Faces of the Preserve:  Maureen

Faces of the Preserve: Maureen

Faces of the Preserve: Maureen

12 min read –
It takes drive and passion to support a non-profit organization which works to be a living center of Yukon’s wildlife, with informed voices that speak for, and connect others to, the natural world. Who is the team making this happen?

Meet Maureen. She’s a Yukoner with a rich and varied history – just like Yukon Wildlife Preserve. Here she shares what she loves about the Yukon, working as a Wildlife Interpreter, and how that happened in the first place.

“I had always wanted to visit the Yukon. I moved to Whitehorse in 1970 and knew from the start this would be home. In 1973 I moved even further north, to Dawson City, and have spent the next 50 years between the two communities.” As many Yukoners know, successful longevity in the Territory can require versatility; Maureen has this in spades. She joined the team in 2013, drawn to Yukon Wildlife Preserve through a combination of knowledge and understanding of animals, Interpretive experience, and an enjoyment of speaking to people.

Whether in her fox scarf, or her fun moose toque and Covid-19 mask, Maureen helps guests learn about animals.  L to R: Maureen shares knowledge about Wood Bison; Maureen teaches about moose; Guided Bus Tour guest enjoys a close up of Bison while listening to Maureen.

“For 20 years I worked as a commercial fisher(wo)man on Yukon River and Lake Laberge. I spent 30 winters as a trapper, operating from a cabin with no electricity and no running water and 10 years as a placer miner. Finding prehistoric bones while placer mining, that’s very interesting – the most interesting part of placer mining in fact. I have always had an interest in archeology, turns out I had no interest in gold via placer mining! Finding bones:  that’s an immediate link to history and the land. Combined, these are years of experience which had me on the land and water, harvesting, observing and getting in tune with nature, the seasons and animals. I learned a lot, during those years, about animal life cycles and respect for animals. I would say I have more appreciation for wild animals because I understand more about how hard life is for them.

I’ve worked for Parks Canada as an Interpreter for 25 summers at sites such as Dredge #4, Bear Creek, Dawson City walking tours and SS Klondike. I’m a Certified Interpretive Guide with the National Association of Interpretation. All those years talking to people, connecting them with history and the Yukon; I bring that to Yukon Wildlife Preserve. My appreciation for and understanding of wildlife, in addition to my skills of observation learned from my years living and harvesting on the land, really assist me in helping to connect our visitors to Yukon species. Specifically, my tracking skills help me observe wild animals in their natural habitats, as well as to understand the story of what I’m watching them do, in that moment. I enjoy sharing those skills and helping visitors learn how to “see” animals that are excellent at camouflage and how to take that beyond their visit to the Preserve, to their lives at home, wherever that is.

Visitors sometimes wonder how my years trapping, hunting and fishing can mean I have a strong appreciation for wild animals. I try to explain that I think I have a greater appreciation because of my experiences, because when you live in the bush, you live closer to the animals. Not only do I think I understand more about how hard life is for wild animals, but I depended on them for sustenance and my livelihood. This has allowed me to acquire a greater appreciation for wildlife. Living this close to nature, while raising a family, allowed me to pass on to my daughter how to observe animals, their natural behaviours and to listen to what their body language and actions are saying, and to then change my behaviour accordingly. We don’t have to speak the same language as animals to hear, and respect, what they are telling us. Humans, we learn that, and I’m pleased to have been able to pass on those teachings to the next generation.

I remember I once had a curious porcupine sit and talk to me, chattering on with its porcupine noises. It was very engaging, although I didn’t understand a word. I finally had to tell the porcupine that I had to leave to do other things that day, and I was the first to leave the conversation.

