Flag #2: Whistler, British Columbia
Location: Whistler, BC, Canada
Name: Melanie Tardif
It was a day of celebration for Melanie Tardif when we met up with her in the Whistler woods. It was a beautiful Autumn Sunday and she had just been elected Vice President of the board of AWARE (Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment) – a group whose work is focused on protecting “the fast vanishing wilderness in our backyard.”
British Columbia is a wealth of wilderness with its own share of issues from logging, to mining, to the pipeline controversy and the constant need to keep a balance between the interests of the people and the interests of industry. Among its citizens are the indigenous members of the First Nations who also bring their own set of standards to how to interact with the land and its waters. It is often easy to agree that the environment needs to be preserved and cared for, but how and where those lines are drawn is where the challenges and conflicts arise.
One of the most controversial issues in the area is bear hunting. British Columbia issues permits by lottery each year to hunt both black and Grizzly bears. The numbers allotted are low, especially for Grizzlies, but to many residents, like Melanie, who has a background in Applied Ecology, it is apparent that the bears should not be hunted at all. Melanie explains, “Bears are a keystone species – an “Indicator Species” – their role in the health of the ecology is so critical.”
Luckily, it’s often common sense that compels people to take action. AWARE was founded in 1989 when residents gathered to push for a municipal recycling mandate at a time when recycling programs were not mainstream, but just made sense. Today AWARE is 300 volunteers strong and is one of the longest running environmental organization in Whistler. Their main focus outside of environmental advocacy is their educational programs and with their “Kids Nature Club” AWARE makes sure the young residents of Whistler learn about environmental protection and appreciation early on.
Melanie has served for the past 5 years as a volunteer for AWARE and for the past 2 of those years as a member of their board before being named Vice President. With a new title comes new responsibilities for Melanie. AWARE’s biggest focus right now is on the restoration of the wetlands in the region. The wetlands are like the lungs, the filter and a hub of life in an otherwise forest and mountainous terrain. It’s a rare jewel created by the yearly amounts of heavy precipitation, and it is also one of the most vulnerable habitats in the area. It can take years before municipal policy steps in, but Melanie has learned that patience is a virtue. One project that they started in 2007 to rid the town of Whistler of plastic bags is just now seeing some success after support from more citizen groups in the area and Whistler’s mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, the the town will finally commence a 6-month trial to lower their use of plastic bags before even considering a full ban.
While policy might take longer – education is always accessible right now. AWARE has discovered that one of the most successful ways to initiate education is through enjoyment. Melanie teaches people how to enjoy the land through nature tours and in the winter she teaches snowboarding with the belief that the things that bring us the most joy are what we are most likely to protect.
To learn more about AWARE or to support their cause visit: http://awarewhistler.org/
For more about bear advocacy in the region visit: http://bearaware.bc.ca/read more >