Larry Leigh is the new president of the Canadian Wildlife Federation.
Leigh, 64, is best known for his work as a Yukon conservation officer. He retired three years ago, after 12 years.
On Saturday, he will be officially sworn in as the mouthpiece of one of Canada’s biggest conservation groups. The federation, established in the early 1960s, today has more than 300,000 members. Leigh has sat on the organization’s board for 16 years.
“I wanted to do something to show my appreciation for all the glorious moments I’ve had in Canada,” Leigh said at a news conference on Wednesday afternoon.
Encounters with nature still fill the longtime Yukoner with wonder. He recalls being overwhelmed recently by the lonely honk of a swan in search of its group.
“Living here is still an adventure,” he said. “I mean it. I don’t work for tourism.”
By a happy coincidence, the federation is holding its annual general meeting in Whitehorse this weekend.
The federation has flown members from across the country to the Yukon for the meeting. This comes at the cost of putting carbon into the atmosphere.
To compensate, the federation is giving Whitehorse a small present to help residents enjoy the nature at their doorstep.
They’ve helped install a park bench and interpretive signs at a scenic outlook of the Yukon River along Whitehorse’s Millennium Trail, just behind the skate park.
The federal government paid $5,000. The Yukon Fish and Game Association pitched in $1,000. And Whitehorse volunteered labour.
The spot offers a perfect view of the Yukon River.
There’s an eagle in the trees across the river.
Gulls and terns nest closer to shore.
Salmon and grayling spawn in the gravel beds.
A beaver lodge is tucked into a nook just downriver.
It could be the perfect place to reflect on what we put in the river, said Leigh.
Expired prescription drugs are sometimes flushed down the toilet. Toxic household cleaners end up down our drains.
It all ends up in the grey-green waters of the Yukon, which flows 3,000 kilometres from Whitehorse to its outlet into the Bering Sea.
“It goes around the corner and out of sight, but it doesn’t disappear,” said Leigh.
The waste we dump into the water kills “coral and other critters,” he said.
Canada has one-fifth of the world’s supply of fresh water.
“Many people never got to drink the purity of water we take for granted,” said Leigh.
Water is one of the big themes that Leigh plans to focus on during his tenure as president. The others are endangered species and climate change.
He sums up with a Chinese proverb: “If we don’t change direction, we’re liable to end up where we’re headed.”
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