Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere still seeking a local identity

The Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve (MABR) has two years to get its act together or face losing its UNESCO designation, but where did it go wrong?

Named for Mount Arrowsmith

Named for Mount Arrowsmith

The Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve (MABR) has two years to get its act together or face losing its UNESCO designation, but where did it go wrong?

The reserve failed a periodic review last year, stating that it does not meet the statutory framework criteria for biosphere reserves and must prepare and implement an overall strategy and action plan by 2013.

Current president of the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Foundation (MABF) Holly Clermont said although it’s certainly possible for a group to do it, she’s not so sure this organization is up for it.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that it can happen, but whether the foundation’s involved… I’m not sure about that.”

Clermont did her Master’s thesis on the biosphere reserve and said one of the problems she discovered with the local reserve was that it has never been firmly grounded in the community.

“There are other biosphere reserves that have complete widespread community support,” she said.

This is due to a change in nomination requirements a few years after Mt. Arrowmsmith got its designation in 2000, she explained. When the newer reserves completed their documents they had to go into the community and ensure people knew about and supported the nomination, she said.

Glen Jamieson formed the MABF in 1996 and was president until 2009. After he stepped down he said the group starting receiving government funding, $57,000 a year, and this caused some problems for the group. Suddenly a large group of people became involved in the organization, including those with advocacy agendas.

“This issue didn’t arise (when he was president) because we didn’t have a large membership who were demanding that we become an advocacy (group). Because we had no funding… we were just a little tiny group trying to get money.”

The problem is you can’t take an advocacy role within the MABR, he said, it’s against the mandate of the UNESCO biosphere program and would therefore cause the reserve to lose its status and its funding.

The periodic review also came at an unfortunate time for the foundation, Jamieson said, because the government funding they were approved for didn’t appear to be forthcoming and this led to a number of directors stepping down with liability concerns. As a result there was no clear direction as to where the biosphere was going, he said, and it didn’t look like the community was behind it.

Clermont was elected to the board in 2009 and said the experienced, dynamic board that year put a number of protocols in place and arranged for some interesting projects. The following year in March six of the eight board members were re-elected as well as a couple of people from the activist community. By May all the previous board members had resigned, except herself and the two activists, she said. It was shortly after this that the periodic review began.

But by November the board was successfully rebuilt, Clermont said, with many wonderful and enthusiastic people. There were still some problems within the board however and this was evident at the annual general meeting in June of this year.

As Parksville acting Mayor Chris Burger put it, the group needs to work on their governance and decide whether the biosphere board should take an advocacy role or remain a neutral organization that brings different groups together and facilitates discussion.

Board member Phil Carson spoke at the meeting, saying he had been sent a slanderous letter from other board members asking him to step down. He stated certain board members were painting him as “some kind of wide-eyed environmentalist” even though those weren’t his intentions.

Clermont said the board members with advocacy intentions are making it hard to bring in groups from the private sector and government groups for meaningful discussion.

“That’s what the biosphere concept is all about,” she said. “It’s meant to bring those factions together, not to debate but to dialogue and talk about stuff… to learn from each other.”

Stan Boychuk, chair of the of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO National Committee for Man and the Biosphere, said there has not really been a functioning board of directors throughout the past 10 years of MABR, but regardless the group should not look to the past but instead to the future.

“I think the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere reserve should consider spending their time on how they are going to meet the functioning criteria and coming up with a strategic action plan that can be submitted to the International Advisory Committee in two years time,” he said.

The issues of the reserve finding its place within the community, creating a sound governance model, dealing with a high turnover of directors and finding a balance between interests of sustainability and conservation are not new problems, he said. In fact all 580 biosphere reserves have those struggles, he said.

The Biosphere Reserve movement  and the Man and Biosphere Reserve program is 40 years old this year and is still learning who is it as a functioning organization, he said. It’s how the group deals with the situation before them that matters now.

“Those struggles happen in all biosphere reserves and they happen in every country so it is not anything that is unique or particular to Mount Arrowsmith,” he said. “It’s how that struggle manifests itself in the abilities of the communities to put aside what their past interests are and work together collectively as a community, and that’s the challenge for Mount Arrowsmith.”

Clermont said following the last AGM a group of people have mobilized and are concentrating on a contingency plan to make sure the biosphere reserve will continue in some form, and that the strategy and action plan get done, regardless of what happens to the foundation. She herself is busy working on a PhD, and won’t have the time to continue on with the group, she said, besides in a periphery role.