Trapping and hunting has taught me to pay attention to the animals themselves, and to the signs they leave behind:  tracks, scat. The only way for me to be successful was to observe all these things within a species, and within the area I was harvesting. You have to know your area and the animals on it. You become part of a system when you’re harvesting off the land. You are a predator, and like wild predators, you don’t take all the prey out of your area. As a trapper and subsistence hunter, I participated in a relationship with the land, the animals and the environment; this allowed me to become in tune with the rhythms of life around me. There’s a balance within nature, if we noticed a shift in that balance, then we shifted to accommodate it. Yes, there were parts of this life that were hard and challenging, but it was also rich and rewarding – and very much a lifestyle choice.
I lived 30 years in a cabin in the bush. I stopped trapping and moved back to Whitehorse in 2009, because I like running water and electricity. While I miss the quiet of that life in the bush, well I LOVE the ease of modern life. After so many years without, I don’t take for granted things like lightswitches, kettles, showers or flush toilets. Living without for so long, that’s a hard life. Hauling water, in the winter, by buckets out of a frozen river means chopping holes in the ice with chainsaws or axes, and then doing it again when that hole inevitably refreezes solid. It really puts you in tune with the harsh realities of life and survival; I think it has helped me gain understanding and insight into some of the challenges wild animals face daily. They can’t just flip a switch or push a button and get food or shelter, they have to work hard, and constantly, to be successful in life at acquiring food, territory, shelter and to be successful at breeding and rearing young.
My favourite animal in the wild is the Lynx. They’re cool and simply the most beautiful animal. In the area I lived in the bush, lynx were rare and sightings were very special. Once, I heard a lynx scream. I’ll never forget that sound, or having to keep my dog under control to avoid him going to investigate. Here at the Preserve, my favourite animal is the Muskox. They are survivors and they are stubborn. I respect both those qualities. I’ve been in the Yukon a long time, but I’ve got nothing on the tens of thousands of years of Muskox. They’ve been stubbornly surviving since the last Ice Age.
Visitors to Yukon Wildlife Preserve, they are often curious about more than the animals at the Preserve. I enjoy the opportunity to connect with people of all ages. Some people want to listen, some ask a lot of questions or share their own experiences with me. No matter how or with whom the connection, I enjoy it most when people are interested and open to learning about respectful interactions with wildlife and the land.

Respect, observation, space, quiet, an understanding of the behavioural norms of the different species we can encounter:  this leads to successful interactions with wild animals – safe for us and safe for them. Animals don’t speak human languages, but they don’t need to. Humans can pay attention to the body language of an animal to hear what that animal is saying to us, and if humans don’t know how to do that, we can learn. I try to relate how to do this to visitors to Yukon Wildlife Preserve, and to teach those who are willing to learn.”

Maureen has had guests on her tours ask if she was a schoolteacher. “I was not a teacher.  To me, education sounds like sitting in a classroom. Instead of offering education, I prefer to think that I am helping people learn about the things I know about:  animals.”

Maureen is one of a strong community at Yukon Wildlife Preserve and part of a thread that weaves us together. The next time you visit, stop at the Reception Cabin and say hello, or share a story:  you might just learn something new from Maureen. “I hope that after I’ve talked to visitors to the Preserve, that they leave with a little more knowledge and understanding of the wildlife they might encounter. Also, a little more respect for those animals.”

Stories by Maureen Peterson.  Compiled and written by Julie Kerr.

Maureen Peterson

Maureen Peterson

Wildlife Interpreter

Maureen is originally from North Vancouver, BC, where she lived for the first 20 years of her  life. In grade 5 she did a project about the Yukon, which is when she decided to go there. It was at age 20, and the day after she was married, that she finally moved North.  The Yukon was everything the 10 year old Maureen thought it would be and she has never had any desire to move anywhere else.

Julie Kerr

Julie Kerr

Visitor Services Coordinator

Julie is a Registered Veterinary Technologist, living and working in Whitehorse since 2012. She joined the team in May 2018. She is passionate about wildlife, nature and living in a conscious manner with both. Her free time is spent outdoors observing wild animals and ecosystems; her connection to the natural world around her brings great joy – joy she loves to share with anyone interested. Honestly? Work and life blend rather seamlessly.

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Royal and Magnificent Elk

Royal and Magnificent Elk

Royal and Magnificent Elk

1.5 min read –

Have you seen our bull elk lately – striding regally across his habitat like a king checking his realm?

The magnificence of the elk and his European cousin, the red deer stag, has inspired many legends and made its way into European heraldry (the art of Coats of Arms and family crests). Along with poetry and music, the stag is associated with harmony, purity and fleetness. Antlers represent strength and fortitude.

The stag may symbolize faith and repentance, but most commonly, it was seen as a symbol of the virtuous and noble person.

Europeans brought their heraldry with them to North America. Canadian heraldry incorporates distinctly Canadian symbols like native flora and fauna as well as First Nation references. Coats of arms are used throughout Canada by citizens, businesses and all levels of government. Any Canadian citizen can petition for a Coat of Arms.

Our North American elk is on many Canadian coats of arms including the Provincial arms of British Columbia and the municipal arms of Brandon, Manitoba.  Makes you wonder what a Wildlife Preserve Coat of Arms might look like!

Photo credit Kevin Pepper

Pete Neilson

Pete Neilson

Wildlife Interpreter

'Sir' Pete grew up in suburban Southern Ontario north of Toronto. In the late 80's, he followed the lure of London and Service to the Yukon. 'Sir' Pete has lived off grid in the Yukon all along from a wall tent and later a tepee in his earlier years and now a small cabin near Twin lakes. He guided wilderness canoe trips many years in the 90's and early 2000's and got his first sled dog in ’91; currently he has 15 dogs for recreational mushing. 'Sir' Pete enjoys being at home or out with his dogs as much as he can.

