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AWARE gains momentum for 2004



Annual general meeting this Sunday

What: AWARE Annual General Meeting

Where: Delta Whistler Resort, Mount Currie Room

When: Sunday, Jan. 18 at 7 p.m.

For a group as diverse and engaged as the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment, it’s difficult to step back and measure their impact from year to year – most initiatives are long-term works in progress, and every time one file is closed, 10 more seem to open.

Still, 2003 was a breakthrough year in many ways for AWARE. With a strong board, a healthy bank account, and a small but active membership – more than 3,000 hours of volunteer work from board members alone last year – the group is more engaged than ever.

"2004 looks big for us," said Wendy Horan, the president of AWARE. "The Sea to Sky LRMP (Land and Resource Management Plan) will wrap up, the 2010 Olympics are on our radar, the Whistler. It’s Our Nature speaker series is about to gain momentum with a fantastic lineup of experts, we have wetlands projects… The schedule is filling up."

At the annual Cornucopia food and wine festival in November, AWARE volunteers worked the various functions and were the recipients of various fundraisers. In total AWARE received almost $30,000.

Other sources of funding, including a municipal grant-in-aid, and grants from various foundations in Whistler and Vancouver, have given AWARE the ability to get more involved in projects. Projects in the works range from small community tasks like new signage for local wetlands to larger campaigns like the AWARE-sponsored plan to create an Olympic legacy park in the Soo Valley to offset Olympic development in the neighbouring Callaghan Valley.

"With the hard-earned dollars that resulted from Cornucopia, AWARE is planning to do some great work in the upcoming year," said Horan. "This is where our partnerships throughout the community will benefit. We have yet to lay out exactly what will result, but the ideas are forming."

In AWARE’s annual year in review, Horan lists dozens of ways that AWARE has been involved in 2003. Some of the highlights include:

• AWARE members served on three Olympic bid committees for the successful Vancouver 2010 bid – transportation, housing and sustainability – and remain the only environmental group engaged in the planning process. While other environmental groups dropped out of the Olympic planning because of disagreements over the process, AWARE stayed involved, believing that the best way to influence decisions was on the inside. Now that the Games have been awarded, AWARE hopes to be able to influence the organizing committee to embrace sustainable concepts.

• AWARE developed a plan to create some kind of an Olympic Wildlife Refuge in the upper Soo Valley to offset the planned development in the Callaghan Valley. The plan has been passed on to members of the Vancouver Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games, and has been well received.

• AWARE partnered with the Community Foundation of Whistler to create the AWARE Environmental Fund. That money will go directly towards specific projects in Whistler to enhance and protect watersheds, wetlands and wildlife habitat, while promoting education and conservation.

• AWARE is a partner in the Community Habitat Inventory Research Project (CHIRP), a community habitat mapping project for Whistler that will identify ecosystems, species of flora and fauna, and more, compiling data collected by a dozen local organizations and the community.

• AWARE, with other community partners, has been part of a wide range of local initiatives, including community composting, Whistler. It’s Our Nature , Earth Week, Environment Week, Pitch-In Day, and a monthly speaker series at AWARE meetings.

• Together with the Whistler Naturalists, AWARE is supporting the creation of environmental bylaws for Whistler that make it easier to prevent and penalize different activities. Enforcing provincial and federal environment laws is almost impossible at the municipal level, they said, and as a result offenders are seldom punished.

Keeping momentum through 2004 will be challenging, says Horan, as AWARE portfolios like the Olympics and the Sea to Sky LRMP will need a lot of work. In addition, AWARE hopes to expand its support for a number of hands-on, local projects.

AWARE’s list of current campaigns includes Sustainability, Whistler’s Watersheds, the Olympic Games and Whistler’s Wilderness Backyard.

At the same time the group was able to reduce its involvement in several projects. For example, the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District’s recent Zero Waste initiative, a composting program in the schools, and the construction of a composting centre in Squamish have reduced the need for a composting committee.

The municipality has also taken on wetlands issues, including the management of the River of Golden Dreams, freeing up the AWARE Valley Bottom Wetlands Committee to address larger watershed issues through the Whistler’s Watersheds Committee.

Horan is planning to run for president once again at AWARE’s annual general meeting this Sunday, and hopes many of the directors will also return. She also encourages current members to come out to the meeting, as well as all members of the community that are interested in environmental issues.

The AGM gets underway at 7 p.m. in the Mount Currie Room of the Delta Whistler Resort with a special presentation by Helen Speigelman, past-president of the Society Promoting Environmental conservation. The topic of her presentation is "Addicted to Waste" and will address the effects of North American consumerism and what can be done to reverse it.