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The UN International Year of the Mountain: ‘We are all mountain people’

Whistler Naturalists

Like a lot of Whistlerites, I consider myself a mountain person even though I grew up on the flat side of the Rocky Mountains. My transformation first showed when I began to orient myself on watershed boundaries. Picture your own view of the Whistler area – Brandywine, 21-Mile, 19-Mile, 16-Mile, Cheakamus, Wedgemount – they’re all creeks draining mountain valleys. What a welcome change from the flatlands where there is seldom enough relief to notice moving from one watershed to the next.

We’re among the lucky few in the world who have the luxury of choosing where we live. Why did we choose Whistler? Few of us are likely to answer "for the agricultural opportunities." On the other hand, few in China or Nepal or Peru would answer "to shred sick lines in the powder."

When you see a photo of terraced fields stretching into the mountains as far as you can see, you know that mountain people aren’t all living the same lives. We see ski runs; they see land to clear for subsistence farming and livestock grazing, and wood for cooking and heat. Approximately 10 per cent of the world’s population live in the mountains, including some of the poorest people on the planet, and many more rely indirectly on the clean water, forests, and wildlife habitat that mountains provide.

"We are all mountain people" is the slogan of the United Nations’ 2002 International Year of the Mountain. The slogan is meant to show how connected we all are with mountains, whether we live in them or down in the flatlands. The UN’s goal is to highlight the critical role mountains play in sustaining human populations and our responsibility to protect the mountains.

We’re lucky in B.C. to live so close to the mountains. We can see the snow building on the peaks and the glaciers that form, and drink from the year-round run-off. Even people living in a city like Vancouver are keenly aware of the connections between the snow in the mountains and the water that comes out of their taps.

As mountain people we’re connected to other mountain people throughout the world. For example, we are all affected by the threat of climate change. Consider the article in this month’s Ski Canada which reports there may soon be no skiing below 1,800 metres in Europe. Imagine how much greater the effect of climate change would be for subsistence farmers in Asia or South America.

Next time you’re riding the ski lift maybe consider how Whistler-Blackcomb might look if it were elsewhere in the world, with grain fields terraced down from the Roundhouse Lodge, and small farmhouses scattered on Green Acres and Seventh Heaven. We’re not likely to transform into subsistence farmers here, but we do rely on our mountains in a similar way. After all, we are all mountain people.

Upcoming Events :

Saturday, September 7th — Whistler Bird Walk . Meet at the bottom of Lorimer Road near the entrance to the Catholic Church. Novices and newcomers welcome. Call Michael Thompson (604-932-5050) for details.

Sightings and Memberships: NatureSpeak is prepared by the Whistler Naturalists. To become a member or to report noteworthy sightings of mammals, birds, or other species, contact Cathy Conroy, (894-1124).

Whistler Naturalists’ Mountain Festival, Sept. 20-22

As part of the International Year of the Mountain, the Whistler Naturalists are hosting a three-day festival for naturalists from around B.C. The theme is "Peak to Valley — The Ups and Downs of Life in a Mountain Environment" and it is part of the annual fall general meeting of the Federation of B.C. Naturalists.

We have a great slate of speakers lined up including Jack Souther (volcanoes), Morgan Wells (traditional plant use), Michael Allen (black bears), Kathy Martin (alpine birds), Derrick Marven (insects), the Whistler Fisheries Stewardship Group and AWARE (wetlands and fish), Ken Wright (harlequin ducks), and Elke Wind (tailed frogs and other mountain amphibians). Plus there are two night-time events. On Friday, Sept. 20th, there will be a nature photo competition at Millennium Place judged by Leanna Rathkelly and Nancy Ricker. On Saturday, Sept. 21st, the plenary speaker will be Tom Hurd, wildlife specialist for Banff National Park, who will talk about the challenges of protecting wildlife and their habitat in a developed mountain valley.

For more details on the Mountain Festival, contact Bob Brett (604-932-8900; snowline@direct.ca) or go to www.naturalists.bc.ca and follow the links.

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