Western Washington University’s Border Policy Research Institute (BPRI), in collaboration with Whatcom Council of Governments, is conducting a two-part survey data collection of the four Canadian border crossings in the county: Pacific Highway, Peace Arch, Lynden and Sumas. The goal behind the research is to determine who is crossing the border and why.
Part one of the surveying began in June and was just completed. Part two will be at the same locations but this winter, beginning in February and ending in March. This research is important and useful for industries in Bellingham and surrounding areas including the transportation and retail sectors; Laurie Trautman, director of the BPRI, is leading the research with a team of student surveyors.
Fourteen Western students and two supervisors made up the surveying crew this summer. In two shifts, from 7 a.m.-2 p.m. and 2-9 p.m., these students surveyed drivers as they waited to cross.
The students had to be vetted by both U.S. and Canadian security agencies to be able to access each border crossing and also flagger trained so they are allowed to flag cars down in order to take the survey.
“Working at the border is very different than any job I've ever experienced,” student surveyor Erin Dahlman-Oeth said. “Most people are excited to contribute to the data. Plus, everybody I work with is so amazing and committed to the project so it's a great atmosphere to work in.”
Dahlman-Oeth is a junior Sociology major and is interested in becoming a professor, which lead her to wanting to conduct fieldwork research.
“I've had so many fun conversations with really big families coming back from vacations, scary-looking but very kind guys on motorcycles, Western alums and other people with questions and stories,” Dahlman-Oeth said. “It's crazy to see how many different kinds of people you meet at the border.”
The survey is voluntary and includes 20 questions that inquire about why the individuals are crossing the border.
“For the most part, people are friendly,” Trautman said. “People are curious about what the research is.”
Trautman has also heard reports from the student surveyors that there has been a significant amount of extra commentary during surveying due to the current political climate. Recently, the U.S. and Canada have entered into a trade war, which Trautman believes will affect the data.
“It's a challenging thing about research and data collection because you want it to be as neutral as it can be so that you can get to the heart of what's happening but the world doesn't really work that way,” Trautman said. “I get the feeling that this one is going to be different.”
Once all the data is collected from both the summer and the winter, the supervisors, Trautman and Whatcom Council of Governments will comb through it and begin writing up the findings. When they are finished, a report will be disseminated to all levels of government including Washington state, British Columbia and the Canadian and U.S. government as well as transportation and planning agencies such as the Washington Department of Transportation, academics and think tanks. The information is also open to public.
This type of research is unique to Whatcom County and does not happen at every border crossing in the country.
“There are not a lot of border regions that have this kind of data because you have to work closely with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Canada Border Services Agency,” Trautman said. “It requires a relationship of trust and that relationship doesn't necessarily exist in other places.”
This research has been conducted every five years beginning in 2000 by the Whatcom Council of Governments.
“I hope that people realize how important our relationship with Canada is and how important the functioning of the border crossing is to Whatcom County,” Trautman said. “It has a really big impact on both the economy and people in the surrounding region.”
The research is funded by B.C. Ministry of Transportation & Infrastructure, Transport Canada, the Canadian Consulate and Whatcom Council of Governments.
For more information about this research or the BPRI, contact Laurie Trautman at firstname.lastname@example.org.