Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News, on Tuesday November 5, 2019.

This column was to be about fish. Herring to start with. A few reputable conservation groups, including Pacific Wild, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Conservancy Hornby Island and the Association for Denman Island Marine Stewarts, are urging the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to rethink the roe fishery quotas for the herring in the Straight of Georgia (the plan is expected to be finalized in early December.) The stocks are almost 60 percent depleted, their press release said, and that’s happened in the last four years. Shocking isn’t it? Albeit not a local issue, it is a provincial one and a sign of a pervasive and challenging issue.

In our own back yard, too, a sad reality is unfolding: the steelhead trout spawning population in the Thompson River is at a meager 86 this year; the Chilcotin watershed saw 39 fish. The steelhead trout are yet to be given protective status as endangered species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA.) Hopefully that will happen before they go forever.

Low ocean survival, climate change and gill net fisheries are quoted as the main causes, five interest groups including the BC Wildlife Federation and the Steelhead Society of British Columbia, said in their letter to the provincial government.

It is hard not to feel anger or helplessness over this; it is the story that keeps surfacing. The letter was put together by people that want to see the fish recover and do well; people who are out there seeing the reality with their own eyes.

That is what got me thinking. If people do not see something up close, it is easy to ignore it, or worse yet, debate whether it is really happening. If we are not out there enough to see the world change and care about the changes that transform it for the worse, what could persuade us to act to make it better?

I once read a quote by a Senegalese forestry engineer, Baba Dioum, who back in 1968 said, “In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.” He was concerned about agricultural development and natural resource management. It is not cynical to point out that we have not made much progress in finding better ways since those words were spoken.

However, that’s where salvation lies, in acknowledging the very concept of learning to see first, so we can love, so we can protect. It’s not just a dramatic statement but the reality of having to save ourselves from, sadly enough, the consequences of our own actions.

While hoping that those who can do something to change the things above will not look the other way, I believe that adding as much of a personal impact as possible is a must. And lucky us, the most powerful thing anyone can do (anyone who is physically able) is to see as much of the world around as possible; when we do, we get attached to it. And when that happens, we start caring and fighting for its well-being. Which happens to coincide with ours.

The personal impact starts with the simplest, and cheapest (free) thing one can do. Walking. Going out every day, even if it is just around the block to start with. When out walking, no matter the distance we cover, we see things – nature, people, things people have created, and we see situations unfolding – that includes good such as a garden corner popping up somewhere, or garbage someone thought they would leave behind.

Going out means breathing the air, which ideally should be clean. Anything that taints our breathing air is felt by those who walk in it, and mostly by people who are suffering from respiratory, immune or cardiovascular issues. Those affected, plus concerned health professionals, will tell you is an uphill battle to improve air quality in the community. Whether it is increased driving, which happens year-round, or wood burning which is unnecessary in the city but intensifies nonetheless in colder months, or industrial pollution, the end result is the same: the air we all breathe is affected, and we are all worse for it.

Much like any other issue concerning the environment, it takes being outside to know it. Then comes doing something about it.

This comes as close as can be to a worthwhile legacy that we leave to our kids. We hand them over the key to their own health, and the ability to see and love the natural world around them. When they see, they will love and protect.

Hoping alone does little, whether we are talking about fish or any other wildlife struggling to survive, air or water quality, or the state of everything nature in the community and beyond. We ought to step outside and see up close (that includes through someone else’s eyes too,) the intricate beauty of our natural world, and what we stand to lose if we do not act. An issue that affects nature is an issue that affects us; directly or indirectly, but it does because it is all a big circle.