Written by: Barbara King, 2017
I spend a lot of time working with small groups and individuals that are working to change the way that people act towards our freshwater and over the past 15 years have come to the conclusions that we need to change the way that we talk to people about freshwater issues. As environmentalists, we often come at things the wrong way when working in our communities. This isn’t to say that there isn’t a time to fight but generally when you get down to the fundamental question of what people value, we have found that most people care very much about our freshwater. The real problem is a disconnect between people’s values and their actions. Relationships within our communities are the key to changing the future of our water. Understanding what the barriers are and working with people to find solutions to those barriers will result in long term changes to how people act. Through working with people and building relationships, we can have long-term influences over individual actions. It’s all in how we frame our messages and communications. We need to assume the best of people and help them to self-identify actions they can do and support them with information and advice.
Let me give you a little story from my life and why I will always be known as the crazy redhead who fixes beaver dams and yells at her neighbour while standing in a green canoe. Twelve years ago when we first bought our house on the water, we discovered that our water levels were dropping significantly during fish spawning and nesting season. So, I jumped in my paddle boat with my broken elbow, and soon to be mother-in- law to investigate. When we arrived at the end of the lake where there once was a beautiful bombproof beaver dam to find it completely removed and water flowing quickly out of our lake, I panicked and jumped out of the paddle boat and began rebuilding the dam. Doing this with one arm must have convinced my mother in law out of the boat, and we spent the next hours trying to rebuild the dam. It was obvious that this dam was removed by hand and I was determined to find out why. In questioning my neighbours I found out that a landowner had been canoeing down at 6 o’clock in the morning, when nobody would see him, and remove the dam so that he could have a beach. I set three alarms (I’m not a morning person) and got up and sat on my deck waiting for the blue canoe… and he did come…
So, after promising my husband that I would be “good” we followed in our green canoe. When we arrived at the beaver dam, we witnessed our neighbour pulling out all the logs we just repaired, I lost it! I stood up in the canoe and began yelling and taking photographs. I can say this didn’t go very well and the results became a battle of destroying, and rebuilding this beaver dam over the next five years until the neighbour eventually left the lake.
In hindsight, I didn’t take the time to understand why he was doing what he was doing or communicate the impacts that he was having on wildlife or our personal enjoyment of the lake. Had I taken the time to visit this neighbour and talk about the issues in a non-confrontational manner, perhaps we could have addressed this issue and not spent the next five years rebuilding beaver dams and fighting over water levels on our Lake.