Last week we wrote a post about the early history of local environmental group AWARE (Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment). We wrote the piece, in part, to promote this month’s Speaker Series featuring long-time environmentalist, former AWARE president, and former Whistler mayor Ken Melamed. Well, last Wednesday Ken delivered some great insights into the history of local environmental movements in the Whistler Valley, so we’ll follow up with some more AWARE history.
One of the great things about Ken’s talk was the broad perspective he brought and his insights into the political processes that informed the development of the Whistler Valley over the years. As a dedicated grassroots environmentalist and a successful politician, he was able to provide excellent context for why specific project and initiatives went forward while others were stopped.
First, lets’ go to Ken, and hear his explanation of one of the key turning points in our valley’s environmental history in the early 1990s:
One lesson he made very clear in the question and discussion session at the end of the night, was “It is always better to be at the table.” What he meant by this was, though it might entail challenging and discouraging compromise, you can always have more influence when you are involved in top-level discussions. Once Ken was elected to municipal council in 1996, he could be far more effective in trying to ensure environmental protection went hand-in-hand with the valley’s continued development.
One such victory was the protection of the Emerald Forest in 1997. Ken expressed disappointment with the compromise which led to some development of the sensitive wetlands, and feels that they could have gone into the development bargaining more aggressively than they did, he still is proud of the fact that only a few acres of the roughly 140-acre parcel were developed. If the original plan to develop the entire area had gone through, Ken asserted, “it would have been an environmental catastrophe.”
As Ken and council started to get serious about habitat conservation and putting intelligent controls on rampant development, AWARE became entangled in its most contentious campaign to date. The story is too long, twisted, and involving to fully recount here, but essentially, major protests sprung up in opposition to the logging of newly discovered old-growth stands in the upper Elaho Valley. Some of the Douglas Firs were estimated at 1300 years old! The activists (from both AWARE and the Western Canada Wilderness Committee) were dedicated to preserving these ancient stands, but some of the loggers were just as dedicated to doing their jobs. Things turned ugly, and violent clashes at logging road blockades actually led to jail time for some of the worst perpetrators. Despite the ugliness (perhaps, in part, because of it), today, the old-growth stands are protected, as well as recognized as a Squamish Nation Wild Spirit Place.
For a more detailed account of the story, read local biologist Bob Brett’s take on the Elaho Old Growth forests from June 2000.
At the same time, AWARE was becoming stretched too thin by the Elaho campaign, and numerous other interests that its membership was pursuing. It was time to take stock of the situation…