Passing the Shovel
Giving watershed restoration initiatives life and longevity through working side-by-side with youth
My name is Katia Bannister, I’m a seventeen year-old student living on Thetis Island who cares deeply about ecosystem and watershed health and is passionate about engaging youth in restoration work.
To do restoration work in our communities is to breathe life and resilience into the ecological networks that we depend on; that cultivate the diversity, living capital and natural security, and that we sometimes take for granted in a place as plentiful as British Columbia.
But anthropogenic pressures in our province — and around the world — can weigh on these natural systems, putting a strain on their inherent strength. A lack of human foresight and environmental stewardship can gradually wear away at the links that comprise our ecosystems and watersheds. More literal examples include erosion, including the placement of impervious surfaces leading to a surplus of run-off rainwater; the methods used in the logging industry that level forests, destroying natural sinks that allow water to slowly percolate into the soil; and the uprooting of entire ecosystems to create large monocultures that are vulnerable to soil erosion.
So what can we do to repair these critical links? How can our communities mobilize for the ecological health of our province?
The answer is simple: Restoration, regeneration and remediation.These three words carry with them a powerful ripple effect; reaching out into the far corners of our communities.They are something that people can connect over and dive into, regardless of knowledge-base or experience-level. Planting a bank-strengthening red-osier dogwood sapling, or gently hammering a young willow live-stake into the ground are tangible and accomplishable actions which, as small as they are, are incredibly momentous. There is something awakened in us, something raw and real, when our hands dig in the soil; when we feel life beneath our fingertips.
This dynamic trio of tools — restoration, regeneration and remediation — can not only transform physical terrains, but also impact the very “social landscape” of our communities. Through doing restoration work as a community, we are not only strengthening the connections between people and place, but those between individuals. Working in community, to steward the places that cradle our communities, inevitably builds relationships; making us feel more at home in these communities. On a personal level alone, I know that doing restoration work has been one of the most highly impactful experiences I’ve been privileged enough to have. It’s strengthened my relationship with, and knowledge of, local ecosystems, and native plant species. Through doing restoration work I’ve been able to learn not only the common and Latin names of the plant species I’ve worked with, but also the specific functions they provide, the conditions they require to survive and their Hul’q’umi’num names, as well as their traditional and contemporary uses by Indigenous peoples. With regard to ecologically restorative work: knowledge builds interconnections, which evolve to become caring relationships, and these relationships contribute to a strong sense of place, and a desire to be thoughtful stewards for the places we care about.
In order to ensure the impact of our restorative and regenerative work, we must ensure it’s longevity. Restoration work is rarely a one-and-done kind of action to undertake. Sites that have undergone restoration often require long-term monitration and ongoing care. That’s why it is important for restoration efforts to not only emphasize the importance of ecological integrity but also the building of strong, long-lasting communities.
Passing the shovel — or passing the torch — to new generations of restoration workers and ecologists as well as passionate people with both a strong sense, and love of place, is critical in — almost literally — sowing the seeds of watershed health, community and systems thinking. One of the greatest calamities to befall meaningful community initiatives and projects, is a gradual petering out of momentum due to a lack of successors to champion these initiatives.
Youth are the future, and they deserve ample opportunity to learn about, as well as thoughtfully shape and steward the places they live in. That’s what including youth in restoration efforts is about: building relationships between young people and place, that will translate into assured care for the future. It will translate into watershed security. And it will translate into stronger, intergenerational communities.
As organizations that focus on future care, healthy and safe ecosystems, and engaging local people in work that shifts the balance of power from the hands of individuals and corporations, to the hands of communities, we must seek to include young people in our theories of change, and hopes for doing so.
But how do we do this?
Through meaningfully engaging with youth in ways that are accessible, welcoming and provide value through community building and experiential learning. And we can start by reaching out to youth groups and high schools about the work we are doing in their communities. It is critical that we draw-in youth who are already passionate about ecological justice and environmental issues, and help them continue to develop their passions. This will allow them to gain experiences and skillsets that will serve them well as water guardians. But it is also important to strive to build connections between our organizations and youth who would not yet consider themselves activists, water guardians or even interested in restoration work. Despite an initial lack of interest — or an interest overshadowed by feelings of apprehension — experiences in restoration can prove extremely influential.
Some youth feel daunted by getting involved with organizations, or reaching out to make connections. So when we think about creating spaces for youth in our communities of stewardship, it is also essential that we consider outreach strategies that allow us to engage youth with varying levels of familiarity with the work we are doing.
In addition, when creating restoration opportunities we hope to see youth involvement in, we must be thoughtful about the accessibility of the sites and times we choose for these events. Inaccessibility is a big barrier that can impact youth engagement. An event that would be inaccessible to a young person could be one held during the school-day, or one held at a site too remote for youth without driver’s licenses or reliable transportation to make it to their destinations.
Making restoration events accessible and welcoming to youth ultimately means creating a culture of longevity and learning that will serve as a medium to “pass the shovel.” Ensuring that seeds of stewardship are planted in the minds of youth, because youth will be not only some of the greatest stakeholders, but also some of the greatest candidates for live-stakers in protecting watershed health for generations to come.