“I’m working in the place I care most about in the world,” says Casey Brennan, Conservation Director for Wildsight. “I’ve done a lot of travelling and recognize how much we have here. So many areas in the world don’t have large carnivores and other uniquely adapted species remaining on the landscape, but we do.”
A Long-standing Commitment
Casey Brennan first volunteered with the East Kootenay Environmental Society in the mid ‘90s and never really left. He did some travelling, returned, and went back to school for a Master’s degree in Environmental Studies, before taking up a paid position with the organization in 2002. Casey oversaw the organization’s rebranding as Wildsight and spent a decade managing Wildsight’s Southern Rockies program. He transitioned to a volunteer role, serving as a board member both locally and regionally before returning in July 2023 to take on the role of Conservation Director.
Wildsight is a grassroots organization working to protect biodiversity and encourage sustainable development in BC’s Columbia and Rocky Mountain region. It functions on both a local and a regional level with 6 autonomous branches in Creston, the Elk Valley, Golden, Invermere, Kimberley/Cranbrook, and Revelstoke, along with a regional organization headquartered in Kimberley.
“Wildsight’s structure has enabled us to be very responsive to and engaged with different communities,” Casey says. “We get a lot done with amazing volunteer energy and support. Passionate individuals come forward and Wildsight provides an infrastructure and the experience to be able to find support and resources for their ideas to become projects and programs that move forward and make a difference for conservation and sustainability in our region.”
Wildsight branches focus on different issues that are of particular importance to their community and the branch board and staff. The Creston Valley branch is engaged in a community forest project concentrating on selective logging techniques, while food security and access to locally produced food and food-growing space are priorities for the Elk Valley and Kimberley/Cranbrook branches. Golden branch supports a variety of biodiversity projects, such as the Upper Columbia Swallow Habitat Enhancement Project. The Invermere branch initiated Canada’s first rural all-electric vehicle share program. Revelstoke is Wildsight’s newest branch and runs Toad Watch, helping Western toads to pass to and from their year-round habitat to their breeding grounds.
“Wildsight is very committed to and proud of its education programs,” Casey says. “We’ve taken over 100,000 students outdoors over the past 20 years.” Wildsight offers a wide variety of school-based programs, from kindergarten to graduation and beyond, on topics ranging from winter ecology field studies to energy, waste, and consumption as well as multi-day youth adventures on the Columbia River.
Wildsight focuses its attention on local and regional issues, such as water quality in the Elk and Kootenay Rivers. Very high levels of selenium and other impacts from metallurgical coal mining are persistent in the rivers with negative consequences for aquatic invertebrates as well as fish. “Elevated levels of selenium bioaccumulate through the food web and affect fish reproductive success by causing genetic deformation impacting fitness and survival,” Casey explains.
Wildsight is active in one of the last remaining inland temperate rainforests on earth and works directly with forestry companies, Indigenous nations, and local communities in the Columbia Basin to try and reduce environmental impacts, preserve biodiversity, and protect critical habitat and movement corridors for wildlife. They helped to establish the Forest Stewardship Council’s independent certification standards (FSC) in BC and are speaking out against ongoing old growth logging in BC.
BC’s Southern Rockies are a globally significant wildlife area, providing critical habitat along a north-south corridor between Canada’s Rocky Mountain Parks and Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. Train lines and increased traffic on Highway 3 block safe wildlife travel. Wildsight is working with partner organizations to develop wildlife underpasses and overpasses in strategic locations to protect wildlife and keep drivers safer.
A current focus of Wildsight’s activities is on being good allies for local Indigenous communities. “We see a huge opportunity to increase our support for Indigenous communities as they expand their stewardship of water and lands in their territories,” Casey says. “We need to centre Indigenous leadership in a conservation economy that moves away from the extractive, destructive path we’re currently on.”
The recently announced Nature Agreement and the conservation finance mechanism between Indigenous leadership and the federal and provincial governments represent a potential paradigm shift in the way we approach our response to the twin biodiversity and climate crises. Casey is encouraged by the steps being taken to protect old growth forests and restore critical habitat areas but more action is needed.
Show Up, Speak Up
Over the years Casey has been involved in Wildsight, he’s seen the organization mature in terms of its approach and sophistication as it engages with communities and governments. But a great deal has remained the same. “Some of the tools and channels have evolved,” he says, “but it’s still about the people who show up and speak up.”
Casey believes that fundamental changes are necessary if we’re to avoid a real catastrophe. But he is confident there are lots of people who understand that, want to see things go differently, and are prepared to make their voices heard. “Wildsight is a great vehicle for making those much needed changes,” he says. “I’m glad to be back, bringing people together to find solutions and make progress.”
Photo credit: Wildsight
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