The organizers of Squamish's popular Eagle Watch program are cutting back to a “bare-bones” operation for the 2012-'13 bald eagle viewing season after a key sponsor pulled its funding from the program.
The volunteer interpreter program, which has operated on the Eagle Run dike in Brackendale since 1995, runs mostly on volunteers and in-kind government and corporate support. However, it takes approximately $5,000 a year to run the program, which mostly pays for advertising, administration, recruitment and training of the approximately 50 volunteers and equipment maintenance, Larry Murray, treasurer of the Squamish Environment Society, which operates the program, said on Wednesday (Oct. 3).
Recently, Vancity Savings, which had provided the lion's share of that money for the past few years, informed SES that it wanted to spread the money it has for charitable causes in Squamish to other initiatives, Murray told about 20 people who gathered at the Squamish Adventure Centre.
SES does receive a small amount of money from donations at the dike and from the District of Squamish, but without the contributions from Vancity, “Our costs far exceed our funding sources,” Murray said.
The options put on the table for attendees of Wednesday's meeting to consider included permanent cancellation of the interpreter program and a one-year suspension while organizers formulated a plan to secure new funding and re-launch it in November 2013.
Each attendee was given a chance to cast three votes for his/her preferred option or options, and none chose the “permanent cancellation” one. Only one marker was placed on the “suspend the program” placard. The rest of the approximately 60 markers were placed on the “bare-bones program for 2012-'13” placard and the one advocating the development of a long-term plan that includes sustainable program funding sources.
Murray said SES has about $14,000 in its budget for ongoing programs. Most of that cash is earmarked for other programs, including Squamish Estuary education, Squamish's monthly bird counts, a young naturalist program and the recently launched “citizen scientist” program, he said.
He said that in addition to donations collected at the dike, a small amount of SES money could be made available for the Eagle Watch program for this year, though he declined to provide an amount.
During the meeting, Jessamy Freese, a director with the Sunwolf lodge and nature centre in Brackendale, pledged to donate $2 to the program for every eagle viewing float tour booked at Sunwolf this season. Last year, about 250 paying customers took part in Sunwolf's eagle tours last year and Freese said Sunwolf officials expect that number to increase.
Much of the discussion at Wednesday's meeting focused on the value of the Eagle Watch program to the community and possible sources of more sustainable, long-term funding.
Stéphane Perron, president of the Brackendale Owners and Tenants Association (BOATA), said he thinks eagle viewing in general and Eagle Watch specifically are valuable community assets. But he added that the area around the dike — including the condition of the lone porta-potty near the parking area — “needs to be more loved.”
“I took pictures of the toilet there recently and it's embarrassing,” he said.
Dan MacRae, District of Squamish economic development co-ordinator, said he thinks chasing down another corporate sponsor is a short-term solution at best. “You're going to wind up back in the Vancity situation unless you find revenue sources that are sustainable,” he said.
He said tour companies that already bring busloads of tourists to the dike during eagle season from November to February might be willing to support the program if an Eagle Watch interpreter were to come onto the bus and introduce visitors to what they're about to see.
Correy Matheson, an SES director, said she thinks it's important that Eagle Watch maintain its focus on education. She said some volunteers last year wanted to start up petitions advocating restrictions on the B.C. salmon farming industry — which many see as one of the factors limiting the future of the Squamish area's eagle migration.
“I got the impression that the program was kind of losing its focus last year,” Matheson said. “I think it's important to clearly define your mission as one way to keep it focused.”
Perron suggested that since eagle viewing brings tourists to town, Tourism Squamish might wish to help support Eagle Watch. Chris Pettingill, a Squamish Chamber of Commerce director, said organizations such as Tourism Squamish and the Chamber would require that a clear case for supporting Eagle Watch and not other initiatives be presented before those groups would consider providing their support.
Murray said SES plans to undertake the task of developing a long-term Eagle Watch program strategy, and issued an invitation to others interested in helping. For more information, visit www.squamishenvironment.ca