For Baiba Morrow, the mountains are both her muse and her sanctuary. Whether it’s the soaring Himalaya, the volcanoes of Kamchatka or the Ellsworths in Antarctica, they’ve shaped her outlook on life.
Since moving back to the East Kootenay in 2007, the Rockies and the Purcells give her daily inspiration that can take on many forms. Through her involvement in Wildsight Invermere, and eventually as its branch president since 2012, her efforts on the environmental front run from public outreach and community engagement on local conservation issues to organizing the Wild and Scenic Film festival, the branch’s main fundraising event, now in its seventh year.
Most recently, she’s encouraged by the announcement of the Qat’muk Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area (IPCA), the final chapter in the fight to protect the Jumbo Valley from the environmental damage of a proposed ski resort and real estate development. Wildsight Invermere and its grassroots community played no small part in that effort.
“Perhaps what thrills me most about the outcome of the Jumbo saga is that it legitimizes the simple message we’ve been advocating all along. That the place is unique in our over-developed world, that it’s a refuge for all creatures, and that it has value in remaining wild,” Baiba said. “It acknowledges the societal importance of biodiversity and sacred connection. I am truly in awe of the Ktunaxa for their vision, which is rooted in an ancient wisdom. Qat’muk is a very special place.”
For more than 35 years, Baiba has been seeking out special mountain places. She’s travelled the world, exploring untrammelled regions on all seven continents while on assignment and expeditions as a photojournalist team with her husband Pat.
Her journalistic background developed unconventionally. After university, she moved west from Montreal to work as an occupational therapist in a children’s hospital. There, in the Rockies, she met and later married Pat. With no formal training in writing or photography, she embraced the unpredictable lifestyle of a freelance photojournalist. Together, the couple have gained widespread recognition for their documentation of mountain cultures and adventures, producing films and authoring articles and books with a focus on the Himalaya. In 2017, they were awarded the Sir Christopher Ondaatje Medal for Exploration from the Royal Canadian Geographical Society alongside their friend ethnobotanist Wade Davis, who was recognized at the same ceremony.
“Having spent so much time in the most remote mountain regions on the planet, I really appreciate what we have here in the Columbia Valley. But it’s a tenuous balance between the pressures of development and tourism, and maintaining our diminishing supplies of clean water and air, not just for the residents of our valley, but for all living creatures. Unbridled economic development in nearby Banff, which attracts more than four million visitors a year — a phenomenon globally labelled as ‘overtourism’ — has impacted the lives of residents drawn to the area by dreams of a peaceful, spiritual life in the mountains. I hope that the ecological values we manage to preserve here will help create a unique appreciation and economy based on the mindful preservation of our wild spaces and biodiversity. The Qat’muk IPCA will definitely help to change the paradigm.”
Today, aside from getting out in the mountains as much as possible, tending to her garden and enjoying the Columbia Wetlands on her doorstep, Baiba continues to channel her efforts to broaden the conversation around conservation and environmental stewardship through Wildsight.
The Wildsight Invermere branch, now in its 31st year, continues to be the grassroots environmental voice of the Upper Columbia Valley. As well as undertaking health initiatives such as Pesticide-Free Invermere, and hands-on cleanups such as the Lake Enid Restoration Project and the removal of domestic waste dumped into the Columbia Wetlands, the branch organizes a variety of community events through its Wild Connections program with renowned speakers (including David Suzuki in 2012), the annual Ursus & Us Bear Awareness Day and the Wild & Scenic Film Festival.
A focus on climate change and adaptation is in the works. As part of that, the branch is spearheading Spark!, an electric vehicle share program for the Columbia Valley, to build awareness around the viability of electric vehicles. Spark! aims to be the first fully 100% electric vehicle share program in rural Canada and to serve as a vital step towards transitioning Columbia Valley communities to low-carbon transportation use.