May 12th Cortes Virtual Meeting: FOCI’s Larger Picture Vision

Every year, the Strathcona Regional District (SRD) allots Cortes Island $25,000 to be distributed to Cortes Island organizations as Grants-in-Aid. While the final decision is made by the SRD Board, the process begins locally. This year Regional Director Noba Anderson has committed to making her recommendation based on the input of Cortes not-for-profit organizations. She asked that they go beyond thinking in terms of the grant and put forward proposals that are of a “bigger minded gutsy nature.” Nine Cortes organizations subsequently submitted 20 project proposals. The most ambitious, six proposals costing a total of $362,936, came from the Friends of Cortes Island Society (FOCI). This is clearly far beyond Grants in Aid and the May 12th Cortes Virtual Community meeting was devoted to a discussion of FOCI’s larger picture vision.

Community Stewards Program$149,560
Core Funding$2,500
De-colonization-Reconciliation Initiative$62,800
Ecological Youth Program$72,876
Strategic Conservation Plan$22,700
Wild-Food & Medicine Conservation and Harvest Program$52,500
A list of FOCI’s proposals and how much they would cost

The Larger Picture Vision 

As FOCI’s President, Max Thaysen, explained, “A couple of weeks ago [local biologist] Sabina Leader-Mense was asking why is FOCI not sharing the larger picture vision of how COVID fits into all of the other environmental issues. She saw that as one of our roles and we have been a little silent about it. COVID is really just one of many symptoms of a problem in our relationship to planet earth.” 

Local ecologist, writer, and teacher Rex Weyler explained that “humanity’s overshoot of Earth’s capacity is fundamental to all other ecological crises: global heating, biodiversity collapse, toxins, soil loss, pandemics, starvation, and even violent conflict.”

As Christine Robinson said, towards the end of the podcast, “I think we are being called to listen to the natural world.”

A Fundamental Ecology Reading List

Weyler also put forward an ecology reading list for self-isolating environmentalists, which he also published online.

  1. Silent Spring – Rachel Carson – “launched the modern environmental movement”
  2. Limits to Growth – Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, J. Randers, W. Behrens – “showed that human numbers, consumption, and economy cannot grow forever”.
  3. Steady State Economics – Herman Daly – “examines the economic restructuring necessary to live on a finite planet.”
  4. The Violence of the Green Revolution – Vandana Shiva – “exposes the links between ecological destruction and poverty. “
  5. Mind and Nature – Gregory Bateson – explains that ““The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think.”
  6. The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World – Andrea Wulf – “ follows Prussian naturalist Humboldt (1769-1859) as he … breaks away from conventional European science to discover a vision of nature as a magical, interconnected system.” 
  7. Overshoot – William Catton – explains how humanity has overshot the earth’s resources “and shows that we cannot solve our ecological challenges without addressing overshoot.”  
  8. Tao Te Ching (道德经) – Lao Tzu – “Compiled between 600 and 300 BC, perhaps the world’s first ecological treatise, advocating direct communion with nature and a life lived by an environmental ethic.”
  9. Deep Ecology for the 21st Century – ed. George Sessions – a collection of essays examining “the ecological tradition from Spinoza and Thoreau to Santayana and ecofeminism.”
  10. Small Arcs of Larger Circles – Nora Bateson – “suggests an approach to ‘mutual learning,’ modeled after the manner in which ecosystems learn and evolve.”
  11. Spell of the Sensuous – David Abram – describes a world in which “magic is the very real reciprocity we can experience with the wild forces, where stones and ravens speak and shift our habits of perception.”
  12. The Gift of Good Land – Wendell Berry – “essays by a working farmer … that set out the fundamental criteria for genuine ecological living.”
Rex Weyler helping to explain FOCI’s larger picture vision.
Rex Weyler speaking during the May 12, 2020, Cortes Virtual Community Meeting

The Stuff In Our Package

“A lot of the stuff that’s in our package is stuff that we have been dreaming of, thinking about and working on for a long time. Some of it is pulled from the Cortes Climate Action team, Cortes carbon solutions that [Anderson] pulled together a long time ago to inform gas tax spending as it relates to our climate concerns initiatives … so a bunch of it isn’t really new, but right now feels like a good time to take a leap forward .., ” said Thaysen.

