The board and staff of the Goldman Environmental Prize are deeply saddened at the passing of Colleen McCrory, one of Canada’s foremost environmental leaders, who received the Goldman Prize in 1992. Colleen died July 1st at age 57 from an inoperable brain tumor.
A mother of three and founder and executive director of the Valhalla Wilderness Society, Colleen began her environmental activism more than 30 years ago by initiating a campaign to save the Valhalla forests and mountain wilderness of southeastern British Columbia—the place where she was born, raised and continued to live—from logging. After a hard-won grassroots campaign that lasted eight years, Colleen’s efforts were rewarded with the establishment of the nearly 50,000 hectare Valhalla Provincial Park in 1983. After securing this victory, Colleen went on to help lead a coalition to protect South Moresby Island—also known as Gwaii Haanas in the Haida language—one of the Queen Charlotte Islands off of the northern coast of British Columbia. Considered the “Canadian Galapagos” due to their large number of endemic species, the islands are the ancestral home of the Haida nation. After years of campaigning with other environmental and First Nations leaders, and withstanding several threats on her life from pro-logging interests, Colleen witnessed the creation of the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve in 1987.
For the next twenty years Colleen’s tireless leadership and campaigning helped bring about further historic protections for Canada’s forests, including permanent protection for British Columbia’s grizzly bear and the Great Bear Rainforest on the province’s central coast. Colleen also took her campaigning overseas in order to raise international awareness of the need to protect Canada’s environment. Coining the phrase “the Brazil of the North” when describing the global significance of Canada’s forests, Colleen met with people and leaders in Brazil, Japan and elsewhere to partner on forest protection campaigns. Most recently, Colleen, her brother and longtime campaign partner Wayne, and the Valhalla Wilderness Society were deeply involved in an effort to permanently protect British Columbia’s Inland Temperate Rainforest. This vast interior region, home to the Mountain Caribou, immense biodiversity and old-growth cedar and hemlock forest (with some trees more than one thousand years old), is under grave threat of large scale clear-cut logging. At the time of her death Colleen was further solidifying key partnerships with organizations and communities across the region to call on the government to permanently protect the globally important Inland Temperate Rainforest. The Valhalla Wilderness Society is continuing the campaign.
Throughout her career Colleen was recognized with numerous high honors, including awards from the Canadian government, the United Nations and the World Conservation Union. Environmental leaders across Canada have expressed a deep sense of loss in Colleen’s passing, with numerous colleagues and friends describing her decades of leadership as “fearless.” Indeed, the loss of Colleen McCrory will be felt not only in Canada but by many in a world so in need of true environmental heroes.
Colleen’s family has expressed that anyone wishing to show support for her life’s work can make a donation to the Valhalla Wilderness Society. (Please visit the organization’s website for more information: http://www.vws.org).