By Steve Hubrecht

The Columbia Basin Trust (CBT) has released a draft version of its Columbia Basin Management Plan, and is seeking public feedback.

The draft has already created a stir, not so much for what it contains as for what it does not contain, with local outdoor education advocates noting the plan does not refer to education or learning in broad or general terms, let alone to environmental education specifically.

The topic became a hot issue this past spring, when the Columbia Basin Trust (CBT) announced it would discontinue funding for outdoor and environmental education programs that it had been giving money to for years. The move took effect earlier this year and several prominent local organizations had their programs affected, including the Columbia Basin Environmental Education Network (CBEEN), Wildsight and the Lake Windermere Ambassadors. 

When the CBT undertook public engagement this past spring, in the form of community meetings, those connected to outdoor education were out in force, making their voices heard and their dismay at the funding cuts known. That included at a community meeting here in Invermere, where the Columbia Valley Centre was packed with dozens of residents, and where the conversation returned repeatedly to outdoor education.

These same reactions are now being re-run, with environmental education advocates expressing surprise at the topic’s omission in the new draft management plan. 

“We read the plan over in detail several times just to make sure we weren’t missing anything. The plan includes important focus areas dedicated to supporting the natural environment, climate change, relationships with Indigenous Peoples, and building stronger communities. However, we were shocked to find that education and learning are completely absent from all areas of the plan,” CBEEN executive director Duncan Whittick told the Pioneer. 

Whittick added that education and learning “are foundational to the important priorities that have been identified such as addressing the growing impacts of climate change, building healthier relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples, and supporting the health of the local natural environments that we all value.”

He noted that more than 100 people at the Invermere community meeting identified outdoor education as a priority, adding that CBEEN estimates that more than 1,000 people brought the topic forward at meetings through the basin last spring. This, he pointed out, “is a significantly large proportion of the total number of people who engaged in this feedback process.”

Whittick explained CBEEN has not heard why education is not in the plan, but given the tight timeline (the deadline for feedback is September 20), he recommended the public give feedback through the CBT’s online input survey or through other official channels. 

“Prior to the release of the plan we heard from individual staff and board members who said that they were reluctant to fund environmental education because they had funded it in the past. But by that logic nearly all of the organizations in the basin would be excluded from future funding,” said Whittick. “And we also heard from staff saying that we should ensure that those who supported outdoor learning and environmental education being in the plan should come out and let CBT know this was important to them, which hundreds upon hundreds of people did.”

Through his role as Wildsight’s Columbia River Futures program manager, Golden-based Graeme Lee Rowlands helps run several environmental education programs, including the Columbia River Field School, which many Columbia Valley residents are familiar with and which takes teens on a 15-day paddle along the Columbia River, starting at its source in Canal Flats. He echoed many of Whittick’s sentiments.

“I am also surprised. I don’t completely understand,” he said, adding he had been at the CBT’s Canal Flats community meeting in the spring and the CBT’s symposium in Golden in the summer, and that environmental education was a prominent topic at both. He also explained, as Whittick did, that environmental education can easily be a key method for helping the CBT achieve positive results in its six chosen focus areas.

Last spring CBT officials had outlined to the Pioneer that during previous rounds of public consultation (held digitally during the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020 and 2021), public input had shown on-the-ground ecosystem restoration as a top priority. The CBT officials suggested that in choosing to funnel money to restoration projects, they must necessarily claw back funding in other areas, such as outdoor education.

But according to Lee Rowlands “those two things are actually very complementary. We do need on-the-ground ecosystem restoration, but for long-term success of ecosystem restoration, we need education . . . it doesn’t need to be an either-or proposition; I think there’s actually a lot of potential in harmonizing these two (environmental education and ecosystem restoration).”

The Pioneer asked the CBT specifically about the lack of mention of education in the draft management plan and CBT communications director Delphi Hoodicoff replied that “given the plan is a longer term — 10 years — it is also a higher-level document and not as specific as previous plans. After it is finalized, there will be more effort required to develop the trust’s approaches in particular focus areas with more detailed planning to come.”

The public can provide input prior to the September 20 deadline online at or by calling the CBT at 1-800-505-8998.