Whistler Naturalists looking for expert opinions 

Third AGM will ask members, nature experts to step forward and share their knowledge

With only three years under their collective belts, the Whistler Naturalists Society is amazed – and a little overwhelmed – by the reception they’ve received in the community.

Over the past three years they have signed up 150 members. Naturalist field trips in and around Whistler typically attract good-sized crowds, their monthly bird watches have a strong following, and the annual Christmas bird count is getting a little bigger every year.

When the society’s third annual general meeting is held on Nov. 29 at Millennium Place, president Bob Brett wants to use the opportunity to invite and encourage society members and members of the community to take a more active role organizing special events.

"We have a broad base of knowledge in the community, and we’d like to tap in to that and get more people involved, get more energy on the board," says Brett. "At the same time, we aren’t board-driven, we’re event driven, and we’re looking for associates who can organize events."

During the summer, the group organizes events almost every week, from early morning owl watching, to strolls through the woods, to late night star gazing. The rest of the year is also busy, with events at least once a month.

"We go on field trips to Squamish to look at the eagles… we also take people to these neat little green spaces behind subdivisions and show them some natural area that’s really great and important," Brett says.

Other society activities include tree walks, black bear walks, bird walks, mushroom walks, stream observation, and lessons about local geography and ecosystems.

"We had over 60 people on a mushroom walk this year, so we’ll definitely be doing that again," says Brett.

The same group of people generally lead these expeditions, however, and Brett feels that more naturalists could step forward to diversify the range of events the society offers.

Most leaders have a science background, such as biology or geology, but any knowledge of the region – whether it’s scientific, historical, or gained through experience – would be welcome.

"People can contribute a lot, and it really doesn’t take that much time," Brett says. "The best part is that it can be a topic that’s important to you."

The annual general meeting will be help between 6 and 7:30 p.m. at Millennium Place. It costs $15 to join the Whistler Naturalists, and the majority of this fee covers the society’s membership in the Federation of B.C. Naturalists, a province-wide organization with more than 5,000 members.

People who are interested in helping out next year with society events should come out to the AGM.

Following the AGM, there will be a special slideshow presentation by Andrew Bryant, the chief scientist for the Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Project, which is working to protect and restore the most endangered specie in Canada. The public is invited to attend; cost is $7.

A naturalist "is not someone who takes their clothes off, although a lot of people make that mistake," says Brett. "Before this century, natural history was almost a synonym for scientist. The modern term would be an ecologist, looking at how webs of life work, how the type of geology is connected to types of forests, how insects are connected to birds, how birds spread seeds. It now sounds kind of antiquated, but naturalists have a long history."

For people living and visiting Whistler, the society provides an opportunity to learn about nature by focusing on parts of the whole.

"The main advantage is that in our increasingly urbanized society, it’s easy to lose contact with the natural world. We get back into the natural world, which gives us a sense of how we belong," says Brett.

The Whistler Naturalists Society publishes a weekly column in Pique Newsmagazine called Naturespeak, including a listing of upcoming events. You can also call Brett at 604-932-8900 for more information.

For more information on the society’s annual Christmas Bird Count, held in conjunction with the Audubon Society, you can call Michael Thompson at 604-932-5010.

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