The next AGM will happen in September she said, and she and other board members are trying to get as much done as possible before then, to ensure important projects go forward.

There will also be an attempt at a mediation at that meeting but unfortunately she’s not too optimistic about the end result of that, she said.

Both Boychuk and Jamieson believe the MABR will come through and meet the set requirements by 2013. Boychuk said there is commitment within the community and good minded people who want to see this happen. But those that want to work for an environmental organization should do that, he said, instead of trying to co-opt the concept of the biosphere reserve to serve their own particular interests.

Jamieson said the biosphere concept is a hard one for some people to grasp because unlike other groups there aren’t clear objectives and it requires long term vision.

“This is a much broader mandate and so people have to kind of get there head around that,” he said, explaining: “We’re not going to count birds or save this Island, we are going to try to generate research which will get discussion on as to what’s worth saving.”

Just Posted

Morningstar Golf Club in Parksville will host the 2021 B.C. Junior Golf Championships. (PQB News file photo)
Morningstar Golf Club in Parksville to host 150 of B.C’s top junior golfers

Provincial boys and girls championship begins June 28

Hannes Grosse, left, and Iris Steigemann, right, as they prepared for their 'Moments of Silence' exhibit. The father-daughter duo are showing at The Old School House Arts Centre in Qualicum Beach until June 26. (Submitted photo)
Cortes Island artists exhibit at Qualicum Beach’s TOSH in first father-daughter show

Both artists will be present at shows on Friday, June 25 and Saturday, June 26

The Lighthouse Country Marine Rescue Society will get more funding from the Regional District of Nanaimo. (Submitted Photo)
More PQB communities to fund Lighthouse Country Marine Rescue Society

RDN to introduce amendment to service bylaw contribution

A slide on best practices when reporting a suspected impaired driver that was presented to Parksville city council on June 7 by Margarita Bernard, a volunteer with MADD. The organization’s Report Impaired Drivers campaign involves the installation of informative signs within the City of Parksville. (Mandy Moraes photo)
MADD brings campaign to report impaired drivers to Parksville

Aim is to raise awareness that 911 should be called

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

Kimberly Bussiere and other laid-off employees of Casino Nanaimo have launched a class-action lawsuit against the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Laid-off Great Canadian Gaming Corp. workers in B.C. launch class-action lawsuit

Notice of civil claim filed on April 6 at Supreme Court of B.C. in Nanaimo

A float plane crashed into the waters near Painters Lodge in Campbell River on Thursday morning. Photo by Alistair Taylor / Campbell River Mirror
Float plane crashes into water near Campbell River

Pilot uninjured, plane hit sandbar while landing

John Kromhoff with some of the many birthday cards he received from ‘pretty near every place in the world’ after the family of the Langley centenarian let it be known that he wasn’t expecting many cards for his 100th birthday. (Special to Langley Advance Times)
Cards from all over the world flood in for B.C. man’s 100th birthday

An online invitation by his family produced a flood of cards to mark his 100th birthday

FILE – Nurse Iciar Bercian prepares a shot at a vaccine clinic for the homeless in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, June 2, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
B.C. scientists to study effectiveness of COVID vaccines in people with HIV

People living with HIV often require higher doses of other vaccines

A 50-year-old woman lost control of her vehicle Tuesday, June 15, crashing through a West Vancouver school fence that surrounds playing children. (West Vancouver Police)
Driver ticketed for speeding near B.C. school crashes into playground fence days later

‘It’s an absolute miracle that nobody was injured,’ says Const. Kevin Goodmurphy

Dr. Réka Gustafson, who is British Columbia’s deputy provincial health officer, speaks during a news conference in Vancouver on April 8, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. public health officials prepare to manage COVID-19 differently in the future

Flu-like? Health officials anticipate shift from pandemic to communicable disease control strategies

Maxwell Johnson is seen in Bella Bella, B.C., in an undated photo. The Indigenous man from British Columbia has filed complaints with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and the Canadian Human Rights Commission after he and his granddaughter were handcuffed when they tried to open a bank account. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Heiltsuk Nation, Damien Gillis, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
VIDEO: Chiefs join human rights case of Indigenous man handcuffed by police in B.C. bank

Maxwell Johnson said he wants change, not just words, from Vancouver police

Most Read