Employing the Principle of Charity to Understand Water-related Concerns with Wetland Restoration in Colorado

Mark Beardsley 1*

1 EcoMetrics, Buena Vista, CO

The principle of charity is employed to help advocates understand the legal and cultural barriers to wetland restoration in Colorado and to facilitate a collaborative environment for working through these issues as a community with common goals.

Restoring wetland riverscapes is a practical process-based approach with demonstrable benefits including drought, wildfire, and climate resilience; water quality maintenance; fish and wildlife habitat; and biodiversity support. Wetland restoration has become an accepted strategy for restoring watershed health in Colorado and across the western states. But as the popularity of this strategy increases, so has opposition from water users and water administrators who sometimes object to this work on cultural and legal grounds. The defining characteristic of wetlands, that they are wet, is largely the reason they are so ecologically valuable, but it also means that restoring them may have legal connotations for water supply and administration. Arguments about beaver and wetland restoration in Colorado tend to be characterized as the “restoration community” versus the “water community” based on the disparate ideologies and goals held by these two groups. Us-versus-them mentality creates a divisive and counterproductive environment for debates about the legal status of restoration activities, as witnessed in the passing of Colorado’s new stream restoration bill.

The philosophical principle of charity paves a way for restoration advocates and water administrators to work together constructively as collaborators, rather than against each other as competitors, towards a practical solution and viable path forward. It is essentially a Golden Rule of argument and discussion, stating that one should argue unto others the way one would like to be argued with. That is, to presume the best possible interpretation of an opponent’s position rather than immediately aiming to disprove it or shoot it down. The goal is to seek truth, not to win a fight. I strongly support wetland restoration, but in keeping with the principle of charity, my goal is to present the strongest and most compelling reasons against it, based on my discussions with concerned water users, administrators, and legislators. I believe that understanding the logic and rationale underpinning opposing arguments, as the opponents would present them, puts both sides in better position to work together an make progress on the issue.

View Mark's Presentation Here.