|The Discovery |
of Wet Lands
Report to the Community
Wetlands as a Commons
In recent years, some very important work has been done to create a renewed awareness of an ancient concept known as "the Commons." The atmosphere and oceans, languages and culture, the stores of human knowledge and wisdom, the informal support systems of community, the peace and quiet we crave, the generic building blocks of life these are all aspects of the Commons. In most traditional societies, it was assumed that what belonged to one belonged to all. Many indigenous societies to this day cannot conceive of denying a person or a family basic access to food, air, land, water and livelihood.
Noted Canadian environmentalist Richard Bocking states that the Commons are those things to which we have rights just by being a member of the human family. Many modern societies extended the same concept of universal access to the notion of a social Commons, creating education, health care and social security for all members of the community. Since adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, governments are obliged to protect the human rights, cultural diversity and food security of their citizens. The Commons is the vast realm that lies outside of both the economic market and the institutional state, and that all of us typically use without toll or price.
The atmosphere and oceans, languages and culture, the stores of human knowledge and wisdom, the informal support systems of community, the peace and quiet we crave, the air we breathe, the freshwater we drink, the seas, forests, and mountains, the genetic heritage through which all life is transmitted, the diversity of life itself. these are all aspects of the commons. Commons is synonymous with community, cooperation and respect for the rights and preferences of others,. Some Commons, such as the atmosphere, outer space and the oceans, may be thought of as global, while others, such as public spaces, common land, forests, the gene pool, and local medicines, are community Commons. The commons have the quality of always having been there. One generation after another, available to all.
As professor Richard Wagner of UBCO states, "In effect, whoever controls the ways in which water is commoditized and marketed has a much larger say in managing our future than the rest of Okanagan society. Corporate marketing of Okanagan water, as agricultural resource, as lakeview, as playground, perpetuates a settler culture committed to continued ecological degradation, not sustainability. The commons governance approach of the Syilx, the indigenous peoples of the Okanagan, was overwritten by colonial and provincial governments beginning in the late nineteenth century. But then, following a subsequent period of corporate irrigation management which ended during World War I, a new form of commons management was instituted that of the farmer-operated 'irrigation district'. Many irrigation districts continue to operate in the Okanagan today though they generally provide more water now to non-agricultural, domestic customers than to agriculturists. Out of five water purveyors in the greater Kelowna area, for instance, three are irrigation districts. By contrast, in Penticton, Naramata and Summerland, the local irrigation districts have folded, handing their authority and water licenses over to either the local municipality or regional district. These handovers have been motivated mainly by concerns over water quality but they have been coerced, quite deliberately, by provincial government policy which prohibits the granting of water quality improvement grants to irrigation districts. The impetus today is towards a further, no less radical transformation of an agricultural society into a resort community with a valley wide population predicted to reach half a million by the middle of this century. The question I would like to pose to political leaders at all levels, as well as to local residents and water managers, is: whose interests are being served by this radical transformation? Is it perhaps time to rethink and dispense with policy developed during the colonial era and begin to develop policy to serve the interests of today?"
The market is like a runaway engine, with no governor to tell it when to stop depleting the Commons that sustains us all. What is needed is a "counter narrative" to the current narrative of individual ownership and control as the best way to manage resources. A new narrative, protected by a legal framework of its own, would allow us to manage our collective resources for the common good. This is not an esoteric concept. It is ever more clear that if we fail to create a new way of thinking about the planet and our role in it, we may not survive.
Rethinking StewardshipHistorically, the Okanagan had an abundance of wetlands. Due to the impacts of land use changes and pressures such as urban development, increased population, resource development and extraction, there are currently fewer wetlands remaining. To conserve and protect those that remain, regular and careful monitoring and planning practices will be required.
For a vast array of wildlife species as well as for people, wetlands provide critical places that are fundamental in sustaining life and ecological services. Wetlands are typically the biological reservoirs in grassland, forested and other landscapes, hosting and sustaining many of the country's natural assets such as plants, birds, insects and mammals. Just as important, they sustain the mainstay physical resources, such as water and soils. Wetlands are also important shared resources across multi-lateral jurisdictions. Mexico, Argentina, United States and Russia rely on us to care for and manage our wetlands, largely because of migratory species.
Stewardship practices, at the farm gate through to international levels, help to ensure that highly migratory and other species of common concern have the critical places required in their lifecycles. Borders favour the territorial behaviour of people but not the inherent behaviour of wildlife species and ecosystems.
For urban developers, farmers, and road construction people in the
Okanagan, as examples, wetlands often have been seen as obstacles that needed to be
drained, filled-in or built-around, and in some cases destroyed . But fortunately
attitudes about, and interests in, our wetlands are changing. We need to continue the
process, to ensure a stable and substantial stewardship process going forward.
Okanagan Wetlands Regeneration Alliance
is a group of progressive citizens, groups, companies, institutions, organizations and communities who want to put nature back into the centre of Okanagan life.
The Alliance was formed to apply the principals of ecology to the wetlands of the Okanagan Basin, which are the source and heart of the future of human habitation and economy of this area, and which are in continuous need of study, understanding and regeneration.
Robert MacDonald, Director
1473 Ethel Street
Kelowna BC V1Y 2X9
Email: click here
The Partners in the Wetlands Alliance are
The Alliance welcomes participation from members of the public, as well as from companies, organizations and institutions of all kinds.