Tag Archives: AWARE

Whistler’s Environmental History part 3: Olympic Ambitions

Around the same time that environmental activists were fighting to save old-growth forest in the upper Elaho Valley, AWARE’s leadership was fighting its own battle to bring some sort of focus and coherence to the organization. According to a June 15, 2000 article in the Pique, at one AWARE meeting more than 50 different environmental issues that had been raised as concerns by members. Voting was undertaken to identify key priorities, with resolving the Elaho conflict, continuing to protect Whistler’s wetland, and further involvement in regional land-management processes identified as key concerns. More than anything it seems, core members wanted the group to return to its pro-active roots, offering solutions (like recycling) rather than simply identifying problems. 

A few years later, as with everything in Whistler, things got a little sidetracked by a little announcement in July 2003. Once again, AWARE’s organizational strategies were forced to respond to broad changes in Whistler’s economic and political landscape. With the coming of the Olympics, and the potential for major infrastructure expansion yet again, AWARE set about ensuring any development was as environmentally sound as possible, while leveraging the push for Olympic legacies to get more important habitat set aside.

The cover of a multi-page pamphlet promoting Olympics-related wilderness conservation, produced by AWARE.

The cover of a multi-page pamphlet promoting Olympics-related wilderness conservation, produced by AWARE.

These efforts led to major protected areas in the upper Callaghan and Soo Valleys. Today, while opinions on the overall Olympic Legacy are mixed, in his recent Speaker Series Ken had this to say:

Now, in a post-Olympic Whistler, AWARE has returned its focus to wetlands conservation (for example, the Zen Lands), old-growth forests and logging, and education.

On this last point, the Whistler Museum is excited to announce a new partner program with AWARE to help disseminate environmental ideas and discussion throughout the community. Starting Wednesday May 1st, and continuing the first Wednesday of every second month after that, we will be hosting “Green Talks.” These will be evening presentations on any and all environmentally themed topics. The first Green Talks will be all about growing food in Whistler: what to plant for our wet, mountain climate, how to grow it, and how to eat it!

Green Talks will provide the Whistler community with an excellent opportunity to stay informed of the latest environmental news and initiatives, meet like-minded environmental enthusiasts, get involved in important one of Whistler’s longest-standing community organizations, and, of course, hang out at the Whistler Museum! Stay tuned for more details soon.

This is just the latest initiative in a 25-year run for AWARE, making Whistler a greener, healthier, and happier place. We hope to see you there! For more info on AWARE, check out awarewhistler.org

Bringing the environment into the mainstream: Ken Melamed, AWARE in the 1990s

Ken photo 1

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…

AWARE.: definitely not a WASTE

With Ken Melamed’s  upcoming speaker series on the history of habitat conservation in the Whistler Valley, we figured it was an opportune time to look into the history of AWARE (Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment) the local environmental advocacy group that Ken played a formative role in during the 1990s.

AWARE’s origins cold not be any more grassroots; in October 1988 Michelle Bush (still in Whistler today, best known as a  Village Host and as a stage actor/performing artist) was ankle deep in junk mail at the post office, and couldn’t believe that pristine BC forests were being cut down just to create this waste. Instead of shrugging it off, Michelle placed a classified ad inviting anyone and everyone who was similarly fed up.

Roughly 15 people showed up at Citta’s that autumn day to talk about the lack of recycling in Whistler, and to figure out a solution.  They realized pretty quickly that they were going to need a name for their fledgling group. Two witty acronyms were considered: “Whistler Association to Save The Environment” had a nice ring to it, but the acronym WASTE was too negative sounding, so they opted for AWARE.

Fitzsimmons Creek is one of several important habitat areas in the Whistler Valley, protected thanks to AWARE's environmental advocacy. Bob Brett photo.

Fitzsimmons Creek is one of several important habitat areas in the Whistler Valley, protected thanks to AWARE’s environmental advocacy. Bob Brett photo.

An Earth Day fundraiser was organized for that April (a band named Zumac headlined) and the money raised went towards a municipal waste management study. It took some effort convincing the more “old school” administrators at muni hall, but, with the help of now-retired municipal official Cliff Jennings (who was part of the original AWARE group but had to back out due to conflict of interest with his muni position), Whistler’s first municipal recycling system came on board through the early 1990s.

In 1990 Ken Melamed became AWARE’s president, and with the success of its recycling campaign, the organization’s focus shifted to habitat conservation. Coinciding with North American economic recovery starting in the late 1980s, this period saw another boom cycle of development in the valley. Vancouver-based Intrawest entered the Whistler scene, Upper Village was built, and development proposals were expanding throughout the valley.

