Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere facing uncertain future

UNESCO cites group's lack of cohesion as one reason for possible de-listing

Stan Boychuk delivers the bad news to members of the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve Tuesday.

Stan Boychuk delivers the bad news to members of the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve Tuesday.

Unless the group tasked with running it can get their act together in two years, the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve could be de-listed by the United Nations body that oversees it.

That was the stark message delivered to the board and members of the reserve at a special meeting Tuesday night by Stan Boychuk, the chair of the of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO National Committee for Man and the Biosphere.

“The International Advisory Committee on Biosphere Reserves recommended that the Mt. Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve is deemed not functioning within the framework of a biosphere reserve and is required to develop a strategic or action plan within the next two years and submit it to UNESCO,” he said, noting the recommendation would be presented to the International Co-ordinating Commission on June 27 in Dresden, Germany, where it would be either formally accepted or rejected.

If the group fails to satisfy the commission, he said, it would be de-listed.

In a letter to the Mt. Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve board, David Walden, the secretary-general of the Canadian Commision for UNESCO said the report on a recent periodic review of the group showed “Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve does not meet the statutory framework criterias for biosphere reserves and asks that an overall strategy and action plan be prepared and implemented by 2013.

“The biosphere could potentially be de-listed if the conditions are not met, and lose its UNESCO designation.”

Boychuk stressed the board would be poorly served if they chose to spend time and resources in an effort to change the ruling prior to its likely acceptance in Dresden.

Rather, he said, they would do well to utilize the help offered by the Canadian Biosphere Reserves Association to get back on track in time for the 2013 deadline.

In his letter, Walden said the review cited a lack of commonality of purpose and high levels of frustration expressed by the group as key reasons for its potential disbanding.

“The Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve communities have struggled with a common understanding of the role and relationship of the biosphere reserve to the communities and their interests and concerns,” he said. “This lack of commonality of purpose and the levels of frustration exhibited at times within the communities was reflected in the periodic review.”

That was in evidence at the meeting, with tensions running high between those interested in an activist approach, and those calling for a more consultative role.

Acting president Phil Carson expressed frustration.

“It’s frustrating to be accused of not looking after our responsibilities when we have not had an opportunity to influence the decisions about buffer zones and protected areas and we haven’t had an opportunity to defend ourselves,” he said.

Board member Holly Claremont noted the periodic review came just after the group lost five directors, its funding and its co-ordinator.

“All the outgoing directors were interviewed and they were not happy when they left,” she said.

Boychuk agreed.

“When the reviewers came … it was at one of the most difficult time periods of your organization,” he said. “There were a bunch of directors who had difficulty when funding didn’t come forward. It was like a perfect storm.

“The funding didn’t come through, which created stress for the board of directors and there were few people left who had engagement with the reviewers and the people who did were quite disheartened and disgruntled individuals.”

However, he said there was nothing the group could do about the situation, other than to live up to the requirements of UNESCO.

In response, Boychuk stressed the role of a biosphere reserve is to engage the community in discussion about issues, rather than active lobbying on one side or the other.

“Follow through on the recommendations, get your act together and come up with a solid strategic plan of how you are going to do this and manage the diverse interests in this community, what processes are you going to put into place and what is your action plan of what you are going to do,” he said.

Carson said the group would.

This is one of the first times a biosphere reserve in Canada has failed a periodic review and, if the group is unable to satisfy UNESCO in two years, they would be the first to be de-listed.


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