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Environmental group trains Whistler seniors to raise awareness about conservation issues

Free five-month program aims to give seniors the tools and knowledge to make change

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The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) is offering a free conservation training program for Sea to Sky seniors.

Over the five-month program, 20 seniors will learn about local conservation issue and carry out a grassroots environmental campaign of their own.

"We want to engage and diversify the conservation community," explained Alana Wittman, a community engagement coordinator who will lead the program. "We need to make sure everyone can be involved regardless of their background or socioeconomic status."

Covered by a grant from the federal government, the program, known as Take Back the Wild, is free for participants and includes two multi-day training retreats. The first, which will be held at the Brew Creek Centre from April 22 to 24, will aim to deepen participants understanding of local conservation issues, with an emphasis on the issues facing grizzly bears in southwest B.C. and the underfunding of provincial parks.

The second, which will be held at Cheakamus Centre from June 23 to 24, will focus on ways to engage decision makers and mobilize residents to support conservation and stewardship activities.

"By teaching them all the different skillsets associated with campaigning, people can identify if they want to start a new campaign or work on an existing CPAWS campaign by focusing on the skillset their interested in," said Wittman.

Environmental campaigns can take a wide range of forms. Seniors might meet with government officials or run outdoor workshops aimed at raising awareness about conservation issues.

"We hope people find their niche within conservation, so they can mobilize their community," explained Wittman.

The program began in 2012 with young adults. In 2016 - at the request of a group of seniors in the South Okanagan-Similkameen region - it was offered to seniors for the first time.

Working with an older group has been wonderful, said Wittman. "By working with seniors, we have a group of people who have had a full career in a variety of different areas."

Many don't come from a conservation background - and that's an asset, she said.

"You don't need to be a conservationist to be a campaigner."

According to Ruby Chapman, who is currently taking part Take Back the Wild program for Gulf Islands seniors, the experience has given her a network of like-minded people and a host of new skillsets.

"The CPAWS staff set up an environment of learning where you were able to learn more about your own area and how to move forward," said Chapman.

She and a group of others from the program are currently organizing a campaign to get the federal government to declare the southern Straight of Georgia a National Marine Conservation Area Reserve.

"It's under a lot of pressure from the shipping industry and marine based industry," explained Chapman.

"The fish, the mammals and orcas are all under threat from contamination and the underwater noise from large vessels. It's really important for our communities to support having this marine area protected."

Seniors are in a great position to devote time and energy to the community and to bring about change."

The program is open to seniors 60 and older. Participants must live in metro Vancouver or the Sea to Sky corridor.

"Other than that they need to have a passion for protected areas, provincial parks, and public land," said Wittman.

Applications are due March 18 and can be made through CPAWS website (www.cpawsbc.org/campaigns/senior/); email (takebackthewild@cpawsbc.org); or phone (604-685-7445 ext. 34).

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