And thus, AWARE took it upon themselves to act as stewards of our valley’s important wildlife habitat and sensitive ecosystems. It was these prominent environmental campaigns that helped lead Ken (and others) into an even more prominent role in local politics as a councillor and later mayor. But we’ll let Ken tell that part of the story.

Make sure to pick up tickets before this sells event out, it promises to be a compelling and informative presentation. We’ll check back in next Saturday with a recap of Ken’s talk, and we’ll continue this story with some of AWARE’s more recent work.

Mar 2013 SS Poster-small

 

When: Wednesday, March 20th; Doors at 6pm, show 7pm-9pm
Where: Whistler Museum
Who: 19+
Cost: $7 regular price, $5 for museum members

To purchase tickets (seating is limited), call the Whistler Museum at 604.932.2019, or visit us at 4333 Main Street, just behind the library.

There will be a cash bar featuring the Whistler Brewing Company and Jackson Triggs Wines, as well as complimentary coffee served courtesy of the Whistler Roasting Company and teas from Namasthé.

Speaker Series – Ken Melamed on Whistler’s Conservation History

A mallard duck enjoys some of Whistler's prime wetland. Photo: Bob Brett

A mallard duck enjoys some of Whistler’s prime wetland. Photo: Bob Brett

It is easy to take Whistler’s natural splendour for granted. A closer look, however, reveals that it is only thanks to a number of thoughtful, committed people that so much has been preserved for future generations. One of these figures is Ken Melamed.

Ken moved here in 1976 to live the ski bum’s life as a young patroller. Since Ken has called Whistler home since before the village was built and we became a global destination, he’s witnessed first-hand this valley’s massive development in the intervening decades.

Meanwhile, the environmental movement was gathering momentum around the globe, and so did it gain prominence in Whistler as well. Sustained, and, at times, reckless development throughout the 1980s increasingly galvanized residents around the need to fight back to protect our local environment.

One of the many wetlands that AWARE has helped protect over the years. Photo: Bob Brett

One of the many wetlands that AWARE has helped protect over the years. Photo: Bob Brett

Ken was at the forefront of this grassroots awakening, helping found the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE) in 1989. AWARE soon took on several key habitat protection initiatives such as the Emerald Forest, Fitzsimmons Fan, and, most controversially, old-growth forest stands in the Elaho Valley.

Ken Melamed

Ken Melamed

It was Ken’s environmental advocacy that raised his profile in the community and led him into municipal politics as a councilor in 1996, then mayor in 2005. Throughout this period he continued to champion principles of sustainability and leveraged Whistler’s growing profile to extend our community’s environmental influence well beyond municipal confines.

Always an engaging speaker, for his presentation Ken will return to his environmentalist roots, providing an insider’s perspective on the major conservation campaigns that he contributed to over the years. This evening presents a chance to learn the back story of our local environmental movement and engage in a discussion of what the future might hold for our region’s natural spaces. Please join us for this enlightening session.

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Mar 2013 SS Poster - small

When: Wednesday, March 20th; Doors at 6pm, show 7pm-9pm
Where: Whistler Museum
Who: 19+
Cost: $7 regular price, $5 for museum members
Saving the forest and the trees (and the marshes, and the meadows…)

To purchase tickets (seating is limited), call the Whistler Museum at 604.932.2019, or visit us at 4333 Main Street, just behind the library.

There will be a cash bar featuring the Whistler Brewing Company and Jackson Triggs Wines, as well as complimentary coffee served courtesy of the Whistler Roasting Company and teas from Namasthé.

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Presenter’s Bio: Since 1976 Ken Melamed has been active in the mountain resort community of Whistler. Ken was a founding director and president of the local environment group AWARE, municipal councilor, and mayor. He led the community through a period of intense strategic planning and rigorous pursuit to sustainability principles, guided Whistler 2020, the community’s long-term sustainability vision, for which he was a principle champion. Ken was born in Philadelphia, became a Canadian in 1971, is married and has two sons. He is an avid mountain biker, skier, speaks French and plays guitar.

About Whistler Museum’s Speaker Series: More than mere repositories of old stuff, museums are institutions of ideas, venues where communities share, debate, and explore their thoughts on the world at large. To that end the Whistler Museum hosts regular Speaker Series events featuring presentations on a diversity of subjects: from the usual suspects of mountain culture and adventure travel, to the environment, design, current events, and beyond. These events are hosted on the third Wednesday of the month, October through April (minus December), and present the perfect opportunity for locals and visitors alike to encounter compelling stories in a relaxed and sociable atmosphere. All Speaker Series events have a cash bar and are 19+.