Eddie Petryshen

This February, a public forum on logging was held by Wildsight at the Best Western Fernie Mountain Lodge and was very well-attended, given the current and sensitive nature of the subject in our Valley. I was impressed with the extent of knowledge Wildsight representative Eddie Petryshen presented to the crowded room, and at how his passion for our landscapes and ecosystems couldn’t help but shine through the at times devastating information and imagery. Just how does someone of such a young age develop this level of devotion for the environment?

Eddie grew up in Bull River, “the townsite adjacent to the pub” he tells me at my somewhat confused look. “I went to school in Cranbrook.” I was intrigued with how his family settled there, and he shared that his dad met his mom while she was on a family trip in Jaffray. “My Gran owned the mid-way cabins at Sand Creek. I’m a real local yokel,” he laughs.

After high school, Eddie spent some time playing basketball in Atlanta, Georgia and in Switzerland. “It made me realise I could not do it as a career, but it was cool to experience different cultures.” Especially in Switzerland, where he has relatives. Afterwards, he went to school in Vancouver to study Geography, planning on Law as the end-goal. Three years in, Eddie was home for the summer working for Wildsight. He and his brother decided to go for a hike up Fisher Peak, which resulted in a complete change in trajectory.

“It was early May, and there was a lot of snow on Fisher. I fell through some snow, into a sharp rock that went into my leg. I could see my bone. We called Search and Rescue, and ended up having to spend the night before the long-line rescue,” he recalls. “I lost a lot of blood, it was 8am and I was delirious looking around at the Southern Rockies. I was like, ‘I want to do something for this landscape.’ That was the moment for me, the transition.”

Eddie began working full time with Wildsight, “I started to learn a lot more from the experience in the field, learning from people who have been doing this their whole lives.” He recognised that he has always had a close connection with this land, with a dad who was a forester, raised adjacent to guide outfitters, “it was always around me.” Eddie has now been working for Wildsight for nearly four years, spending a lot of time engaging with forestry companies to preserve wildlife habitat, protect water and various species, “mitigating impacts across the Columbia Basin, with a focus from the US border up to Golden.”

Since his time with Wildsight, Eddie has noticed a bit of a shift. “People are more aware in certain circumstances, but there is also a disconnect from the land and their actions. People want more, but there is less to work with,” he says. “It’s interesting in the Elk Valley, there is a lot of industries operating on this landscape.” While there is no easy answer, Eddie’s objective is to sustain the good diversity we have here. Much of which cannot be found elsewhere. “In a more ideal sense, we need to protect some of the rarity and the ecosystems… the connectivity, water and wildlife. We need healthy wildlife populations to sustain our lifestyle and all of those things.”

In regards to logging on private land, there is momentum and support from the communities of BC to change regulations. “There’s definitely a lot of support for conservation, which is something that has changed for sure.” As residents left the forum, they were provided with details on who to contact in regards to changing logging regulations on private land. For those details, visit wildsight.ca/branches/elkvalley/.

Outside of working to preserve our landscapes and all that comes along with it, Eddie is not surprisingly into “big” human-powered adventures. “I like to go places that are still wild. Spending time in them, getting to know the landscape intimately and having a connection with it, whether it be backcountry skiing, running or hiking. It’s what drives me.”

It is clear to see how Eddie has developed into a steward of our environment, and will likely continue with this devotion for his lifetime. And for that, we are grateful.

1. When did you first arrive in the Valley and what brought you here? I was born here, so birth brought me here. But after high school and University coming back, it was a connection to place and wildness and all of those values that I grew up with that you get reminded of later on that are critical. I never wanted to live in a city, but I didn’t know that at 19 years old. You figure out what you value.

2. Who did you first meet when you returned? An influential person was John Bergenske who devoted his life to wildlife and wild places in the Basin and that perspective really resonated with me - it altered my thinking of what’s important.

3. Do you remember your first general impression of this area? I remember growing up we used to build gigantic tree forts, 60 feet high on Fir and Ponderosa Pine. Beautiful grassland ecosystems, river bottom, fishing the Bull River. The Incredible bull trout and clean water. All of it is part of my first impression.

4. What keeps you here? Just connection. The wild places and all the opportunities to preserve what we have left. To really set a precedent on how we deal with communities right next to wild places, which is really present in the Elk Valley. We’re at the forefront of how we deal with these issues.

5. Do you have a favourite memory or pastime that connects with this area? We did a really amazing traverse in the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy. Ten days, north to south…just having the opportunity to still do that, just you and the landscape that has been unchanged since colonisation. We are pretty lucky to have that.

6. What time of the year do you love most in Fernie, and why? Oh winter. Fresh snowfall. Skinning through some old growth interior cedar hemlock. That’s pretty prime.

7. Where do you see or hope to see this area in five years? I hope we’ve started to address some of the issues from communal effects on the landscape. I hope we have a few more conservation areas… areas that protect the values of what we want to see in this valley. I hope there is a plan to get wildlife across the highway and rail… that’s a long term vision. Five years is a short time frame!

8. How do you start your day or what is one of your daily rituals? Coffee and sourdough, along with checking the email… which is constant.

9. Tell us something people might be surprised to learn about you. I feel like I’m very predictable… but I do like jazz music.

10. Quote to live by: There is an author who grew up learning traditional Anuk ways in western Alaska… his goal as a writer was to tell the stories of the people, the animals and the landscape of the place he loves. To me that really resonates.