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Strong Supporters – Major Donation

Strong Supporters – Major Donation

Strong Supporters – Major Donation

A small ceremony took place at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve the morning of August 19 just before families took off on the annual Run Wild event. On this sunny day, Steve Smyth and his son Andrew presented to the Preserve’s President, Alexandra Tait and Executive Director, Jake Paleczny a cheque for $25,000, the largest donation by anyone in the history of the Preserve since it was turned over to the Operating Society in 2004.

The Wildlife Preserve was the dream of the original owners, Danny Nowlan, who established what was then called the Yukon Game Farm in 1967. One of the reasons for the Yukon government’s purchase of the Preserve and the establishment of the Operating Society to oversee its management is the extraordinary costs of looking after injured animals that are frequently brought to the Preserve for rehabilitation. This is a very expensive service that the Preserve provides to Yukon, and one that is not supported by the base funding granted to the Operating Society by the Government of Yukon. It is for this reason that the contribution by Steve, his wife Julie and son Andrew is so critical to the work of the Preserve.

President, Alexandra Tait welcomes participants to the 2019 Run Wild event and introduces Steven Smyth, donor and long-time supporter of the Yukon Wildlife Preserve.

We have an incredible group of Yukoners who have embraced the Preserve as a jewel in Yukon, whether for research, education, animal rehabilitation, tourism or recreation. There are many quiet supporters who have donated both time and money to this institution. Steve and his family have stepped up in a big way to generously give to this great cause. Steve is one of those quiet Yukoners who continues to give to our society. He moved to Yukon in 1971 and worked in management positions in government until he retired in 2007, including the Department of Environment around the time that the Preserve was purchased. In those days he was responsible for the Preserve assets as the Operating Society was set up to take this over.

In other ways Steve has given much to this territory. He has been a Justice of the Peace for 38 years and has held appointments on a number of boards: Yukon Legal Education (14 years); the Law Society of Yukon (18 years); Motor Transport Board (7 years); Arctic Institute of North America (lifetime member); Yukon Agriculture Association Board; Yukon Science Institute; Dispute Resolution Board; Yukon JP Association Executive, Family Mediation Canada, Mediation Yukon, and the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (Yukon Regional Group), and; Friends of the Yukon Archives Society.

The foundation for his commitment comes from his family. His father and mother, Ron and Evelyn, worked for many years in the Yukon public service. His brother, Randy, spent years building Yukon infrastructure for General Enterprises and other construction companies and spent time farming outside of Dawson. Driven by his strong interest in the evolution of government in Yukon, Steve is the co-author of Yukon’s Constitutional Foundations. He has published many papers on similar governance topics, and completed a PhD in Northern Studies from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks in 2005. He links this interest in Yukon’s constitutional and political evolution with institutions like the Wildlife Preserve. So many issues relating to this evolution, whether Land Claims, Court decisions on topics like the Peel Watershed, and Devolution of land and resources from Canada to Yukon, are all part of a vision for better local management of natural resources and habitat which are central values in the continued operation of the Wildlife Preserve. 

He sees the Preserve as pivotal to the experiential learning curriculum of the Yukon Education system.

Asked about his 30 year vision for the Yukon Wildlife Preserve, Steve feels it can be an internationally recognized research facility in a world where the impact of climate change on habitat and wildlife is central. He sees a future with stronger ties with other academic research institutions such as the Arctic Institute of North America and other southern Universities with northern research programs. He sees the Preserve as pivotal to the experiential learning curriculum of the Yukon Education system.

Steve’s wish is that the Operating Society will find the resources to write a book on the history of the Preserve to capture its interesting and instructive journey.

On a personal note, Steve really enjoys the moose. He would like to see wolverines at the Preserve if the opportunity presents.

Ultimately, Steve and his family bring their core conviction to Yukon and to the Preserve. The Board of the Wildlife Preserve wish to express their deep gratitude for the family’s commitment to the future of the Yukon Wildlife Preserve.

Kirk Cameron

Kirk Cameron

Board of Directors

Kirk Cameron (pictured second from right) has been a long-standing board member and supporter of the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. Kirk was a founding Director in the Preserve’s transition. Born in Yukon, Kirk’s professional path has been predominantly working as a public servant across Canada’s Northwest. This has allowed him to work along side Steve and some
shared visions for the Yukon and the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. Kirk is also a strong silent supporter of our community.

board@yukonwildlife.ca

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