Whistler’s environmental watchdog, AWARE, is in trouble. To some, that’s welcome news, considering all the trouble AWARE has caused them. But for most of Whistler, the news that AWARE needs new blood or it may cease to exist should be a cause for concern.
Protecting the natural environment consistently rates as one of Whistlerites’ highest priorities in polls and surveys. The Vision 2002 document states that protecting the environment is one of Whistler’s core values. And there’s little doubt that “the environment” — whether that means the ski runs, the mountain bike trails, the small town, the natural environment or something else — is why people live here and why people want to come here. It is because most people agree that the environment needs to be protected that we have a limit, albeit a flexible limit, on how big Whistler can grow.
The Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment has played a huge role in protecting the natural environment over the last 11 years. AWARE has had an influence on the way Nicklaus North was developed, the protection of the spruce forest next to Fitzsimmons Creek, protection of the wetlands at the Whistler Racquet and Golf Resort, the rejection of the so-called Freestyle proposal and public acceptance of the Emerald Forest deal. The group has also provided input on numerous documents and policies to come out of municipal hall, including the official community plan, the Vision 2002 document, the environmental strategy and the transportation plan . AWARE has also pushed for more information and a better understanding of Whistler’s natural environment, through improved mapping and analysis of the Whistler valley.
In short, AWARE has been the environmental conscience of Whistler, raising questions and upholding values that, at times, no one else would. Often this has annoyed people and delayed developments, but ultimately Whistler has benefited. There might, for example, be no protection at all of the wetlands surrounding the River of Golden Dreams if not for AWARE.
Speaking up for the natural environment doesn’t seem like something that should have to be done in Whistler — partly because we are so rich in it but also because we value it so much we wouldn’t possibly let it be destroyed. Yet a case could be made that a voice for the environment is more important today than it has ever been. While there may be fewer showdowns over specific developments these days, creeping, incremental infringement on wetlands and forests can be just as devastating as large scale developments.
Environmental stewardship is a life-long commitment that should involve everyone. If that were the case, perhaps there would be no need for AWARE. But that is not the case. We are still learning about our environment. There is still work to do. Implementing the environmental strategy — something few people know about — is going to take some time. The deal for the Decigon lands is done at the political level but part of the deal includes administering the lands, to ensure they remain as natural as possible.
Protecting the environment is like many issues in Whistler: it’s something few people would oppose, yet the task of actually speaking out or doing something is left to a few.