Salt Spring, Galiano islanders among Community Stewardship award winners

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Salt Spring and Galiano islanders were celebrated with community stewardship awards this year, for decades of sustained commitment to their communities and the environment. 

Celebrated this year were six individuals and one organization working in the areas of “land conservation, trail network development, forest restoration, community service, collaborative stewardship, public outreach and education, and advocacy work.” Salt Spring’s Kees Ruurs and Ruth Waldick were recognized, as was the Salt Spring Island Natural Cemetery. From Galiano Island, Jeannine Georgeson and Keith Erickson also received awards. 

Salt Spring’s Kees Ruurs was recognized for 14 years of community service, including his time as a volunteer warden and board member for several island non-profit organizations. In his professional capacity as a Capital Regional District Parks and Recreation manager, Ruurs “helped expand and promote protected public trail networks,” an awards information sheet stated. Kees spend five years on the Salt Spring Island Conservancy board and is currently volunteer warden of the Howard Horel Nature Reserve. “Through this role, he has removed invasive species, installed trail signage, and planned and developed an extensive trail network, making the reserve accessible to the general public,” Islands Trust stated. 

Ruurs also served nine years on the Salt Spring Island Foundation board, three as chair of the board, where he helped lead key initiatives, including “water preservation projects, new pathways, a solar panel development and new school gardens.” Ruurs is currently a board member and vice chair of the Salt Spring Trail and Nature Club, where establishing and maintaining hiking trails is in his purview. 

Fellow islander Ruth Waldick was recognized for her leadership and championing of an ongoing project to build watershed resiliency and forest fire resistance in the Maxwell Lake watershed.

“With her leadership, the joint project has attracted world-class researchers and scientists, many of whom are donating their time, and has received federal government funding, as well as a donation from a private donor,” the Trust stated.

In late 2021, the project received $100,000 in federal funding.  

The project began with in December 2021 with fieldwork teams working on techniques and templates they will later apply to other areas of the island this year and into 2023. The work will involve first experts walking the land to identify areas that could receive treatment, which could include green fire breaks, berms or recovering the forest understory using fencing. Experts from across Cascadia will consult on the various options for treating the forest.

Fire risk and mitigation strategies have not yet been studied in the Gulf Islands’ unique forest ecosystem, which includes Garry oak meadows, coastal Douglas-fir and hemlock forests, arbutus forests and areas with western red cedar. As this research is groundbreaking, Waldick has also set up a knowledge-transfer strategy, which will see results shared with among others “conservation groups, local government, First Nations, and large private and public landowners/managers from across the region.” 

Waldick was also a volunteer with the effort to create the Climate Action Plan 2.0 for Salt Spring, and was lead author on the action plan’s chapters on forests. The work in the Maxwell Lake watershed supports the implementation of the action plan, the Trust stated.  

The 5.5-hectare Salt Spring Island Natural Cemetery in the Burgoyne Valley was recognized with a stewardship award. The first certified green burial cemetery to open in Canada has since it opened in 2020 had 18 burials. “No chemicals are used in the bodies, caskets, urns, or landscaping. Only biodegradable materials are put into and on top of the ground,” the Trust stated. “Engraved fieldstones are used as headstones. Native plants are used in the natural restoration of burial areas, to support local biodiversity.”

Jeannine Georgeson of Galiano was recognized for her extensive volunteer work leading collaborative stewardship on the island on protection of the Salish Sea, local history and conserving cultural practices. 

“In August 2020, Jeanine began working with the Spirit of the Sxwo’le (SOS) Coalition to develop participatory mapping practices that weave together biodiversity, ecosystem mapping, and Indigenous perspectives to deepen ecological literacy and cultural relationships with place,” the Trust stated.

This project involved bringing together diverse organizations, from local conservation associations to research organizations and Indigenous-led NGOs. 

Georgeson is also coordinating an upcoming exhibition called The Water We Call Home, to open at the Yellowhouse Art Centre in July. The exhibition and related gatherings will focus on education of island residents in the areas of “environmental justice and Indigenous sovereignty.” 

Keith Erickson, also of Galiano, was awarded for his two decades of ecosystem-based land stewardship. As a field biologist and later executive director of the Galiano Conservancy, Erickson worked on restoring and protecting among others Laughlin Lake, the Great Beaver Swamp, Finlay Lake, Vanilla Leaf Land and Cable Bay.

Erickson was also instrumental in acquiring the 78-hectare Millard Learning Centre, which has become an education hub for the island and the region. Erickson helped in the development of the Nuts’a’maat Forage Forest at the Millard Centre, where Penelakut First Nations Elders and youth worked to document plants with cultural value and share traditional knowledge. 

Erickson also served on the boards of the Galiano Island Forest Association and a number of other committees and commissions on the island.

The annual awards celebrate and acknowledge the commitment of “time, energy and ingenuity” of community members in helping to preserve and protect the Trust Area, Trust Council chair Peter Luckham stated. The awards celebrate initiatives that further the mandate, also called the object, of the Islands Trust, which “is to preserve and protect the Trust Area and its unique amenities and environment for the benefit of the residents of the Trust Area and of British Columbia in cooperation with municipalities, regional districts, improvement districts, First Nations, other persons and organizations and the government of British Columbia.” 

Also awarded this year were Will Husby of Bowen Island for his three decades of environmental stewardship work. The award was also given posthumously to the late Chris Straw of Gabriola Island for his advocacy against freighters anchoring in the Salish Sea. 

Some changes were recently made to the Stewardship Awards program. It will now be offered once per elected term with the next nominations opening in March 2026, and has been updated to better align with the Trust’s reconciliation declaration.

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