It was smoke from a nearby landfill that originally spurred Shuswap activist Jim Cooperman to speak out on behalf of the local environment.
It was the realization that the massive old-growth trees he was so in awe of were in grave danger of being destroyed through forestry practices of the day that led Cooperman and six others to form the Shuswap Environmental Action Society in 1989.
Twenty-five years later, SEAS is celebrating actions and accomplishments with a book penned by award-winning author Deanna Kawatski: Big Trees Saved And Other Feats – The story of the Shuswap Environmental Action Society.
“I’m very impressed. I think Deanna did an awesome job of telling the story and focusing on the key points, and making it interesting for the readers,” says Cooperman, who points out he wanted a book that would create a lasting legacy for SEAS so future generations will remember the work that went into creating a number of parks.
“Over the years, SEAS’s hard work and dedication has resulted in 25,000 hectares of new parks in the Shuswap, including the Upper Seymour River rainforest, and the magnificent Anstey Arm Hunakwa Lake wilderness area.”
Cooperman is also hoping the book will improve the public’s understanding that these parks exist, and that with greater public awareness more pressure will be put on the government to make it easier for people to access them.
“So few people are aware that they are there, and Anstey-Hunakwa Provincial Park is only accessible by boat,” he says, noting access is possible from the Beach Bay Access Road to Wright Lake. “We want to create a trail from Wright Lake to Hunakwa Lake and we were just up there recently to look at options to improve access.”
Cooperman says the gorgeous Upper Seymour River Provincial Park is 90 kilometres north of Seymour Arm.
“You get into big trees by mountain bike or an hour-long hike from parking,” he says. “Few people, if any, have hiked up to the glacier. It’s pretty incredible to think there is landscape like that in the Shuswap and almost nobody knows about it.”
Cooperman says there’s very little money in the budget for BC Parks.
“You have to get their attention and you’re up against all the other parks,” he says. “If there’s more public pressure, we might actually see more money. Basically zero dollars have been spent on many of the new parks in the northern part of the Shuswap.”
Referring again to the Upper Seymour, Cooperman says visitors have to fight their way through bush to get their canoes in the water. He maintains it wouldn’t cost a lot of money to create a path.
“It’s critical to improve access; these are pristine areas that needed to be protected to help preserve biodiversity, give species a place to be and we need wild places on the planet,” he says, maintaining conservation has always been an important focus of many agencies. “Parks are key to what it means to be human; we need to spend time in nature. It’s all part of our health and emotional well-being.”
Cooperman laments that huge old-growth trees are not being preserved in many other places in the province.
“If we want to understand how ecosystems work, we have to have the natural forest available for study.”
Thanks to the efforts of SEAS, thousands of hectares of old-growth forest were set aside, and forest management was vastly improved, leading to better protection for non-timber forest values.
In 2008, SEAS rallied to stop a proposed marina and condominium development from being built at the mouth of the Adams River, one of the most significant sockeye salmon spawning rivers in the world.
Cooperman says SEAS changed the map of the Shuswap through the creation of the new parks, and in 2010, the society helped produce the first map of the Shuswap watershed in a poster format.
The book launch for Big Trees Saved and Other Feats – The story of the Shuswap Environmental Action Society is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 15 in the hall at First United Church at 450 Okanagan Ave. SE.
The Big Trees Saved book launch will be a celebratory affair with live music, a multi-media presentation, speakers, refreshments, and books for sale.
The musical entertainment will be provided by singer/songwriter and recording artist Sylvain Vallee on keyboards. He will perform a number of songs with an environmental message, including Pipeline, the reggae protest song about the proposed Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline.
Kawatski will also be among the speakers and one who, in her author’s note, explains how she had expressed interest in writing the book only to later wonder what she had done.
“When Jim Cooperman backed his truck up and began to swing box after box – all overflowing with SEAS material – onto my front porch, I was ready to run out the back door. Who in their right mind would invite such chaos into their kitchen?”
But Kawatski sifted through the chaos to produce an interesting and highly readable history of a group that has done so much to protect the Shuswap for upcoming generations.
After the launch, Big Trees Saved will be on sale for $20 at the Observer office and in stores throughout the region. For more information, visit www. seas.ca or phone 250-832-8569 or 250-679-3693.