It's been several years since the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment, or AWARE, has had a paid staff member, but building on the success of recent campaigns — including a tree coring study that found Whistler's oldest tree last year, a yellow cedar that's 1,100 to 1,200 years old, and a well-attended Old Growth Symposium — the environmental group is at last ready to take that step once again.
Claire Ruddy, a past-president of the board, was appointed to the position of executive director and will work three days a week for the organization.
AWARE's next annual general meeting is on Oct. 2, which will see the election of a new board as well as the creation of two committees — one to plan for AWARE's 25th anniversary celebrations in 2014, and another to continue the campaign against plastic bags in the resort.
For Ruddy, it's all about focusing on a few key campaigns that resonate with residents while staying true to AWARE's original mission.
"We had the buildup of some good projects last year, and we're just getting back to the point where we're able to put some resources into delivering projects that our funders could see, and see the potential of the group," she said. "We've been getting good turnouts to our events, and finding stuff like the oldest tree in Whistler, and we're relevant."
Finding campaigns was a challenge for several years. AWARE was originally created to bring a recycling program to Whistler, and when that was successful the campaign grew to include composting — also something that has become a reality. AWARE also lobbied for protection of lands and wetlands, the banning of plastic bags, the adoption of The Natural Step sustainability framework and other initiatives, with a large degree of success. When the Olympics came to town the group focused on ensuring that the delivery of the Games would be as green as possible, and again succeeded.
With so much of its work co-opted by the municipality through the Whistler 2020 sustainability framework and by other agencies, AWARE needed to branch out.
"I think that a lot of AWARE's traditional big issues have been developed into environmental practices, and that the whole community has done a great job changing its mindset with the Whistler 2020 program," said Ruddy. "But we definitely still have challenges we're facing as a community — how we manage our community forest, development into wetlands, and backcountry recreation with more motorized traffic heading into our backcountry areas. These are huge issues for AWARE, and that's where our main campaigns will be focusing."
The fourth campaign on their list is the Callaghan Valley, an area that now partially falls within the boundaries of Whistler and Cheakamus Community Forest.
"That's an area we've worked to try and reduce the footprint of Whistler Olympic Park, and we've been keeping our eye on that area. We did our tree-coring project there last year, and the Callaghan does have some really old-growth forest — and there's no overarching plan for the Callaghan area. Some want to develop the area with the infrastructure now that we have a good road, and we want to engage people with options for that area."
Ruddy's other goals as executive director include improving communication and record-keeping, increasing member numbers, engaging with members, writing more grant proposals and hosting more events in the future. As well, she said AWARE's educational component will also continue — such as the "zero waste" table that the group has been hosting at the Whistler Farmers' Market, and the AWARE Kids Nature Club.
Aware released its strategic plan at the Sept. 4 meeting, and it will be discussed at the AGM.
Everyone is welcome to attend the AGM on Oct. 2, taking place at the Whistler Museum at 6 p.m.