Whistler is primed to grow as a birding destination with the Sea to Sky’s addition to the BC Bird Trail this fall—but local conservationists urge the proper measures be put in place to ensure the protection of sensitive wildlife habitat.
The BC Bird Trail is a series of self-guided tours along the province’s Pacific Flyway designed and produced by regional destination marketing organizations, Destination British Columbia, Birds Canada, Indigenous Tourism BC, and creative consulting agency The Number. Launched in 2020, the project supports birding and birdwatching-focused travel, and today counts four different regional trails: Fraser Valley, South Fraser, Columbia Valley and Central Vancouver Island.
The Sea to Sky is set to become the newest addition to that list, with plans for both Whistler and Squamish portions of the trail.
“Joining the BC Bird Trail is a wonderful opportunity to encourage visitors and residents to respectfully discover nature and grow their appreciation of the Sea to Sky corridor’s biodiversity,” said Karen Goodwin, VP of destination and market development for Tourism Whistler (TW), one of the project’s stakeholder partners along with the Resort Municipality of Whistler, Whistler Blackcomb, the Whistler Naturalists, and Tourism Squamish.
“Tourism Whistler is working closely with our stakeholder partners … to create a meaningful and sustainable tourism experience for our guests, particularly during Whistler’s shoulder season.”
Birding has enjoyed a surge in popularity throughout the pandemic. Last May, the app eBird—one of the world’s largest databases for crowdsourced bird observations—announced it had surpassed 1 billion observations since launching 20 years ago. In Canada, submissions increased by 34 per cent in 2020.
Whistler is already something of a birding destination, as a home to a wide range of migratory and shorebird species, and given the sensitivity of birding hotspots such as Green Lake, local conservationists are hopeful the right measures are put in place to protect vital habitat.
“I do worry about driving people to areas where we know we have species that need that specific habitat,” said Claire Ruddy, executive director of the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment.
“We’ve seen over the last 10 years the impacts social media can have on really driving people to areas that aren’t necessarily designed for that.”
The Whistler Naturalists have offered to lend their decades of birding and conservation experience to the project, and hope to see some additional investments come out of the trail, such as more fencing along the Fitzsimmons delta walkway by Green Lake, and a stronger bylaw presence.
“Because we have so many members who are birders, anything that helps conserve birding habitat is a total win,” said the Naturalists’ Kristina Swerhun. “If they’re conserving it for the sake of visitors, then we don’t really care why it’s happening, just that it’s happening.”
BC Bird Trail creative director Jordan Stout noted that conservation forms one of the pillars of the program, and part of the goal is to drive birders to these locations during shoulder seasons. The project’s website and social media channels also feature important information on birding etiquette and the ecological value of the highlighted areas.
“We really do try to adhere to our core values of education, community and conservation,” Stout said. “Let’s focus on raising awareness in as many ways as we can and not just putting heads in beds to benefit the tourism organizations.”
Among the areas highlighted in Whistler for the trail are Green Lake and the Fitzsimmons delta, the local monthly bird walk route along the Valley Trail from Lorimer Road to Rainbow Park, and the alpine of Whistler Blackcomb. In Squamish, highlights include the estuary, Alice Lake and Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park.
With birding the usual domain of an older, wealthier demographic, Stout said another of the project’s goals is to introduce birding to a wider audience.
“It’s a pocket of folks who tend to be older, whiter and wealthier. Those people already exist and they already travel,” he explained. “We’re promoting this as something of an entry point and educational opportunity for people of all backgrounds to discover birding.”
The Sea to Sky Bird Trail is expected to launch in September.
Learn more at bcbirdtrail.ca.