Kootenay biologist Rachel Darvill has been selected as the recipient of the first Ellen Zimmerman Award.
The award was created to honour the memory of Ellen Zimmerman, a renowned environmentalist, stalwart champion of the Columbia Wetlands, and trailblazer of advocacy for future generations, such as Rachel, to follow. The award will be given annually to an individual who contributes in a notable way to environmental conservation and education in the Upper Columbia Region.
Rachel has worked as a biologist, environmental consultant and field researcher for more than 20 years, and undoubtedly embodies the spirit of the Ellen Zimmerman Award. She is committed to wildlife conservation, she has a passion for the environment, and a soft spot for birds – all things Ellen herself was known for.
Rachel and Ellen shared a passion for birding, and for the preservation of the Columbia Wetlands.
“My connection to the Columbia Wetlands grew out of living near and recreating in the wetlands and my passion for birding. But I really became seriously committed … when scientists deemed it one of the most important and diverse ecosystems in the Kootenays,” Ellen said in a 2017 article reflecting on Wildsight’s 30th anniversary.
Through the years, Ellen and Rachel would ‘talk shop’, discussing birding and the latest sightings from their home bird feeders or around the community.
“If you know someone’s into birds, you talk a lot about birds,” quips Rachel. And Ellen, who had an intimate knowledge of the Columbia Wetlands, helped Rachel to scope out ideal waterbird survey sites when she began formal studies in the wetlands.
“I learned a lot (from Ellen) about the wetlands,” she remarks.
As a kid growing up on the coast, Rachel set her mind to becoming a marine biologist. She followed through on that childhood dream, graduating from the University of Victoria then working her way around the world on numerous projects. Rachel has researched ravens in the Alaskan Arctic, banded birds at the largest seabird colony in western Canada at Triangle Island, measured chick growth on Gwaii Hannas, researched grizzly bears in Banff National Park and Haines Alaska, tagged sea turtles in the Caribbean and tracked elephants in Tanzania.
She began spending winters in the Golden area to ski and started looking for opportunities to live and work full time in the region. She has been planning, overseeing and completing project after project in wildlife studies in the region ever since. As an independent scientist, Rachel is a strong advocate for environmental protections, using science to inform action.
As a contractor with Wildsight Golden, Rachel’s latest project was the Columbia Valley Swallow Project in 2020, which took a closer look at nesting locations for bank and barn swallows in the Columbia Valley. She also undertook a five-year intensive study of waterbirds in the Columbia wetlands.
But even after more than two decades of studying birds, and a lifetime of studying animals, Rachel still finds time to stop and just listen to the birds.
“It’s really addictive,” she admits. “You get super excited, especially this time of year, with the arrival of all the new birds … My ears are constantly listening to everything around me.”
About the Award
The Ellen Zimmerman Award will be an annual award in the form of a commemorative ceramic art piece and a $1,000 gift awarded to an individual. The award is selected by an award committee. At the start of each subsequent calendar year, a call for nominations will be made across the region.
Joan Dolinsky, Wildsight Golden President, says they wanted to find a way to honour Ellen’s memory, to remember what a great force she had been, and the award seemed a fitting tribute. Rachel, she says, was an obvious ideal choice for the first recipient.
“Ellen was a mentor for Rachel, and Rachel has many of the qualities Ellen had,” says Joan.
“She’s very strong in her beliefs, is not easily turned aside by other arguments, and is tenacious.”
To watch a recording of the small presentation, held on the morning of Earth Day April 22, join the Earth Day presentation on Zoom this evening with Wildsight Golden.