Interview with Christyann Olson: Alberta Wilderness Association
I don’t want to protect the environment as much as I want to create a world where the environment doesn’t need protecting. My work is far from done.Christyann Olson
This blog covers an interview that I Am Calgary conducted with Christyann Olson, Executive Director of the Calgary-based Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA).
What follows are the downloadable sound bites of the interview along with excerpt notes of the key points and comments under seven broad points:
- Welcome, introduction and background to AWA and their heritage building offices
- Who is Christyann Olson?
- Why Alberta Wilderness Association and who is AWA?
- Thoughts on changes in environmental perception in Alberta over the years
- Big Horn Wildland Provincial Park – background and implementation implications
- AWA and the Climb for Wilderness
- What would you do to bring change if you were a person of influence?
- “I Am Calgary” – what does that mean to you as a Calgarian?
1. Welcome, introduction and background to the AWA Heritage Building
- Location: History about the Hillhurst Cottage School
- Built in 1910 and housed children into the 1960’s
- AWA leased the building from the City of Calgary from the 1970’s then bought it in 2016 when the City wanted to take it out of their heritage inventory
- As a heritage building, all work done on the building is for restoration, not renovation
- Work with the AWA is conducted here on a day-to-day basis
- The building houses a library (dedicated to Roger Creasey) representing 50+ years of the history of what has happened in Alberta w.r.t. wilderness, wildlife, water.
- A collection of resources that are technical, and an expression of what people were thinking at the time that decisions were made, reflecting the public, government, organizations, industry.
- Gives insight into why decisions were made and what was important at the time that decisions were being made.
- Important resource for researchers
- More details about what is housed inside the building and about its heritage and uses.
2. Who is Christyann Olson?
Personal background, bio and how Christyann came to be at AWA
Bio courtesy of Christyann Olson: I’m passionate about our society’s responsibility to ensure the health and legacy of wilderness for generations to come. I take every possible opportunity to enjoy Alberta’s wilderness and share my enthusiasm with others. Although my roots are in the Crowsnest Pass, I have lived in and explored much of Alberta including many of its wild places by foot, canoe, and occasionally by horse. More than 25 years of administrative experience in senior management and leadership roles in health care has been an asset toward my position as Executive Director of the Alberta Wilderness Association. Throughout the past 18 years and indeed in my early years as a member of the association I have worked on many conservation and wilderness protection issues. Finding great diverse opportunities to help others learn by bringing sound science and reasoned argument to conservation initiatives in Alberta has been a major goal. Working cooperatively and collaboratively throughout Alberta with members, supporters, landowners, students, elected officials, civil servants, industry, scientists and colleagues from every sector is key to my daily work and achievements with AWA. Willmore Wilderness is an area we achieved protection for with hard fought efforts to inform and educate on the value of wilderness, true roadless wilderness. At times when all other avenues have been exhausted, we have gone to court and it has meant an Emergency Protection Order for Greater Sage-grouse that is truly making a difference and more recently a Critical Habitat Order for westslope cutthroat trout that recognizes the science and work of so many outstanding individuals, scientists, conservationists and stewards who know we must do more. I believe firmly that local groups, those that live in an area must take the lead in informing and making the case for conservation and long-term protection and we can help them achieve conservation goals. Everything I do is quite simply part of a greater good that so many individuals make possible. Our team at AWA has a shared vision for a safe and healthy environment and people who care enough to make a difference. I often say I don’t want to protect the environment as much as I want to create a world where the environment doesn’t need protecting. My work is far from done.
3. Why Alberta Wilderness Association and who is AWA?
- Work with the AWA is province-wide
- 6 distinct landscapes in Alberta: Grassland, Parkland, Borreal, Canadian Shield, Foothills, Rocky Mountains
- Each landscape needs to be protected to a certain degree to protect our biodiversity, health and wealth
- How are AWA involved in land development and land conservation?
- Bringing sound science and reasoned argument to conservation initiatives in Alberta
A short bio of who AWA is: Alberta Wilderness Association (known as AWA) is dedicated to the conservation of wilderness and the completion of a protected areas network, Alberta Wilderness Association is a voice for the environment. Since 1965, AWA has inspired communities to care for Alberta’s wild spaces through awareness and action. With a provincial office and library in Calgary, AWA has active members, volunteers, and sponsors throughout Alberta and beyond. AWA is a non-profit, federally registered, charitable society. The Climb for Wilderness is in its 28th year and is an Earth Day celebration that promotes healthy active living and is a fundraiser for the Alberta Wilderness Association.
4. Thoughts on changes in environmental perception in Alberta over the years
- There have been significant technological advances in recent years.
- Sometimes we move too quickly, and our lack of patience to see what’s on the horizon causes decisions to be made without the full picture of the benefits and implications of exploiting our natural resources.
- We put a lot of effort into big efforts when more resources could be put into individuals doing smaller things.
- Awareness and concern for the environment should be one of the first factors we consider.
- Large companies are starting to recognize this.
- We will see concern being expressed for our protected areas and the value they bring and a recognition that climate change will make things different or us and there are ways we will need to adapt.
- Awareness of children has been a real spark. They are becoming very aware of environmental concerns and the need for conservation. This generation brings great hope for us.
- Attention to how areas will be drilled for oil and gas; consultation on where pipelines could be routed; avoidance of sensitive areas by responsible developers; respect for those who have an expertise in the values of the landscape and the importance of identifying sensitive environmental areas; changing the way seismic work is being done and how rehabilitation is carried out.
