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Dear Ms. Jackson:

First let me say how admirable it is of you to say "I need your help....again!!!" People do not ask for help often enough, particularly when circumstances are challenging. Good for you.

From what I've read, you have found yourself in the midst of a rather difficult situation and I'm pleased to offer my assistance. Based on what I've read, you wish to continue your program of beach grooming i.e. the practice of using an industrial tractor with a rake and a rototiller to remove debris from Sauble Beach. On the other hand, several stakeholders are demanding the cessation of these activities in the interests of protecting the beach and its habitat in support of recovering the Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus circumcinctus).

To make matters worse, I read that you have now been charged by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), alleging destruction of piping plover habitat on Sauble Beach in contravention of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). As if that is not bad enough, this species is designated as a Species at Risk by the Government of Canada and an Endangered Species by the Ontario Government and both levels of government have written Recovery Strategies for the species. Not only that, the province has issued a stop work order.

Luckily for you, there may be a way out of this sticky wicket. One approach is called principled negotiation (see Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William L. Ury). Another option is to get the parties together and work collaboratively to identify options for mutual gain. Some call the first stage of this process "blue skying." Ideas are put forth and not evaluated, thus ensuring that everyone is welcome to share their thoughts. If these techniques don't work, another good way to problem solve is to engage a professional mediator. They are skilled at helping parties find mutually agreeable solutions.

As a person in a leadership role, I have little doubt that you would much prefer to bring the sides together to find an amenable path forward. Unfortunately, some groups have adopted "positions" that appear to be entrenched and directly opposed to the "other side" e.g. the beach must be raked versus leaving the beach in a natural state. These "us and them" situations often lead to an outcome where someone wins and someone loses.

If you could bring the groups together and focus on finding common interests, you might just be able to come up with a win-win solution. Instead of letting the different sides become rooted in their positions, you could have them discuss their interests and at the same time, listen to the interests of the other side. That way, they will come to respect each other's interests.

For example, I'm guessing that some residents are interested in a healthy Sauble Beach community, economic development, and vibrant local businesses supported by a strong tourism base. The "other side," I sense, wants to see sufficient habitat suitable for nesting and the rearing of chicks by piping plover. There might be some common ground here. What do you think?

Tourists love to come to the beach and so do plovers. Local shops need tourists to support their businesses and tourists come because they love the natural surroundings the beach affords. Did you know that ecotourism is rising in popularity and is one of the fastest growing tourism sectors? Even better, bird watching is thought to be the dominant activity in wildlife tourism. For instance, back in 1989 bird-watchers in Point Pelee National Park generated $6 million annually. Imagine if the area was able to attract nature lovers who come to see the plovers. Viewing stations could be situated in areas that would not disturb the birds and afterwards, the 'birder' could go have lunch or an ice cream and pick up a hoody. The plovers win and local businesses win.

There are about 300,000 square metres of beach north of Main Street. That should give us enough to work with. Whenever I've been to the beach, the tourists are almost all near the water and many like it near the shops on Main Street. Plover nests on the other hand, seem to be in quiet areas further up the beach. Perhaps you could set aside some areas for the plovers to use when they return to nest and other areas where visitors can set out their towels. There's plenty of room for everyone!

The use of objective criteria is also vital to helping issues like this move forward. For instance, perhaps you could assess whether a cessation of beach grooming in certain areas has an adverse effect on tourism and residential development? Alternatively, it would be helpful to know if beach grooming results in a reduction in nesting by piping plover? There may already be answers to some of these questions and if not, mutually acceptable criteria can be identified and used to answer these questions.

I'd hazard a guess that if you and the "other side" were to approach the MNRF together and propose to work cooperatively to address some of these questions, they would look favourably upon this path forward. Heck, they might even suggest a mediator.


David McLeish

Owen Sound


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