The B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union pauses today to remember a good friend, environmental activist and campaign partner Gwen Barlee, who passed away yesterday. Gwen served as Wilderness Committee National Policy Director since 2001, was known across Canada as one of the strongest voices for progressive environmental policy in our country, and a leading voice against the privatization of B.C. Hydro and environmental impacts from run-of-river projects.
Gwen was a tireless environmental advocate, speaking out forcefully to protect wildlife habitat – making connections between the smallest insects to the largest mammals and the need to mitigate human impact on the natural environment. Her work to save Spotted Owl habitat, stop the grizzly bear hunt and strengthen endangered species legislation has ensured that these important issues continue to resonate strongly with British Columbians.
The BCGEU worked closely with Gwen on a sustained campaign to improve funding and staff resources for BC Parks. Through her broad network of community activists and expert use of Freedom of Information laws, Gwen was able to regularly expose the devastating effects of government funding cuts and neglect in B.C.'s expansive parks and wilderness system.
Gwen and her Wilderness Committee team (a BCGEU certification) worked with our union to break major news stories and op-eds about the lack of park rangers – only 10 senior full-time park rangers to cover 14 million hectares. Her FOI requests revealed a disturbing lack of resources to support park rangers – including a lack of vehicles and gasoline to patrol parks.
Gwen led the Wilderness Committee to join other BC environmental groups and the BCGEU in launching the Campaign for BC Parks in the lead-up to the 2016 provincial election, with a goal to dramatically increase funding and staff resources for BC Parks.
In response to public pressure, the BC government announced a significant funding increase for BC Parks in 2017, including a commitment to hire an additional 25 full-time park rangers, along with funding to increase the number of campsites and other initiatives to promote our provincial parks.
Gwen leaves a significant legacy of environmental and social justice. The important causes she championed are much stronger because of her commitment and dedication to our natural environment. The BCGEU extends our heart-felt condolences to Gwen's family, friends and co-workers at the Wilderness Committee.
President, B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union
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