- Sometimes the economic arguments are very strong.
- Awareness by bigger companies looking out for opportunities that the future brings, e.g. electric vehicles, operating with partner industries, etc.
- This generation wants to see better discussions and decisions being made.
5. Big Horn Wildland Provincial Park – background and implementation implications
- Nestled between Banff and Jasper National Parks; part of it has Hiway 11 passing through it.
- The Government in recent month brought forward a proposal for that area called Big Horn Country. Appears to be based on proposal brought forward for that area since the 1970’s if not earlier. Parts of the Park were part of the National Parks previously.
- This is one of the last pristine wildernesses and is the headwater for the North Saskatchewan, bringing fresh clean water to Edmonton and into the Prairies.
- Home for important, big wildlife that needs space to roam for them to sustain themselves.
- It has critical wildlife corridors and prime protection areas.
- It has magnificent rocks and geological features.
- There are fabulous valleys that are soft and moist.
- Water and wildflowers are abundant.
- Tremendous opportunity to hike, ride horseback, camp and to see the front ranges of the Rockies.
- Minimal development to keep it from being commercialized.
- Adjacent to the park are transition areas that have been managed as PLUZ (Public Land Use Zones) which have helped provide rules as to how the areas must be used and cared for.
- Details of the plans will unfold in the weeks / months / years to come, but the concept itself is worthy of moving forward with. It has been discussed and consulted on for years i.t.o. the Eastern Slopes policy that were developed in the 70’s and 80’s, regional planning that was begun back in 2006 for how we would plan regionally for Alberta, based primarily on watersheds. Regional committees were set up to give advice on how that land would be used and could be used. There has been tremendous consultation. There is wisdom that comes from those who are responsible on the land, e.g. enforcement, wildlife, fish, etc. and even from the civil servants who recognize what the beneficial tools of the PLUZ offer them.
- There are numerous areas of controversy that also help bring about better decisions, when they are well informed.
- Higher levels of participation from the public have been sent to the government in support of the concept. Public consultation closes on Feb 15th, 2019 after which the government will need to consider, review and make decisions with the information that they have.
What are some of the resistances?
- Sometimes change in-and-of-itself brings about resistance.
- Users are worried that some of their activities will be curtailed (like ice fishing on Abraham Lake), but examples like this just confirm that people are still ill-informed and so are not making informed decisions about the proposal.
- Example of the number of river crossings has on bull trout breeding resulting in the tightening of some rules.
- More information at Alberta Parks, www.albertawilderness.ca,
Read more about the Big Horn Wildland Provincial Park.
Find a downloadable copy of the Big Horn Wildland Provincial Park factsheet here.
6. AWA and the Climb For Wilderness
- Often referred to as “the best earth day event in the west”.
- 2019 will be the 28th year it will be held.
- Started at the Calgary Tower with affiliation to the World Wildlife Fund who would come to climb the 802 stairs, supported by many well-known dignitaries.
- The oldest climber will be 101 years old this year!
- Three years ago the event was moved to the Bow Building that has a glass-walled staircase enabling climbers to see the Bow River and views to the east and north that are part of Calgary’s and Alberta’s wealth.
- There are more than 1,200 stairs to be climbed.
- It’s a family day, corporate day and friends regathering, all in support of AWA and the work done by them.
- The stairwells have information at each landing about interesting facts about that elevation. AWA include some educational posters that they have been working on through the years, e.g. caribou, grasslands, boreal areas, etc. At the top there will be more educational staff giving information as well as activities for children.
- February has been allocated as a month for children in Grade 3 to register for free with certain restrictions, e.g. must register with a parent, and there is space for only 300 free Gr 3 applicants.
- AWA expect ~1,000 participants in the event on 27th April 2019
- Registrations are open on-line and check-in is from 08h30 on the morning of the event.
- Every entrant will receive a t-shirt; prizes are available to be won.
- Raised funds are important for AWA to continue their work: e.g. to be able to travel throughout Alberta to educate the public; to be able to go to schools to give free education; for advertising and social media; website maintenance; etc.
- There is opportunity to “time your climb” on the day, although this is NOT a race or competition.
Discover more at Climb For Wilderness
7. What would you do to bring change if you were a person of influence?
- Anyone put into a position of power to make decisions for the province has a significant responsibility. None of them take this role lightly.
- I would like to see more meaningful discussions and decisions being made as the leaders responsible for each department in the government. No one department is more important or powerful than another. From here we would see a basis for strong, better-reasoned decisions.
8. “I AM CALGARY“
What does it mean to you to be Calgarian?
- It means I’m part of a healthy, vibrant city with wonderful elected leaders that care and want to make good decisions on behalf of the city
- I have amazing access to natural areas, clean water, great neighbourhoods
If you had visitors coming to stay with you in Calgary, what would you take them to see?
- It does depend on who the visitors are and what they’re interested in
- Frank Lake (east of High River) for bird watching and walking; Frank Lake Wetland and information on wetlands in general
- Within the city, the parks like Carburn Park enable us to see fantastic birds
- Bowmont Park along the Bow River where you can see deer, coyotes and even hear the trains
- Nose Hill Park to learn about the history about the First Nations and indigenous people as well as the original explorers
Wrap-up and thanks
Featured image courtesy of Christyann Olson