“As Rex was saying, COVID is a symptom of a deeper issue and all the other symptoms are getting to a point where they can no longer be ignored.”

Aside from core funding, all of these proposals are for two year programs and Thaysen said a little about every one of them:

1. Core Funding – $2,500

This is the only component that the Grant-in-Aid could fund in its entirely.

2. Decolonization-Reconciliation Initiative – $62,800

To decolonize settlers, support the indigenous cultural resurgence, and connect with nature to feed and shelter us today, sustainably.

“For European settlers: A lot of population, economic and food scarcity pressure that drove expansion into other parts of the world. It was partly that pressure and inability to accept limits to growth that allowed us to tell all kinds of horrible stories about who qualifies, and who does not qualify, as a human being worthy of rights and respect. I would suggest that we are still doing that to indigenous people today.”

3. Strategic Conservation Plan – $22,700

To assess the status of the island’s ecological and nutritional resources and to plan how to protect, restore and maintain them for the future.

This program calls for the consolidation of work that has already been done, ground truthing aerial surveys and also bringing in “paid expert opinion into a conservation plan.”

“The conservation plan would also allow us to take stock of some of the food resources that we have.”

4. Wild-Food and Medicine Conservation and Harvest Program – $52,500

To teach people what to harvest and when, and how to do it sustainably; and to monitor for impacts from harvesting.

“Recognizing that ecosystems in the natural world are extremely resilient, complex, diverse entities and because of those features get through a lot of hard times, as opposed to human systems that are simplified – we can think of monocultures – and a pest can wipe out a crop or whole garden.”

” … To go from the gardens that we all know and love in our backyards to a totally self reliant island requires relying on quite a bit of wild food for fat and protein.”

Director Anderson pointed out that this would largely take place on the crown lands where the Cortes Community Forest operates (which Bruce Ellingsen estimated covers approximately 38% of Cortes Island). 

The funds would be used to gather resources, produce resources, foster a culture of sustainability and coordinate activities over a two year period.

6. Community Stewards Program – $149,560

To engage the community in looking after the natural environment where they live and beyond.

As Director Anderson suggests, this program is largely directed toward private landowners.

Thaysen “We have a lake that is suffering from algae blooms and that is probably caused by nutrients from humans and animals. The ways that we deal with the ecosystem within the private land setting really has a huge impact on how those nutrients flow through the land. Bringing some awareness to the ecosystem and our great variety of options on how we can make wiswe ecological decisions on the land we steward.”

The program has five components:

  • education and outreach to landowners around best practises and covenant options
  • engagement,
  • stewardship,
  • education,
  • a native plant nursery

The Basil Creek culvert update and proposal to replant native plants down to the foreshore of Hague Lake were cited as examples of how a native plant nursery is needed.

“There are so many settings where we need a stockpile of plant material and thriving plants to put them into our projects. That piece is not huge, but it just saves us ,from having to import things from off island which has risk of bring soil pests or invasive species over. It costs money which we don’t really need to spend because we can do that ourselves,” said Thaysen.

7. Ecological Youth Program – $72,876

To connect youth to inspiring people, projects, and places and give them new resiliency skills.

He acknowledged that a number of Cortes organizations are working with youth and there are avenues for collaboration that have yet to be explored.

The last paragraph of the application states, “The program centres around nature connection, self reliance and ecological community service. We will employ an ecological youth engagement coordinator to develop this program in consultation with parents, youth, elders, educators, mentors and in partnership with other organizations including the Forest Trust for the Children, Cortes Literacy Now, Folk U, the museum, the health associations …”

Looking over the application, Director Anderson described it as a hub that involved many other organizations.

“We really need our youth right now. We are in a complete state of emergency and we need all hands on deck. Youth are creative, energetic and can be a great asset to the community,” said Thaysen.

Viewed as A Whole

Viewed as a whole, FOCI’s six applications should be read as a vision statement. They show what this forward thinking organization wants to do. It would be nice to think that the SRD can assist them with some of it.

There is much more in the podcast, of course, including more than a half hour of discussion with some insightful input from Cec and Christine Robinson, Rex Weyler and Adam McKenty.

Top photo credit: Screenshot of Max Thaysen during the conference.

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