-on social and political activism; plan public symposium to discuss research

November 14, 2003

NR03176

Students in University of Maine at Fort Kent Professor Jim Killarney's environmental psychology class are putting into practice the lessons they learn in the classroom by becoming socially and politically active in their community.

Through a semester project initiated by Killarney, the 19 students, mostly environmental science and behavioral science majors, are working in five committees, each researching and working on various areas of concerns about a chemical agent being used in Maine forests to prevent the growth of "unwanted" hardwoods and vegetation that inhibits the growth of planted softwoods.

The spray, called Accord, is a broad leaf defoliant that kills plants and leaves.

"The purpose of the class is to enhance environmental advocacy, promote political activism and to protect the health of the environment," said Killarney. "It is fascinating to watch how the class is dealing with this issue."

After assigning the semester project to investigate herbicide spraying in local forest, Killarney asked students to sign-up to work in small groups that would focus on research, effects of the chemical, political activism, previous attempts to address related concerns, and communication.

"Working as a group to improve our community has been the most valuable part of this experience. We are helping make people aware of what goes on around them," said Shannon Hafford, a sophomore behavioral science major from Fort Kent, who is a member of the communications team. "I'm learning a lot about how we as students and citizens can affect change."

Working in their groups, the students researched the symptoms that follow exposure to glyposhate, a major ingredient in Accord.

The team tasked with looking into previous attempts to restrict use of the herbicide studied how 20 towns in the state have banned some part of the use of glyposhate-based agents.

"Nobody really pays attention to this issue because we are all of the ideology that we need to keep the forest producing for economic reasons. This project really got us to think beyond those concerns and look at the overall issue," said Jenny Daigle, a behavioral science major from New Canada.

Students who signed up to tackle the issue from a political perspective have begun working with the Forest Ecology Network, which has drawn up legal documents that are available for local municipalities to use to gather signatures for petitioning town government.

The same students met with State Senator John Martin to learn what other avenues could be taken to affect change.

"I am very impressed at how the students took this project seriously and how they have grown as a result of the process. They truly have a better understanding of how to work at a grass-roots level to change this planet for the better," said Killarney.

According to the psychology professor, a few of the students are hoping to further their work through an independent study in the coming semester, which would include working with the Forest Ecology Network to place the issue on a statewide referendum ballot that would aim to ban the use of such herbicides.

The final class project for this semester will be to host a public symposium to discuss their research and work. Killarney and the students are welcoming and encouraging members of the general public to attend and, if they wish, speak on the issue.

The symposium will be held on Wednesday, December 10 at 2:00 p.m. in room 201 of Cyr Hall.

For more information on the public session or on the student project, contact Killarney at (207) 834-7615.