Sally Hammond spent her early childhood in an isolated area on the Taku River in northern BC. Seeing moose and grizzly bears wandering through the remote mining camp where her father worked as a mining engineer was commonplace. Besides both of her parents being naturalists, it was this wild place that inspired in Sally a strong sense of awe and wonder of the natural world.
She was initially drawn to the rural northern Slocan Valley because it reminded her of the wilds of the Taku with its magnificent mountains, undammed river and lake, minimal development, and small population.
Sally was a part-time resident of the Slocan Valley for 40 years before becoming full-time 13 years ago. Her fascination for natural systems and how they work had led to a career as a massage therapist and then as a life skills instructor in the downtown east side of Vancouver, but buying into a land partnership near the village of Silverton in the 1980s anchored her heart in the Slocan and made sure she always returned.
When poor logging practices began to threaten the local drinking water, Sally joined her local watershed protection group, which was part of the Slocan Valley Watershed Alliance, and became an environmental activist. In 1991, she was part of organizing a blockade that resulted in the arrest of 83 people and, in the ensuing years, helped file lawsuits and complaints and assist in other watershed protection processes, getting SLAPP suited in the process. The solution for her watershed in the end was to join two other Slocan Valley watersheds to form SIFCo (the Slocan Integral Forestry Cooperative) and secure a community forest licence.
“We got the tenure for our own backyard and SIFCo takes an ecosystem-based approach to the logging in our watershed with water quality as a priority,” said Sally.
She joined the Slocan Lake Stewardship Society (SLSS) a few years after moving to the Slocan Valley full-time and has focused her passion, time and energy to its purpose ever since.
“It’s a very special gem of an area,” she said. “It’s really well worth working to conserve it.”
The SLSS is dedicated to conservation of the Slocan Lake watershed through education, science and advocacy, and Sally is presently its longest sitting board member and vice president of eight years.
“SLSS has a small but dynamic volunteer board who take eco-literacy seriously and our focus is on collaboration and inclusiveness. We work with the villages, the regional district, the provincial government and other conservation groups,” said Sally. “We inform ourselves and then put together the professionals who are needed to do the actual work.
As part of its educational program, the SLSS has co-hosted workshops on wetlands with the BC Wildlife Federation, holds free family nature walks every summer, runs information booths at local markets and festivals, displays interactive watershed and wildlife models, and Sally writes a “Nature Facts” piece for every issue of the local newspaper.
The science component consists of water quality monitoring, volunteering with fish and wildlife studies, commissioning lake management studies of their own in conjunction with the Department of Fisheries and the Ministry of Environment. A key step for SLSS was the formation of SWAMP (Slocan Wetland Assessment and Monitoring Program) in partnership with the Slocan River Streamkeepers and Slocan Solutions. SWAMP extended the SLSS mission from lake, river and creeks to the whole of the Slocan watershed. Specifically, the goal of SWAMP was to assess, map and monitor most of the major wetlands up and down the Slocan Valley, and the information formed the basis for an innovative Conservation Action Forum in 2017 that was co-facilitated with the Kootenay Conservation Program.
“SWAMP led to the Conservation Forum because we realized we needed to get local researchers and scientists along with various land use planners and government officials together in one room and come up with the priorities we need to focus on in the Slocan Lake watershed,” Sally said.
The Forum identified the Bonanza Biodiversity Corridor (BBC) between Summit Lake and Slocan Lake as one of the high priority areas due to several factors: it’s almost continuous wetlands, its high biodiversity and remnants of old growth, and it’s position as a north-south and east-west wildlife corridor between the Valhalla Wilderness Park and the Goat Range Park and on through the Selkirks. SLSS formed the Bonanza Biodiversity Corridor Working Group after the Forum, which included many of its expert participants. On the recommendation of the BBC Working Group, SLSS applied for and received a three-year Columbia Basin Trust Ecosystem Enhancement Program grant to restore three wetlands in that corridor. SLSS also partnered on and received funding through KCP’s Kootenay Connect for work to protect species at risk and wildlife connectivity in the BBC.
“That’s our major focus at the moment,” said Sally.
As a group with an advocacy arm, SLSS supports other environmental organizations, organizes field trips with logging companies in their area to achieve harvesting modifications, advocates for improvements to government conservation legislation and works with the Slocan Valley’s lakefront villages on conserving their foreshores.
“I would say my role is worker bee,” said Sally. “I’m not a professional biologist or scientist, but I’ve made a lifelong commitment to work as an environmentalist. I consider myself in service to nature.”