Legacy of eco-education

Published Feb. 28 2017

To the Editor

The article “Haliburton gets UN nod for environmental learning” (Feb. 7) gives us an opportunity to remember some other groups in the network of organizations which have contributed to environmental learning in the county. The “nod” from the UN is well deserved. Haliburton residents have been educating one another about the need to protect the natural environment for decades.

In the 1980s an eclectic group of Haliburtonians formed the County of Haliburton Advocates for a Naturally Good Environment (CHANGE). In response to the standard practice of burning the landfills (dumps) CHANGE challenged landfill practices rented a partitioned bin from Muskoka and installed it in the Haliburton landfill. With the able assistance of Sam Charlton they instituted the first recycling program which the municipality subsequently took over. There followed a successful NO SPRAY campaign against herbicide spraying of roadsides which was common at the time. In 1989 they organized Earthfest an environmental fair that included a gallery show by Wendy Bateman featuring a sweat lodge covered in blankets woven out of plastic bags.

A strategic plan for the county was written in 1997 as a precursor to the county’s first official plan. Through public consultation a vision was created which included “a sustainable natural environment.” In order to realize that vision the County Advisory Committee for the Environment (CACE) started meeting in 1998. Membership in CACE was open to all interested residents both permanent and seasonal. A member of county council attended the monthly meetings and acted as a liaison to the council. For several summers CACE hosted a community forum. One memorable event was the one-day workshop held at the Frost Centre in September 1999: Climate Change: Impacts on our Local Environment.

Environment Haliburton! (EH!) succeeded CACE in 2003. In its first year EH! organized a forum on land trusts. Attendees went on to form the Haliburton Highlands Land Trust. EH!  maintains a website and produces a variety of educational materials (bookmarks Enviro-Books Enviro-Notes and EH! bags and log carriers made from recycled grain bags) which are distributed at community events around the county each year. Educational activities have included workshops on lake planning rural transportation local food and uranium. The Green Man has visited schools and appears where the voice of non-humans needs to be heeded. EH! supports the local Transition Town initiative Haliburton In Transition and hosts monthly Enviro-Cafés. EH! has brought high profile speakers to the county most recently Maude Barlow and Elizabeth May. Dianne Saxe Environmental Commissioner of Ontario will come to speak on July 6 of this year.

Cottagers’ associations have existed for many years and many of them have lake stewards who educate their members on how to keep their lakes healthy. A few years ago those associations combined their efforts to form the Coalition of Haliburton Property Owners’ Associations (CHA). Current initiatives by CHA include improving shoreline health and septic system health.
Other citizen-led organizations in that network of environmental organizations include Abbey Gardens Community Trust Coalition for an Equitable Water Flow Friends of Ecological and Environmental Learning The Gaia Centre Haliburton Highlands Stewardship Council  Haliburton Highlands Outdoors Association and The Land Between. And yes this list is incomplete. All in all environmental learning has been and continues to be deeply rooted in this community.

Carolynn Coburn and Eric Lilius