Civic Governance as a Best Management Practice (BMP)

in Establishing and Managing Successful Local Programs to Prevent the Spread of Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) and Protect Critical Aquatic Habitats and the Ecosystem Services Dependent on Them
~ by MLR staff

With over $15 million of public money and unknown millions in private funding being spent annually on AIS prevention and control in Minnesota, funding is not the primary barrier to success. The science is also pretty clear – there are areas and models that have significantly reduced the rate of spread. There is much to learn about control and management, but the vectors of infestations are clear – overland transport of watercraft and water related equipment is spreading AIS from one waterbody to the next. So, while there are still unknowns, our science is pretty good and getting better.

After almost a decade spent working this issue, we believe that one of the significant barriers to success is a systems failure within our organizations and institutions and their ability to communicate and coordinate efforts across a diverse base of stakeholders.

Put another way, current “civic engagement” efforts target stakeholders. Stakeholders tend to translate into single species special interest groups. But lake ecology is dynamic with multiple ecological systems interacting with each other. And a significant part of these systems is the social dynamic. We believe that instead of “engaging stakeholders” we should focus on partnering and building the capacity of communities.

It is clear that providing the necessary framework in which communities can navigate competing agendas and balance the higher public good against the rights of the individual in a way that is transparent, accountable and functional is a Best Management Practice for managing AIS.

For the last few years Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates has been working to reorganize their existing resources; time, knowledge and money within our organizations, and testing this new approach. In 2018 MLR began to pilot this framework in two jurisdictions, Cass and Ramsey Counties, with funding provided by the Lessard Sams Outdoor Heritage Council and administered by the Initiative Foundation in Little Falls. The Pilots will run until July, 2019.
Said Jeff Forester, Executive Director of MLR, “This pilot will strive to create a new approach to policy making at the local level. This isn’t about passing laws or ordinances, but working to change the way citizens organize both themselves and existing resources, and partner with governmental units (which might also reorganize existing resources) towards the common public good of protecting water resources from AIS.”

At the 2015 Aquatic Invaders Summit over 400 attendees from 64 Minnesota counties participated in writing and approving the Local AIS Action Framework, LAAF. The LAAF lists the strategic goal of, “Build the Capacity of Civic Infrastructure – Preventing AIS spread requires participation by and engagement of a broad grassroots base. Building the capacity of local groups to work in concert with each other, with state agencies, and with local resource managers to write and execute a local AIS plan is critical to success.”

The current pilot project proposal is a response to this goal.

Davenport and Seekamp (2013) highlight important differences between community capital and community capacity: “While community capital encompasses a variety of foundational resources or assets (e.g., physical, financial, technological) upon which a community can draw in times of need, community capacity is the interaction, mobilization and activation of these assets toward social or institutional change. Stated differently, a community may possess a broad range of capitals needed to cope with problems…but lack the capacity to establish common goals, make decisions based on mutual learning, and act collectively.” Additionally, recent research points to the important role of legitimacy and fairness as an interlinking and overarching concept in sustainable watershed management.

“One of Minnesota’s most important resources is the communities that work to protect our public waters. By leveraging their energy, promoting capacity, and building partnerships, we will build a powerful engine to achieve our shared water quality goals,” said Forester. “During the pilot and testing phase, we will discover gaps, and work to close those gaps. We intend to take the refined model to other jurisdictions as the model is refined.”

MN Lakes & Rivers Advocates ~ PO Box 22262 ~ St. Paul, MN 55122
www.mnlakesandrivers.org ~ 952-854-1317 ~ judy@mnlakesandrivers.org

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