Tracy Flynn: Making a lasting impact

Photo: Pat Morrow

“What will have a lasting impact?”

This is the question Columbia Valley resident Tracy Flynn asks herself when she chooses how to spend her time. Tracy is an environmental advocate who focuses on listening to all perspectives and building bridges to affect positive change.

Tracy grew up loving the outdoors, and finds solace and adventure alone in the wilderness. Spending much of her life in unspoiled landscapes, she values the balance of a healthy, intact ecosystem. 

Tracy and her husband moved to the Columbia Valley in 2009, settling in a quiet neighbourhood nestled by Columbia Lake. She quickly became involved in local environmental issues. Since then, Tracy has advocated for better laws, policies and protections at all levels of government. 

She volunteers on the planning committee of the Columbia Valley Recreation Planning Initiative, a group hoping to safeguard this region’s recreational assets while ensuring environmental, cultural and agricultural values are respected and protected. It’s a balancing act, but one Tracy tries to walk through with a humble attitude and an open mind.

Tracy Flynn on a fall larch outing to Diana Lake lodge. Photo: Pat Morrow

“You don’t want to just be in an echo chamber,” she says. “I try to interact with people who think the opposite of me. The world’s grey, and I can’t come down hard on every single thing.”

Tracy supports efforts towards climate mitigation and adaptation actions. She’s an active participant in local government discussions; organizing environmental events such as a recent home retrofit fair in Invermere. She was involved with the Summit Trail Makers Society for years, a nonprofit that oversees several local hiking trails. While on the board, she encouraged the organization to think beyond trail maintenance to the larger picture of ecology and wildlife. Tracy helped form the Columbia Lake Stewardship Society, which monitors and advocates for watershed protection in the Columbia headwaters. And she currently volunteers with the East Kootenay Climate Hub

Tracy Flynn at the Ursus & Us: Bear Day in Invermere. Photo: Pat Morrow

When a group of local youth expressed frustration with climate crisis inaction, and not knowing what they could do, Tracy helped them launch ColumbiYA, a youth-led initiative that gave youth a voice in the local community. While ColumbiYA has since disbanded, it left a legacy as ColumbiYA helped launch the David Thompson Secondary School Climate Action Club, which Tracy offers monthly support and advice to. The club has added plants to classrooms, improved recycling options, promoted waste-free cafeteria lunches and talked to local government officials about climate action. This school year, the club teamed up with Wildsight Invermere to undertake a Columbia Valley transit study and organize workshops to teach students how to reduce waste. 

Tracy is also a Wildsight Director, and recently became president of Wildsight Invermere’s board of directors. One of her current projects with Wildsight Invermere is spearheading the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Conservation & Biodiversity Program

When Tracy grows weary of the amount of work to be done, she thinks about some of the victories, such as when logging threatened her own neighbourhood’s clean water source. She contacted politicians, government officials and anyone else she could think of. She knocked on doors, spoke to contractors on site, and monitored the public roads to the property while working out how to protect the water source. In the end, the logging plans were modified and the water source protected. Tracy credits not just the on-the-ground advocacy, but the relationships she’s developed over time that helped achieve these goals. 

“It’s understanding what motivates people — what they love — and then trying to find what’s common there.”

Wildsight’s Columbia Valley conservation coordinator, Jenna Schulof, says it was Tracy’s strong advocacy that led to this amazing victory: “It was thanks to her doggedness that there is now a large buffer of natural environment around the water source to protect it. If she wasn’t literally sitting at the site meeting with the loggers and asking them to defer the harvest for a couple days, the drinking water source would have been damaged.”

Tracy was recognized for her tireless advocacy efforts with this year’s Ellen Zimmerman Award. Ellen was a renowned environmentalist, stalwart champion of the Columbia Wetlands, and a trailblazer in advocacy for future generations. She passed away from cancer in 2020; this award was created to honour her legacy. Presented by Wildsight, the annual conservation award honours an individual who contributes to environmental conservation and education in the upper Columbia basin. 

Nomination committee member Joan Dolinsky says the award was well deserved. 

“Tracy’s dedication to finding ways to protect important ecological values on the landscape is something Ellen really would have appreciated,” shares Joan.

Casey Brennan, Wildsight Conservation Director, presents a commemorative bowl to Tracy in honour of receiving the Ellen Zimmerman Award at a small gathering in Wilmer May 27. Photo: Pat Morrow

About a dozen people gathered in Wilmer to celebrate Tracy in a small ceremony May 27. After listing Tracy’s many volunteer efforts, Baiba Morrow, past president of the Invermere Wildsight branch, told Tracy, “You are amazing, with all that you’ve done! We really respect and appreciate that, and honour you today.” 

Tracy reflected that while she didn’t know Ellen, she understands she was a strong, brave person and that we need folks like that to go against the grain and take a stand. She humbly accepted the award, deflecting focus from herself in her speech: “I appreciate what everyone does; it’s a team effort,” she said, gesturing to those gathered and expressing her gratitude for the recognition.

Tracy Flynn receives Wildsight’s Ellen Zimmerman conservation award in a gathering at the Morrow residence in Wilmer, BC May 27. Photo: Pat Morrow