Is it me, or is the announcement of another judicial inquiry like a bad Microsoft Windows release? Just as we think we couldn’t possibly download another Windows update or patch – the next version comes out. I have found a federal parliamentary report from 2004 titled: Here we go again, or the 2005 Fraser river salmon fishery.
Twelve recommendations and yet, here we go again….
A quick review of online searches shows an impressive list of reports and investigations into Pacific salmon over the last three decades. From what I have seen personally in declines in my favorite rivers and streams, and looking through records of numbers of salmon spawning in streams – there’s little doubt as to why so many investigations have been launched.
Unfortunately, this isn’t like some t.v. episode of CSI (crime scene investigation) or other cop show where the investigators always get their bad guy. It’s kind of more like episodes of X-Factor where the mystery continues… although in X-Factor I don’t think they finish the program with some longgg list of recommendations. (and its not that I’m much of a t.v.-fan – it just makes a decent analogy here).
I’m trying to compile an accurate and sequential list of the number of inquiries, parliamentary standing committees, Pearse et al. reports, Mifflin Plans, special investigations, independent analyses, and whatever other investigations that have occurred regarding Pacific salmon in my lifetime. At first review – it’s not that easy so I’m sure someone out there has a good list.
The next question I have is how much have these ‘investigations’ cost?
Secondly, how much has all the follow-up cost – or lack of?
I can’t say I’ve found all that many reports titled “Mifflin Plan: – five years later how we successfully implemented the recommendations”. (Doesn’t mean those aren’t out there – let me know if they are).
As mentioned in a previous post or two – one of the better programs I have seen come out of the Fisheries and Oceans behemoth bureaucracy is the Habitat Restoration and Enhancement Program (HRSEP). Yes, I have some bias as I was fortunate to get two years of really interesting and satisfying work with a small community group on Haida Gwaii (off the coast of British Columbia) where I grew up and almost a year of work with a First Nation in the central Yukon – all under funding from the HRSEP initiative.
The program was roughly $50 million over 4-5 years in the late 1990s with a focus on rehabilitating salmon habitat throughout B.C. and the Yukon. (Good idea, maybe just consider doing it for more than one life cycle).
What if we took all the funding allocated to political investigations, parliamentary hearings (done in Ottawa a few thousand k.m. away from the nearest salmon), and sandbox bickering and actually put it into more programs on-the-ground?
What if we took all the funding and instead of pumping it into multi-million dollar ‘science’ programs that tell us squid are eating baby salmon off western Vancouver Island – and put it into compiling the incredible depth of knowledge in every community connected to wild salmon?
(not that I am one to suggest that all of the scientific investigations are bad – or that compiling “more data” is going to solve the problems – just some thoughts).
Or, continuing with the Microsoft analogy, if anyone has seen the latest commercials (oh damn, I’m using t.v. references again – truly, not much of a watcher, just a hockey fan). The commercials surrounding the Windows 7 release have average folks talking about how features of Windows 7: “were my idea”.
What if in programs guiding how we care for wild salmon – everyday folks could say: “Coho Creek habitat rehabilitation… my idea”?
Or, “designing effective community salmon forums… my idea”?
In 2004, the BC government formed the Citizen’s Assembly on Electoral Reform. One hundred and sixty citizens from all the constituencies of BC met for ten months through 2004: “studying electoral systems in use around the world, holding public hearings, accepting public submissions, and finally reaching a decision.” The Assembly was designed to be “an independent, non-partisan assembly of citizens who examined the province’s electoral system.”
The budget for the Assembly was under $5 million. And sure the referendum in 2009 didn’t institute the recommendations of the Assembly – but then not instituting the recommendations of multi-million dollar reports is kind of the theme here.
The work of the Assembly will not go away – plus there are now 160 BC citizens that are probably a lot more engaged in the political process. Plus a search online shows that the Assembly’s work is discussed around the world as many other areas look at electoral reform.
What if something like the Citizen’s Assembly was done to investigate how we look after wild salmon?
What if a Citizen’s assembly could study wild salmon systems in use around the world, holding public hearings, accepting public submissions, and finally reaching a decision.
The Assembly could be an independent, non-partisan assembly of citizens (with significant representation of First Nations) who examine how we care for the wild salmon systems in Western Canada – and Western North America for that fact.
The upcoming judicial inquiry into Fraser River sockeye is suggested to cost in the range of $20 million. Could we not undertake a citizen’s assembly for less – and be more effective?
No disrespect intended for those who have called for the judicial inquiry, nor Justice Cohen who will oversee the inquiry. It’s simply that after years of getting the same things out of these processes (albeit expensive $$) – and then turning to Fisheries and Oceans to actually change and better manage salmon – is completely irresponsible, pointless, and sad.
On my bookshelf is a book called Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins by Annette Simmons. On one hand, that is exactly the problems that I see – a judicial inquiry is built upon the premise of the adversarial legal system that we pride ourselves upon. Evidence is weighed and the best advocate for their argument wins based on a balance of probabilities, or, beyond a reasonable doubt. (yes, I understand the inquiry is a little more administrative than a court of law…)
However, on the other hand, as Simmons explains on the cover jacket of her book:
People float in an ocean of data and disconnected facts that can overwhelm them with choices. In this ocean of choice, a meaningful story can feel like a life preserver that tethers us to something safe and important – at the very least, to a trace of humanity that proves there is a “you” communicating with them, whether the “you” is yourself or an organization you represent. This book helps you lay the groundwork for using story as a credible tool to connect with your audience, and create a meaning more powerful than mere facts could ever do.
If there’s one thing I learned on The Wild Salmon Cycle – there are no shortage of meaningful stories when it comes to wild salmon, throughout their natural range stretching from Inuvik, NWT to Los Angeles, CA. Whether it was an elder of the Gwich’in people of Tetlit Zheh (Fort MacPherson, NWT) on Nagwichoo tshik (Peel River) – see post “No one ever asked…” – or, oil riggers from Texas that I met in a roadside rest area near Denali National Park in Alaska (they were off to fish salmon on the Kenai Peninsula and each handed me $100 to support the ride), or a homeless fellow in a wheel chair in San Francisco – there are fantastic salmon stories out there.
I’ve sub-titled this blog “what’s your salmon story?” for a reason. There is some scientific research – data, charts and graphs, and the like – that comes out and I think: “hmmm that’s interesting”. For example, bears and salmon in the trees (carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis). However, it’s people’s connection to salmon – their stories – that are important and essential, and, that may very well blaze a path to get out of this quagmire.
What if we had a citizen’s assembly on wild salmon?