no more blueprints…

A little while back I had a post exploring the concept of “conservation” . I quoted Edward de Bono (innovator of Lateral Thinking and Six Thinking Hats)  in his definition of concept as a: “convenience package, a grouping, a clustering, an assembly for a purpose…”

As well as providing a dictionary definition of “conservation“:

2. a. Preservation or restoration from loss, damage, or neglect.

b. The protection, preservation, management, or restoration of wildlife and of natural resources such as forests, soil, and water.

I also quoted the definition of “conservation” provided in Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) Wild Salmon Policy:

Conservation is the protection, maintenance, and rehabilitation of genetic diversity, species and ecosystems to sustain biodiversity and continuance of evolutionary and natural production processes.

In as much as the DFO definition is full of a lot of bumpf – I can sympathize somewhat. The concept of conservation is a complex one. As I mentioned in some comments to posts, I don’t think the answer to this complex issue is a ‘one-size-fits-all’ definition – or blueprint solution.

Conservation, as suggested in the Wild Salmon Policy, applies to natural systems, or ecosystems. Natural systems are complex systems; which means uncertainty, unpredictability, and unforeseens – look at natural disasters such as Haiti, Hurricane Katrina, tsunamis, etc.  And hence, my riff yesterday on suggestions from DFO scientists that more scientific models and equations are required. I suggest maybe a little more actual standing stream side – rather than office exercises that can never account for all variables.

Now, here’s the most important variable that is left out of DFO’s definition and concept – the social-human variables. And this is where there’s a gaping void.

The first principle of the Wild Salmon Policy, and DFO’s overall fisheries management approach, is “Conservation” . The second principle is Aboriginal Fisheries (food, ceremonial, etc.), then Commercial and Sport Fisheries.

OK, so if the second two principles are clearly social principles – then why isn’t the first principle laid out as a social principle or concept?

This goes back to my questions:

  • What are we conserving?
  • Why are we conserving?
  • And, maybe even most importantly, by who’s definitions are we conserving?

There is a difference between denotation (the stated part) of a document, word, or principle; and the connotation (the various understandings) of a document, word, or principle. Connotations are virtually impossible to control. (See my post on the front yard-back yard analogy)

In the Wild Salmon Policy, unfortunately, the stated definition (denotation) of conservation is flawed, which will continue to create serious issues with public connotations. The definition sticks strictly to the natural systems view of “conserving” things – unless DFO sees the human elements that are implicit in “continuance of evolutionary and natural production processes” when it comes to wild salmon.

Wild salmon and humans have co-evolved and co-existed around the Pacific Rim for eons. Humans have been intimately connected to wild salmon “evolutionary and natural production processes”. Even more-so now as humans have developed the ability to largely wipe out a creek’s entire salmon run, with little more than a few seine nets at the mouth over a period of a decade or two, logging out a watershed, or building a new suburban neighborhood of bread box, chip-board homes.

So, if the second and third principles are about human consumption – then why not state clearly in the first principle that “conservation” means: conservation so that humans can continue to harvest them – instead of a bunch of bumpfy, bafflegab language that doesn’t really denote anything specific at all about very complex, unpredictable things.

Or, better yet, why not clearly state that conservation and things like biodiversity are distinctly social systems, as much as natural systems?

For example, one of the most common methods of “conserving biodiversity” practiced worldwide is to create “protected areas” or national parks – which are in turn controlled and ‘managed’ by national governments. Creating national parks is a distinctly social practice, social issue, with levels of natural and social complexity.

Creating parks are often heated, controversial, and complex social arrangements that create tensions for years – and as many folks suggest, in turn, may not really do much for the natural systems they purport to “protect”. As some have suggested, creating national parks or protected areas is a ‘blueprint solution’ with a top-down enforcement model.

And then of course there are questions and concerns that highlight the gaps between blueprint policies and actually enforcing them. (speed limits or bike helmet laws mean anything to anyone? If someone is speeding on a highway and there’s no cop there to measure it – is she still technically speeding?).

So what if we looked at, and worked with, the concept of conservation as a distinctly social principle, as well as a principle for guiding our activities as part of natural systems?

Certainly, many indigenous societies have. When it comes to wild salmon, indigenous societies had to have conservation principles – it’s simple really: kill too many fish, and die (or move to a new territory, someone else’s).

And, again, really, the Wild Salmon Policy and DFO policies are about ‘fisheries management‘ – not just the actual fish. Fisheries are implicitly social institutions with multiple levels of interests and hence, complex social systems as well as complex natural systems.

Thus, blueprints like the Wild Salmon Policy, will never work without acknowledging the complexity and interrelated natural and social systems. And if those of you working in this field remember, the Wild Salmon Policy evolved directly out of a document titled: “Blueprint” for Pacific salmon. Plus the Minister for DFO in 2005 discussed:

The blueprint to reform Pacific fisheries focuses on four main themes…

Let’s leave the “blueprints” to constructing buildings – stable, static things – not for dealing with complex social and natural systems.

And why is it that government policy often operates on assumptions that human well-being and ecosystems are separate distinct things?

They are intimately connected – humans are not separate from ecosystems, as climate change is clearly showing us. Or, as someone such as myself who grew up on islands six hours by ferry from the mainland has learned intimately (on several occasions – 6 metre waves mean anything?). Humans are part of natural systems, with all our muti-layers of social, community, and institutional interactions.

And to be fair, there is language in the Wild Salmon Policy that talks about linking local and traditional knowledge, linking to stewardship groups, and the principle of “open and transparent” processes (go to DFO’s website and search around for documents and such related to the Wild Salmon Policy and tell me how “open” and “transparent” you find it…).

Another gaping void: between words on paper and action on the ground.

The world is getting a little flatter (in a figurative sense) as suggested by author Thomas Friedman. Globalization is hard at work, and things like wikinomics, open-source software, and growing access to the Internet are shifting how we relate and interact with each other. I have incorporated some of these things in other posts and will continue to do so.

Corporations now have interns that search through social media looking for comments – positive or negative – and try to utilize those, or fend them off. Obama utilized social media and networking quite successfully in his presidential campaign. Open-source mapping programs like Ushahidi are working wonders in disaster relief in Haiti – or in violence related to the elections in Africa (where the program originated). I worked in an isolated B.C. First Nation community six hours by backroads away from the nearest highway – and yet they have high speed internet and laptop purchase and use is growing exponentially (along with Facebook use in the community).

As such, complex issues like wild salmon ‘conservation’ (which includes harvesting) that cross natural and social systems will require networks of people, networks of knowledge, networks of learning, networks of joint problem-solving, and networks that span from federal government offices in Ottawa to community homes on the coast of British Columbia. (and many networks of conflict resolution)

These networks must be international, global, and yet still local. Biodiversity is a global, international, and local issue.

This mean activities that are multi-varied and multi-leveled. It will also require better distribution of power and resources – and much better processes that: “look first to understand, then be heard” .

No more blueprints for complex natural and social systems.

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