Tireless conservation pioneer and advocate remembered
Golden resident Ellen Zimmerman passed away on Sunday, March 8 after a lengthy battle with cancer.
Ellen was a tireless advocate for conservation in the East Kootenay.
With her husband Don and two sons Michael and Luke, she lived on their homestead on the Parson bench. While her many jobs have included homesteader and organic gardener, newspaper reporter, community legal and woman’s advocate, it is her staunch championing for the wild creatures and places in the Columbia Valley that she will be most remembered for.
Ellen was a trusted member of the Wildsight family for more than 30 years. The relentless work she put into conservation and education across the region led to major victories in environmental protections in the province.
Amongst her many accomplishments, Ellen played a lead role in protecting the Cummins River Valley, a 200-square kilometre, low-elevation, Rocky Mountain Rainforest and wilderness north of Golden. She helped achieve protection status for the East Columbia Lake Wildlife Management Area. She was instrumental in preserving the beautiful old growth forest in the Upper Wood River, and consistently represented the environmental perspective in land use planning negotiations, including the Commission on Resources and Environment (CORE) process in the 1990s.
“Ellen was a fierce fighter for the protection of the environment in the East Kootenay for decades,” remarked John Bergenske, Conservation Director at Wildsight.
Citing her many environmental victories, Bergenske said they might not have happened if it were not for Ellen’s persistence.
“She was a very strong-willed person who didn’t shy away from a fight.”
One place that fighting spirit showed great results was in the Columbia Wetlands.
The wetlands drew Ellen into the environmental battleground; she first got involved with a Golden area environmental group back in the early 1980s to oppose pesticide-spraying in the Columbia Wetlands. She helped the wetlands to be designated internationally as a wetland of importance (Ramsar status) in 2005. After decades long advocacy, the final piece of protection came in 2016 when boating regulations were established on the main stem of the Columbia River.
Through the years, Ellen was a member of CPAWS BC, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, and Columbia Wetlands Stewardship Partners; she sat as a board member on the West Coast Environmental Law, and Golden Food Bank, as well as director of the Golden Women’s Centre. From 2008 to 2012, Ellen was the regional coordinator for the BC Bird Atlas.
She was the first Canadian woman to win the Yves Rocher Foundation Terre de Femmes (Women of the Earth) Award, an international award of distinction, in 2006.
“Ellen helped to pave the way for women to find our place in the environmental movement,” said Robyn Duncan, executive director at Wildsight. “Ellen was passion embodied – fiery, passionate and doggedly stubborn, she never backed down from a fight to protect nature or defend women’s rights. She leaves behind a tremendous legacy.”
Ellen will be missed by many, including those who worked alongside her for many years in the pursuit to protect wilderness.
Longtime friend and fellow advocate Lelsey Giroday said Ellen’s passing leaves a hole in the environmental community, and in her own life.
“She’s one of those few people that you could count on in a storm,” Giroday said. “She was smart, she was tough, she was passionate. And she was tenacious.”
There will be a celebration of life on Thursday, March 12 at 5 p.m., at the St. Andrew’s United Church, Golden.
Submitted by Wildsight