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AWARE readies for 30th anniversary

Opportunities, challenges abound for environmental charity

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One of the most magical (and "grammable," as the youth say) experiences of being at Whistler—spending time with the friendly whiskey jacks while waiting in the lift line—might not be so magical after all.

"There is research that shows they're spending loads of time away from their nest, because they're programmed to gather food until there isn't any more food to gather, and the chicks are dying," said Claire Ruddy, executive director of the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE), in a presentation to the Committee of the Whole on Dec. 4.

"Basically, Instagram is killing the whiskey jacks."

The info came from BC Parks, which is working on a campaign to get people to stop feeding the local birds, Ruddy said.

It's indicative of a larger environmental concern.

"There's all these things that people just aren't aware of ... we don't connect the action with the result," Ruddy said.

"How do we make sure that we are aware of the things that are maybe invisible to us?"

Ruddy was on hand to provide an update on AWARE to Whistler's new mayor and council.

The association has three main goals, Ruddy said: Connecting people with nature, building sustainable community, and safeguarding habitat, biodiversity and wilderness.

AWARE has been busy of late, curating programs like its Whistler Nature Camps, GROW Whistler and the massively successful Zero Waste Heroes program, which aims to reduce the waste produced by local events.

"In the five years since its inception we've had over 55,000 users of this program, it's been featured on CBC a couple of times, (and) it's been a really good kind of education piece," Ruddy said.

"For us it's not just about collecting waste and working with the events to reduce their waste footprint, it's also about providing a lot of education to people who are attending those events."

The association also got an environmental component added to the Whistler Chamber of Commerce's Whistler Experience program "after years of trying," Ruddy said.

The program focuses on "how to be a good eco-citizen," and teaches new residents about bears, invasive species, reducing waste and more.

In total, AWARE has more than 20 active community programs, and welcomed about 2,300 people to its events and programs in 2017 (not counting Zero Waste Heroes events).

Advocacy plays a major role in the group's work as well.

"We're always focused on finding shared values—normally somewhere around the love that we all have for nature and time outdoors—but we do also try to ensure that we always stay true to the things that we represent, and that we advocate with grit for issues that we think are being underrepresented," Ruddy said.

Looking to the future, opportunities abound for AWARE, but Ruddy boiled her presentation down to three: preventing biodiversity loss and supporting landscape-level planning; promoting the conservation mindset and creating behavior shifts; and increasing the local focus on climate change.

"We're looking for more engagement of the community on climate actions," Ruddy said, pointing to the Transportation Advisory Group as one example of how much investment of time, energy and capacity it takes to get people to shift their behaviours.

"There has been great work on transportation, fire, housing and waste, but we need every business, every individual to act when it comes to climate change, and to get to that behaviour change and culture shift."

This year will mark a significant milestone for AWARE, as the association celebrates its 30th anniversary (a number of events will be planned throughout 2019).

Councillor Arthur De Jong, who will oversee the local environment portfolio for the next four years, lauded AWARE for how it has grown over the years.

"The way it evolved has been really impressive, and I agree with your priorities here no question, and your sense of urgency, which I think we're all aware of," De Jong said.

"So what can we do to help you?"

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