Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve approach needs a fair shake

Recently, the International Advisory Committee for the Man and Biosphere Programme in Paris, France declared that Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve does not meet the statutory framework criteria for biosphere reserves.

Recently, the International Advisory Committee for the Man and Biosphere Programme in Paris, France declared that Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve does not meet the statutory framework criteria for biosphere reserves. 

We could lose the designation if an overall strategy and action plan is not prepared and implemented by 2013. 

Why should we care? If UNESCO takes away our designation, it will be the first in Canada to wear the unwelcome label of a de-listed biosphere reserve. More importantly, it is a lost opportunity to try a new way of making communities work well for everyone. 

I say “new” because we have yet to give it a fair shake in Oceanside, even though the biosphere reserve is now more than 10 years old. 

The common thread woven through well-functioning biosphere reserves is keeping nature healthy, making a decent living, and having a good quality of life. These are considered equally important and mutually reinforcing. 

The biosphere reserve organization — in this case the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Foundation — plays a unique role by building connections. These bridges of trust are progressively built with all levels of government, community organizations of all stripes, and the private sector. It may do this by co-ordinating or partnering on projects, by gathering scientific, traditional and local information that will help inform decisions, or by gathering people together to find common ground or to innovate. 

The catalyst and unique element is the bridging organization, which differs from nearly every other type of organization in that it doesn’t choose sides in any dispute, and it doesn’t engage in debate. It facilitates dialogue, which is much different than debate, as its intent is to increase understanding on all sides — not to win an argument. It must religiously adhere to this neutral position, or risk losing the bridges of trust. It takes a long time to build trust, and an instant to crumble it. 

Some people have a great deal of difficulty with Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Foundation accepting this as its mandate, as they feel UNESCO, and by default the Foundation should stand up for nature. Nature is an underdog that has taken too many hits already. 

Yet other biosphere reserves report that nature appreciation and protection is best fostered by navigating around confrontation, gathering and sharing information, bringing attention to people who are prospering by treating nature well,  and providing opportunities for connection and dialogue. 

There are many advocacy organizations, but very few groups that can play that crucial bridging role. 

The biosphere reserve is special, and deserves not only “saving” but all of our efforts to make it grow and prosper.

 — Holly Clarmont is a member of the MABR.

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