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VANOC tells AWARE to drop ‘Olympic’ name

Proposed wildlife refuge intended to be environmental legacy from Games



AWARE is changing the name of its proposed Olympic Wildlife Refuge to Our Wildlife Legacy after the Vancouver Organizing Committee said it couldn’t use the word "Olympic."

"It looks like VANOC is trying to crack down on people who are using the Olympic term without permission and we would fall into that category," said Wendy Horan, president of the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment.

For more than two years AWARE, a non-profit organization, has been working with the provincial government and other stakeholders on the establishment of an "Olympic Wildlife Refuge" in the Soo Valley, the valley next to the Callaghan Valley and the 2010 Nordic venue. It was proposed by AWARE because the organization felt that proponents of the 2010 Games were failing to create an environmental legacy to go with the legacies for sport and culture.

In 1994 the International Olympic Committee adopted the environment as the third pillar of Olympicism.

Now AWARE is concerned this latest move by VANOC is an indication that its public commitment to environmental legacies is nothing more than window-dressing.

"We are fearful this might be the first step in… greenwash," said Horan Friday night at an AWARE meeting originally organized to announce progress in the establishment of the wildlife refuge area. And AWARE is worried that without "Olympic" in the name of the proposal the pristine wildlife refuge area – home to moose, mountain goats and other wildlife, as well as being a grizzly migration corridor – may never be established.

"We are hoping that it won’t lose any momentum but certainly it won’t garner the same attention," said Horan.

In order for the Upper Soo Valley to be set aside as a wildlife refuge the provincial government must agree to its inclusion in land use plans currently being drawn up for the Sea to Sky region. Other stakeholders, including timber and mining companies, must also give up their rights to the land. Without the Olympic carrot dangling before them large companies may be less likely to give up their assets.

But VANOC spokeswoman Maureen Douglas said the organizing committee has no choice but to ask AWARE to remove the word Olympic from the name of its proposed wildlife refuge.

"It doesn’t mater how wonderful any external endeavour may be we have to deal with all the brand protection and our obligation to trademark enforcement," said Douglas, who was adamant that VANOC is standing by its commitment to the environment. "It is inherent in everything we are doing in terms of buildings, in terms if using the land, in terms of using the resources," she said. "It is a critical part of every decision we make, from how we spend money to what product we are going to purchase."

Douglas also points to the way the Nordic Centre is being delivered in the Callaghan Valley as an example of VANOC’s commitment to the environment.

"That area will become more protected that it ever was," she said.

But Eckhard Zeidler, the wilderness backyard co-ordinator for AWARE, takes little comfort from the development of the Callaghan.

"We don’t see a human built environment as necessarily a green legacy," he said. "Sometimes we just have to have the decency to leave a place alone, particularly for the wildlife. I don’t think the Callaghan Nordic complex is going to improve the lot of wildlife in the area."

David Chernushenko, president of Green and Gold, an environmental consulting agency, said while he has seen no indication that VANOC is not standing by its environmental commitments it’s wise to be vigilant about the promises made by organizing committees. The problem, he said, is that the IOC does little to enforce environmental promises made by organizing committees.

"The fact is the IOC does not ‘police’ it," he said. "They don’t enforce the environmental commitments in the same kind of way that they do everything else, from the type of buffet meals served in the IOC lounge through to the technical standards of the sport facilities, and that I think is very unfortunate."

One indication that VANOC is serious about its commitment to sustainability and the environment is its recent posting for a vice-president in charge of sustainability.

"That is a promising sign in that it is a very high level to be assigning someone responsible for sustainability," he said.

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