This May long weekend let’s start a new tradition.
Instead of focusing on all the challenges we face in the headwaters, let’s focus on what we can do, personally, right now, to make a difference. Instead of lamenting the probable parties, disrespect for fellow users and damage to streams and habitat, let’s take this opportunity to do something. We’ll feel good knowing we took some sort of action rather than just watched from the sidelines and complained. Let’s see the May long weekend as the beginning of our opportunity to improve the watershed.
I know from several years of public input processes and community engagement sessions that people do care A LOT about the natural environment. Disagreement is only around how to best maintain the environmental goods and services we depend on to survive and how much maintenance is necessary.
So this weekend when you’re out there enjoying the scenery and slower pace of life, seize the opportunity to camp away from the water’s edge, pick up litter, talk to nearby campers about responsible use of the area and share with the people you are with, why you are so passionate about this unique place and what you hope the future of it looks like. If you’re an ATV’er make sure you know which trails are designated for use and which are not, use bridges and encourage others to do the same.
If you are not going to spend time in the headwaters there are still many things you can do, starting by just talking to people! Behavioural science has proven that people only change their behaviour through personal interaction with other people. And it takes time and encouragement for people to change, so keep the conversation going.
People are generally good and want to do what’s right. They may not know what the right thing is and you can help them connect their personal behaviour to the impact on the watershed.
I believe that real, lasting change only happens when a culture itself changes.
It starts when role models demonstrate what is acceptable behaviour and share their passionate stories of why they have chosen to act this way. Fortunately there are already role models in the headwaters doing this. The Crowsnest Pass Quad Squad is one example. They promote responsible riding (staying on trails, using bridges, wearing safety gear, no littering, etc.) and take action to build bridges and maintain trails – roles that no one else is currently filling.
If we all strive to be role models in our own behaviour and have the courage to speak to others about their behaviour, we can accomplish a lot without waiting for policies, funding structures, enforcement regimes, etc. to force change.
Cultural norms can last for centuries and can impact many issues (equality, crime, health, etc.). Enforcement and incentives only last as long as they are maintained and people will revert back to their old behaviour if the program ends.
Each one of us who cares so passionately about the watershed is an individual agent of cultural change. It has to become "normal" and "positive" to have respectful conversations with strangers about watershed health.
Beginning with "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts"... "don't" ...and "you people" is shutting down the conversation before it can happen. Good conversations begin with you as an active listener. Share their passion and then you will find that conversation opening where you can share how changing a certain behaviour will enhance their outdoor experience.
For example, many ATV enthusiasts are also avid anglers. Understanding how fish lay eggs in shallow waters (= right where it's convenient for an ATV to cross!!!) is an important connection.
Another example: many nature lovers are keen to "camp wild", perching tents close to water's edge or far away from "city slicker campers". Human presence will impede animals in their normal movements and in their ability to thrive ... and encourage garbage picking.
The OWC is working hard to ensure that everyone has a wilderness to enjoy for many years to come. Currently, almost 80% of the headwaters area is suffering from human activity.
Share your love of natural spaces ... calling all role models - YOU!