Speak to the Wild!

By Peter Wood

Does nature deserve legal rights? Should Canada amend its constitution to enshrine such rights, on par with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? How can we use literature and other forms of creative communication to inspire a “land ethic” in the Canadian public, in order to make such rights politically feasible? These were among many of the profound questions pondered by authors, poets and conservationists alike at the first “Speak to the Wild” event recently held in the wilderness of Wells Gray, about 2 hours north of Kamloops, co-hosted by Thompson Rivers University and the Wells Gray World Heritage Committee. For four days, a group of about 60 people from diverse backgrounds met and exchanged ideas on this topic, including some notable Canadian literary figures.

I had the privilege of speaking on behalf of CPAWS-BC alongside several other groups, including David Suzuki Foundation, Ecojustice, and West Coast Environmental Law Society. David Boyd, environmental lawyer and author, presented (via video) on his research on how environmental rights have been incorporated into various constitutions around the world, and how this has benefitted people and the natural environment they depend on. The rest of the panel discussed why such rights are necessary, what a “nature charter” might look like, and what is necessary in order to secure these rights.

Participants also considered how such legal rights might be able to save the Wells Gray mountain caribou, whose population has crashed to fewer than 60 animals in recent years, due to extensive clearcutting that has devastated their habitat and created conditions conducive to a spike in the number of predators.  We had the chance to hike into ancient lichen-covered mountain forests to see the caribou’s preferred habitat, and also to the breathtaking Helmcken Falls.

The dialogue flowed fast and furious within various formal sessions, and over delicious meals cooked by local volunteers. By the end, it was clear that this is just the beginning of a very interesting movement.

In the evenings, we were treated to fireside poetry readings that “spoke to the wild,” and I was reminded of just how powerful a few choice words can be. The event on the whole reminded me that we need to expand the “conservation conversation” to include people and groups that we don’t have a strong connection with. The bulk of people out there may not self-identify as a “green” first and foremost, but are more than willing to step up and fight to protect the environment. And it’s always great to make some new friends.

To read the original article visit CPAWS (Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society) here.

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