The Recipe for Good Stewardship
Cows and Fish Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society
The million dollar question…
How do you raise people’s awareness so that their daily decisions work in harmony with the natural systems of the Earth; so that they weigh not only their own needs but those of future generations? How do you create great stewards?
That is the million dollar question many conservation organizations pose; one to which Y2Y’s partner, ‘Cows and Fish’, has a pretty good answer!
It starts with people
“If I was to do my university degree all over,” begins Lorne Fitch co-founder of ‘Cows and Fish’ and former fish and wildlife biologist for the province of Alberta, “I think I’d go into sociology or psychology. The science is simple, but to have real success, it’s most important to address the people.”
The light bulb went off when, after ten years of working for the province trying to influence land management practices, Lorne and his colleague Barry Adams realized that many initiatives rarely lasted long enough to have an impact on the landscape. Worse yet, there was little interaction with people on the ground.
In 1992, they started ‘Cows and Fish’, a non-governmental, non-profit organization that focuses on fostering a better understanding of the management of riparian areas - the green spaces between land and water-systems like rivers or creeks.
“We approached the situation by asking ‘how do we make great stewards?’,” explains Lorne. “We found ourselves sitting on the tailgates of pickup trucks and at kitchen tables talking with ranchers and farmers. We quickly learned that we didn’t need to provide them with solutions. We needed to support them to find and implement their own.”
Twenty years later ‘Cows and Fish’ representatives have spoken to over 60,500 people participating in 2,410 activities and have evaluated over 2,200 riparian sites. Now that’s impact!
The recipe to their success
1. Seeing is believing
When Lorne and Barry first started talking with ranchers and farmers, few believed that the health of the creeks had deteriorated. They simply didn’t see it.
But when they were shown ‘before and after’ aerial shots of the creek, the changes were obvious. With a few key community members on board, others followed.
2. Finding the barriers to change
“Ranchers and farmers are natural stewards,” describes Lorne. “What we needed to learn was what was preventing them from implementing actions that support the health of riparian habitat.” A questionnaire revealed that 95% of the reasons for impediments to action were non-economic.
“Money is rarely the ‘real’ or only barrier or solution to these issues,” explains Lorne. “But knowledge most often is.” For example, once ranchers learn that the roots of willows are the support of a creek bed, they recognize that having their cattle graze on the willows in the fall and winter will kill the roots, weakening the banks of the creek and making that section of the landscape dangerous for their cattle.
3. Support is about education and community
‘Cows and Fish’ have a process for building stewardship that is founded in education and community. The first step is learning about the ecology and functions of riparian habitat and how these systems work together.
Next ‘Cows and Fish’ helps interested individuals form a community or group who then outline the issues and solutions, and develop the tools needed to implement their ideas.
True stories, like that of Leanne Elias, who shares how unlikely people come together to find solutions, or Raymond and Diane Nadeau, who discovered that with new practices they had more, not less of everything, give people the inspiration to start and motivation to keep going.
Finally, ‘Cows and Fish’ monitors progress and helps participants adjust their practices to ensure they are achieving their goals. As one Alberta landowner put it, “lots of people give us things to think about, ‘Cows and Fish’ gives us things to think with.”
4. Aptitude & attitude
According to Lorne, however, the underlying secret of their success lies in the ‘Cows and Fish’ staff members, who have the aptitude and attitude to listen. “When you have people who are willing to listen, learn, and work together,” concludes Lorne, “success is inevitable.”
‘Cows and Fish’ is an Alberta invention and a proud partner of Y2Y. As a member of Y2Y’s Crown of the Continent Conservation Initiative we look forward to benefiting from their experience and wisdom. To learn more please go to: www.cowsandfish.org