Earth Day - Does It Really Matter?

(Editor's Note: You may call me cynical, but I did ask myself today whether naming this one day "Earth Day" actually made a difference. Here is a blog piece by OWC's Planning Manager, Connie Simmons, attempting to answer that question.)

          The Oldman Watershed Council marks Earth Day with a spotlight on the                                                                         Headwaters Action Team! 

In preparation for this Blog post, I visited Earth Day’s website, and thought a lot about how the OWC and our key partnerships with stakeholders and volunteers supports Earth Day Canada’s mission to foster and celebrate environmental respect, action and behaviour change that lessens our impact on the earth.  I looked at the questions they asked:

“What can I do to help the environment?”
“How can my individual actions make a bigger difference?”
“Can the impact of one person really help the planet?”

It didn’t take me long to figure out what to say – without the power of key partnerships and committed people and groups working together for common goals and outcomes for watershed health – the OWC would be just another planning organization with piles of plans on a shelf gathering dust.

Committed action by individuals, stakeholders and government is what makes the difference – and this action makes Earth Day (and everyday) a reason for acknowledgement and thanks to the people who are doing this important work.

The OWC’s Headwaters Action Team (HAT) is focused on getting things done for headwaters health.   The HAT was formed in 2014 to begin the process of implementing 5 priority actions of the Headwaters Action Plan, and to see how far we can go in the first two years of collaborative work (for more on this:

The HAT is a great group of people, with different perspectives, interests and values. Some of our conversations are bluntly honest, and some of the interests around the table are at times cross-threaded. Nonetheless, as a foundation for collaborative work, we agree that the health of the headwaters needs improvement, that there are important initiatives that can address the priority concerns - and through this work, we raise support for improved watershed management, and achieve better outcomes for headwaters health.

OWC Headwaters Action Team - April 9, 2015  
left to right:  Jason Blackburn (Alberta Conservation Association); Lorne Fitch (Cows and Fish); Mike Wagner (Environment and Sustainable Resource Development – Forest Hydrology); Connie Simmons (OWC); Wade Aebli (Spray Lakes Sawmills); Rosemary Jones (Environment and Sustainable Development-Parks); David Green (Southern Alberta Sustainable Communities Initiative); Terry Yagos (MD Pincher Creek); Tony Bruder (Drywood-Yarrow Conservation Partnership); Bill Kovach (MD Crowsnest Pass); Jim Lynch Staunton (North Fork Grazing Association); Richard Burke (Trout Unlimited – Lethbridge).  Missing:  Darryl Ferguson (Crowsnest Pass Quad Squad); Carolyn Aspeslet (Castle Crown Wilderness Coalition). 

The Headwaters Action Team works in both an advisory and implementation capacity, within the mandates and resources available from their respective organizations.  So when I look at the questions posed for Earth Day, …what can I do, and how can my individual actions make a difference?-   I see in the HAT the commitment and willingness to act stemming from connection and appreciation for the beauty, the critical ecological function as key water tower, and resources that support people and communities – all of these values, and more, are inherent to the Oldman headwaters.    

To really hear what is important to the team members,  it is best to hear from them on why they are putting their time and energy into action for headwaters health: 

I have lived near to the Oldman River most of my life and have spent many hours fishing, and playing in it, but most of all walking along it enjoying the hugely diverse wildlife and plant life enabled and nourished by it. The headwaters is the source and the Oldman River is the lifeblood of Southern Alberta.                                                     Ted Smith – Rancher, Livingston Landowners Group, HAT member

The Oldman River headwaters encompasses the largest remaining core areas of pure strain Westslope Cutthroat Trout within the historic range of Alberta, and is critical to the long term sustainability of the species in the province.  Watersheds within the headwaters not only contribute to the overall persistence of this species, but also represent some of the best quality, and most popular native (and introduced) trout fisheries in the province, a service highly valued by a major stakeholder group of ACA, Alberta’s anglers.
Jason Blackburn – Alberta Conservation Association – HAT member

Headwaters are the epicenter for source water, native fish and wildlife (several of which are ‘threatened’) and a sense of space for recreation, watershed integrity and biodiversity maintenance. The headwaters are where the Oldman watershed begins and how well we manage this critical area dictates whether we meet the goals of downstream residents.
Lorne Fitch, Cows and Fish – HAT member

I live in the Oldman headwaters.  Every day I see the snowpack on the mountains, hear the melt-water music of Gladstone Creek as it joins Mill Creek, which flows into the Castle River, and then joins the Oldman River system at the Oldman Reservoir. I think of all who live upstream and downstream and depend on this water – the towns and cities, the forests, the fish, birds and wildlife, and the farmers, ranchers and businesses that help support the economy of Alberta.  Over 90% of the water of the Oldman River comes from the headwaters.   For this reason, and because this place is my home, I am committed to working for headwaters beauty, function, spiritual values and source of life and sustenance.   
                                                         Connie Simmons, Oldman Watershed Council – HAT coordinator

On Earth Day 2015 – we celebrate and thank the commitment of people and organizations who are  working  together for watershed health.
Thank you, Headwaters Action Team!!!

Blog post by: Connie Simmons,
OWC - Headwaters Stewardship Coordinator