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Daring to Think Small

by Susanna Jani
October 2011

Distance Family Mediation by Susanna Jani

Susanna Jani

Every summer, the Ladysmith Maritime Society in the pretty little town of Ladysmith on Vancouver Island holds a Purple Martin Open House. I had the immense pleasure of attending the most recent one, held this past July.

At the Open House, I learned all about the Western Purple Martin – the largest swallow in North America – and its threatened status. As the Western Purple Martin Foundation’s website states:

In BC, they once nested in loose colonies in cavities in old trees and snags as far north as Campbell River, the historic northern limit of their range. Their colony sites were either in open treed areas with little undergrowth such as recently burned areas or bordering fresh water.

Purple Martins numbers decreased due to loss of nesting habitat from logging, agricultural land clearing, fire suppression, urban development and severe competition for remaining natural nest cavities from introduced bird species.

By 1949, Purple Martins had disappeared from the BC Lower Mainland and by 1985 there were only about 5 breeding pairs remaining on Vancouver Island.

I also learned about the intensive recovery program that has slowly been bringing the Western Purple Martin back from their near-extinction in the 1980’s. And, since the Ladysmith Maritime Society plays host to this program, I got a first-hand look at the results of their efforts right at Ladysmith Harbour. The results were truly amazing to see. The sky was filled with hundreds of the beautiful birds, swooping and singing, and scooping insects from the air to feed to their babies who were chirping enthusiastically from the man-made nest boxes on the harbour’s dock pilings. As if that wasn’t enough inspiration, I had the opportunity to see the banding of several nestlings – part of the program’s work to study the recovery of this species.

In spite of the success of the recovery program, though, it isn’t too hard to read between the lines. With the ongoing destruction of their natural habitat, the birds’ reliance on humans for nest boxes, the continuing loss of the dock pilings being used for these nest boxes and extreme weather interfering with their ability to feed their young, the odds remain stacked against the Western Purple Martin. Their survival in B.C. is, indeed, still tenuous.

So, what does this have to do with distance mediation?

In her posting, Daring to think BIG, Colleen Getz pointed out how persuasive the environmental benefits are of meeting with the help of technology. Her comment related to avoiding carbon emissions – specifically, how not driving to go to mediations – can reduce our carbon footprint, making a substantial, positive impact on the environment. I’d like to suggest here today that technology-assisted (distance) mediation might also make another type of positive difference – a direct and badly-needed one for the creatures with whom we share this planet.

Here is what I am getting at: In a newspaper article regarding the fate of the Western Purple Martin, avian author Bruce Whittington was quoted as saying, “Everything we humans do as a species has an impact on every other species and, most of the time, it means they get the short end of the stick.” What if we applied this thinking to how we meet with each other?

What if each one of us considered the tiny Purple Martin nestling’s plight and decided to do only this one, small thing – to use technology rather than drive to meetings, including to mediations?

What if the sum total of all of us deciding to take this small step resulted in less cars on the road… and fewer new roads needed to be built … and less trees got cut down … and more old trees and snags were left standing?

What if…?

I think, by daring to think “small”, you and I might just make a big difference.


For a decade, Susanna Jani was Roster Administrator for the B.C. Mediator Roster Society*, managing its day-to-day operations, activities and projects, including the initial research phase of the Distance Family Mediation Project. In 2009, she followed her passion for this environmentally-friendly project and became Project Coordinator for its second, pilot phase which tested the delivery of distance family mediation services in remote, non-urban areas of British Columbia. She remains Project Coordinator for the current, province-wide test phase of the Distance Family Mediation Project. Prior to her work for the Society, Susanna worked as an independent researcher, conducting field research and providing data analysis and interpretation for evaluations and projects relating to justice, employment, social and family services.

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