Faces & Places: Marcy Mahr

A highly respected conservation biologist and strategist, Slocan Valley resident Marcy Mahr has a widespread reputation for proactively pulling together partnerships and creating collaborations to protect biodiversity.

It’s for this reason the Kootenay Conservation Program is excited to welcome Marcy back to the role of Stewardship Coordinator, to continue building her legacy of conservation collaboration across the Kootenay region.

Linking people to natural landscapes has always been the passion that drives Marcy’s work. Her undergrad studies at Middlebury College, in Vermont in the 1980s, pre-dated the discipline of conservation biology so she initially turned to anthropology as an interface to better understand how culture and ecology connected.

“I love knowing and experiencing what’s going on in nature and seeing how humans use different landscapes, differently. Since I can remember, I have been drawn to being a naturalist learning from nature as well as keen to incorporate traditional knowledge, whether it’s from an Indigenous perspective or from farmers and ranchers who have been on their land for generations. How people interact with and shape their sense of ‘place’ has always intrigued me.”

A concentration on Northern Environments at Middlebury led to a fascination of glaciers and tundra ecology, which set the stage in the early 1990s for Marcy to pursue a Masters of Science at the University of Vermont in the Department of Plant Biology’s Field Naturalist Program. Through a graduate research opportunity she landed in the Rockies, and then worked several years as a plant ecologist and research biologist in Western Montana and Idaho. She surveyed and analyzed plant communities in national parks, wilderness areas and forests in order to contribute to ecosystem planning on federal lands and, later on, to support grizzly bear recovery.

This work of translating on-the-ground field information into ecosystem-based results started Marcy on her journey of exploring how to move conceptually and technically between different landscape scales. By the late 1990s, large-scale conservation initiatives were in their infancy, so when Marcy joined Y2Y to lead their new science and conservation planning program she found a great fit for blending science, GIS technology and conservation objectives into large landscape conservation design, transboundary conservation, and wildlife corridor ecology.

“I love the details of plant ecology, but my brain says let’s think bigger, let’s think beyond what’s in front of me, how do all of the pieces fit together,” laughs Marcy.

Through the Y2Y transboundary think tank, Marcy made connections to the Kootenays that continued when she worked with the Flathead Land Trust in Kalispell, MT as a land protection and stewardship specialist. After several years of crossing back and forth over the 49th parallel between Canmore and Kalispell, Marcy and her husband decided to immigrate to Canada and settled in New Denver. The Kootenay Conservation Program (KCP) was still in its early years, operating as the East Kootenay Conservation Program (EKCP), and Marcy was a natural fit with her background in ecology, stewardship, land trust collaboration and local conservation funds.

That was 2009. Over the last 10 years, Marcy has been an integral part of KCP’s growth and conservation efforts Kootenay-wide. She began with EKCP by providing conservation property evaluations to the Securement Team and then moved into serving as Stewardship & Communications Manager, co-leading the geographical expansion of EKCP in its 10th year to include the West Kootenay and transitioning it into the Kootenay Conservation Program, effectively doubling KCP’s service area to include much of the Canadian Columbia Basin.

“That ten-year marker was really huge. Within the Kootenays we have a special kind of culture that spans the east and west; and in 2012, there still were some people who didn’t see the Kootenays as a whole for conservation. It took KCP to figure out what that meant.”

After adding this milestone to her ever-growing list of conservation collaborations, Marcy switched her focus to consulting for a diverse range of clients through her EcoMosaic Environmental Consulting business, including Slocan Lake Stewardship Society, Slocan Wetlands & Assessment Monitoring Project, Columbia Basin Trust, Valhalla Wilderness Society, and Conservation Impact. When KCP was in need of a temporary Stewardship Coordinator in 2016 to cover a maternity leave, Marcy offered to return and set her sights on the next KCP evolution.

“That’s when conservation neighbourhoods started to make sense,” Marcy said. “We had brought KCP Kootenay-wide, now we needed to scale it back down, localize it to ‘neighbourhoods’ and provide KCP partners with a collaborative framework for identifying priority actions they could fulfill by working together in their own communities. So far this seems to be a successful model for connecting stewardship, land securement, and other KCP partners’ skills.”

In June 2019, Marcy once again agreed to return to KCP, this time as the permanent Stewardship Coordinator, and she is brimming with excitement about adding connectivity as a layer within the conservation neighbourhood model using the new “Kootenay Connect” concept, which she helped brainstorm during a breakout session on conservation corridors at the 2017 KCP Fall Gathering.

“Kootenay Connect looks at landscapes throughout the Kootenays for where there is overlap of large-scale wildlife movement; large, rich riparian wetland complexes; and potential climate refugia that will allow plants and wildlife to adjust and adapt to climate change. Overlaying these important ecological values, we can see key corridors light up as critical for regional connectivity because they link our valley bottoms and mountain ranges,” she explains.

Bringing this kind of information to KCP’s partnerships and conservation neighbourhoods will encourage more collaboration between partners with diversified expertise, perspectives and management tools.

“In these corridors, there are mosaics of land ownership and use, and so one of Kootenay Connect’s objectives is to tap into the diversity of players in order to protect biological diversity. When going after such large-scale conservation, we need many types of tools without having to buy every bit of land.”

Access the Kootenay Connect Preliminary Report on the KCP website HERE.