Defining Community by Place, Plants, and People’s Passion

“What community are you from?” When asked this common question how do you answer? I typically say, “I was born in Saskatchewan, raised in Springbank, studied in Edmonton/Victoria, but since 1983 I have lived in the Elk Valley/Crowsnest Pass.”

If the answer is a physical place where a group of people interacts, then I live specifically in the Regional District of East Kootenay. My home is 1 km north of Fernie, located in the Southern Canadian Rockies, just west of the Continental divide, in the Elk River watershed, at the foot of Mount Proctor. Using GPS coordinates I could pin point my location on Google Earth.

Yet when I look around there is more to my community than mountains and rivers. Landscape influences soils and precipitation patterns resulting in localized climatic effects. Together these factors determine what plants grow where. Animals in turn seek out specific plants at various times of the year for food and shelter dictating where animals live. So is my community defined in biological terms?

Community consists of interacting organisms sharing an environment. We are but one species of animal but I am quite sure that not all humans think of sharing but rather dominating our environment.

To me community is so much more than a physical place or biological surroundings; the people with a common interest, shared values and a passion for place define it. These people are hunters, fishers, conservationists, activists, naturalists and outdoor enthusiasts, and they are all part of my community.

The Fernie Rod and Gun Club, formed in 1899 works to enhance the environment where wildlife thrives to maximize hunting and fishing while encouraging healthy and sustainable environments. In April, members worked with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, to control noxious weeds at Mt. Broadwood improving winter ungulate range. Members have participated in catch and release fish census and participated in stream enhancement projects.

Wildsight Elk Valley Branch also works to protect wildlife and wild places. They work locally, regionally and globally to help protect biodiversity and sustainable communities. Existing since 1987, this dedicated group of folks sees our community as an ecological home not only for humans but all life, all industry and all of us.

They demonstrate care for home by organizing Earth Day events, education programs in the schools, scholarships, Elk River clean up, wetland enhancement projects, sponsoring Bear Aware in Fernie, the Eco Garden and Advocates for Local Living. Campaigners successfully achieved a recent milestone; protecting the Flathead River Valley from mining, oil and gas development.

A new group, the Fernie Nature Club, formed in 2007, and boasts 70 members, most of them family memberships! They meet every Tuesday night at the Aquatic Centre at 6:30 to “know nature and keep it worth knowing”. This group values observation skills to promote conservation. A subsidiary to the adult group is the Elk Valley Young Naturalist Club. This group of parents and children under 14 are a source of volunteers for community clean ups, wetland stewardship, breeding bird surveys, the Christmas bird count, and noxious weed pulls on City of Fernie property.

I feel most connected to these interested folks, passionate about conserving our natural heritage and sustainability of our community. Interaction and dialogue between these groups will certainly strengthen our sense of place, resolve to conserve its values, and protect our passion for community.