Squamish environmental group reborn 

Meeting produces new members, new board and new structure

Take a quick look around the Brackendale Art Gallery last week, and you'd never know the table at the Squamish Environmental Conservation Society (SECS) is at a loss for elbow room.

The organization has about 50 members, while the newsletter has 200 subscribers. And yet, as a special meeting came to order last Thursday evening, the room had about 25 people, not all of them necessarily members.

Even still, growing interest and membership in the society is part of the reason they convened that night to dissolve the board and present a new structure to members. And the fact attendance was low might well speak to another reason the meeting was called: Membership engagement needs to be more robust, especially in a community until recently so deeply caught up in the throes of development.

"As you know, these last few years have been quite exacting in terms of change in Squamish, and I think we've been feeling the heat more and more within our society, as well as other organizations," said SECS board member Graham Fuller. "And we've been finding ourselves stretched ever thinner in the past year or so as a result."

And so the group's leadership presented a new management model, a decentralized one that calls on members to form special interest committees and allows for divergent public expression when consensus can't be reached.

"And how can we draw as many people as we can into decisions and ownership of the group itself?" asked president Catherine Jackson. "What do the people of Squamish really want their environmental group to do?

"We think the strength of the group is in devolving the centralized leadership role into committees."

Those committees could deal with any number of issues depending on what members view as the society's central identity. A brainstorming session and questionnaire produced a few key definitions of that role, namely as educator, advocate and steward of the local environment.

At the same time, there was a feeling that the group has moved too far from its original mandate of two decades ago, which was to protect the estuary. Those changing times Fuller alluded to have clouded that mandate with a host of other causes, whether opposing Garibaldi at Squamish or influencing the drafting of the district's Official Community Plan.

Though attendance wasn't exactly representative of the group's overall numbers, the new pitch seemed to resonate with the audience; according to Jackson, new members signed on that very night.

And young blood was also engaged, with the youthful Andrew Blair nominated and elected as a director of the board. The elections returned Jackson as president, and saw Graham Fuller, Tracey Saxby, Alexis Hall and Sandro Bicego also elected to the board. In keeping with the decentralized model, there will be no vice president.

"We didn't want to wait until the next AGM," said Fuller at the outset of the evening. "We felt that now is the time."

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