In celebration of International Women’s Day, we would like to recognize our inaugural Executive Director, Pam Wight and tell you a bit about her. Pam was hired to operationalise the Edmonton and Area Land Trust, which is celebrating its 10th Anniversary this year. She has worked hard to: secure conservation lands, ensure they are resourced and stewarded, and to gain recognition for the Land Trust. In 2013, EALT won the Alberta Emerald Foundation Award for NFPs.
Pam herself was named one of Edmonton’s Top 100 Women in Business in 2013, and received the Edgar T. Jones Award for Conservation in 2014. Pam was also named to Canada 150 Land Trust Honour Roll in 2017 by the Land Trust Alliance of BC, for individuals who have contributed significantly to the development of Canadian land trusts and conservation.
Can you tell us how you ended up in Edmonton and what your educational background is?
My background in Geography has served me well, first with an MA at the University of Aberdeen, with a bio-physical focus, and then an MA, with a socio-economic focus. It was my interest in pursuing a Masters at the University of Alberta that initially lured me to Edmonton. I’d been interested in Northern studies and peoples in Aberdeen (studying in Iceland and Norway, as well as in Scotland), then I found that Edmonton was considered ‘Gateway to the North’. So I focused on Fort Chipewyan and the wider Athabascan region for my Masters. I’m very fortunate since then, to have worked across this great country, from BC to NFL, and right across the Arctic too. In everything, I found that an understanding of the landscape was important to understanding the people, their activities and economies.
Why do you think land conservation is so important?
Natural areas are vital for our water quality and supply, our wildlife and biodiversity, and for people’s well-being. These lands support us and our economy and quality of life; they clean our water, provide flood control, storm protection, food, recreation, clean air, and much more. For example, this week’s groundbreaking Cities and Climate Change Science Conference acknowledges that natural areas are a critical aspect of climate change mitigation and adaptation. Land conservation isn't just an amenity value, it is vital our future.
What is the best part about leading an organization like EALT as the Executive Director?
I would say that while I have a leadership position, I am not precisely leading EALT. I work with amazing people who all play a part. These include EALT’s staff and our volunteers who work on everything from policy to outreach to stewarding the actual conservation lands, and are critical to everything we do. Running a charity is always challenging, and it’s certainly an invigorating challenge to have to think ahead of current events, and to imagine EALT’s future creatively. And of course building partnerships, which has been done since we were founded, is both satisfying and can lead to wonderful and unexpected rewards. So possibly, the answer is: the variety in this work, and certainly the sense of satisfaction in accomplishing the successful securement of each additional special piece of nature.
What is your favourite thing to do in your free time?
I must admit to suffering from what I call my “laptop neck”. So I choose physical activity as a relief from my mainly deskbound activities. Once I stopped my international consulting and began work with EALT, I found time for regular recreation was possible, and I’ve found I love to dance. I find the challenge of Afro-Cuban Orishas, rumba, son, salsa, cha cha cha, and zouk, are both physical and mental; and Argentine tango has a wonderful improvisational quality through its connectivity and response to another partner. Dance is my personal favourite – but playing outdoors in nature with my grandchildren is still a top choice!
What other women have been influential in your life and who helped you get you where you are today?
My mother was my first female influence. Under-educated, she self-taught herself in a variety of topics through BBC radio’s teaching courses, and also applied herself to a traditional female role on a farm as well as driving tractors and creating a massive masterpiece of a garden. She was the one who first taught me to appreciate and understand nature in a gentle and constant way. She actually loved nature, spreading native wild flowers along highways, opposing ‘tidy’ tree cutting, and conveying this love to her children.
I had originally wanted a career as geomorphologist with the British Antarctic Research Survey, but at the time they didn’t accept women (which they now do)! I was inspired at that time by geomorphologist Jane Soons, who not only became the first woman professor at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, but headed the Geography Department, and led regular field trips to the Antarctic.
My previous consulting involved work all over the globe, often in impoverished and remote communities. I’ve always been struck by the strength of ‘ordinary women’ in such situations, both in being the central forces to keep their families together and caring for their needs, but also seeking any way to participate in cash or barter economies, again, to benefit their families. They are rocks!
More recently, with the Land Trust, I’ve had the pleasure of working with many inspiring women. One that I’d like to name, is Marg Reine. A scientist and native Edmontonian, she was on the Board of Directors when I was hired and the sole EALT employee. When our first Chair stepped down, she took over the role of Chair for two 3-year terms, and was a tremendous force for action, getting things accomplished, and providing practical information and leadership. Not only did she work behind the scenes in a commendable way as well as being involved in virtually every sub-committee of the Board, but she was active in the field, and helped with land evaluations, as well as outreach and fundraising. In addition, she has volunteered in too many other conservation initiatives to mention. She is an incredibly knowledgeable woman as well as an inspiration, someone I still value as a go-to person for advice, and she truly cares about conserving nature for community good. She won Edmonton’s 2016 SAGE Award for environmental volunteering, and was presented with the City’s Wild Lily of the Valley Award for Biodiversity conservation, the only recipient of this award.
Thank you Marg, for your exemplary role as Director, Chair, Advisor, and all round great conservationist!
Happy International Women's Day!