It is with great sadness that YCS learns of the passing of Gerry Whitley
It is with great sadness that the Yukon Conservation Society (YCS) learns of the passing of Gerry Whitley. Gerry was a passionate supporter of protecting the environment and used his many technical skills in support of this.
He had been a member of YCS since 1990, had served on the Board of Directors and was most recently a member of the YCS Mining Committee. As a member of this committee Gerry used his vast knowledge of water issues to good effect when it came time to submit comments on proposed mining projects. Not only did he have a way of explaining technical issues in such a manner that the average layperson could understand them, his years of experience working around the Yukon at a variety of mine sites was invaluable in providing a historical perspective to the environmental issues associated with specific mines. And what a wealth of experience he had!
He came from Trail BC where he worked for some years as an assay chemist for the nickel company, Cominco. In 1971 he arrived in the Yukon to work for the then-starting Faro Mine. After four years there he took a job in 1976 with Indian and Northern Affairs, Water Resources Branch. Gerry worked there as a water pollution control specialist until his 2002 retirement.
During his time as the water pollution controller, he had placer miners frequently confront him in his office. The confrontations included placer miners pounding Gerry’s desk, threatening him and his family, accusing Gerry of somehow benefiting financially by enforcing the law, all the while demanding he relax the regulatory requirements. He did not.
During the 1980s, Gerry also directed the Yukon River Basin Study. Upon retirement, Gerry bought a plane and gained his private pilots license. In 2004 he began flying for Lighthawk, a non-governmental organization (NGO) made up of aviators who use their flying to support the work of environmental NGOs, such as YCS.
Gerry enjoyed flying in his own aeroplane, and taking photographs. He combined these two interests into taking aerial photographs for a variety of groups and organizations, including YCS. His overflights of mining activity, oil and gas seismic lines, and wetlands became something of a legend. If a person visits the YCS website these photographs are on display for a variety of issues and projects.
Of particular note are the aerial photos of the Faro Mine he provided on an annual basis and occasional photos of other environmental problem areas. His aerial photos have been instrumental in revealing the extent of pollution at the Faro mine site and providing those with less knowledge of the Faro mine with a stark, visual example of poor Yukon mining practices. He offered flights to YCS Mining Committee members so they too could observe areas of concern and be able to discuss the issues from a first-hand perspective.
Gerry was a stalwart supporter of protecting the Peel Watershed. He would sit day after day in the Yukon legislature wearing a YCS Save the Peel t-shirt! Not only did Gerry have a technical and activist side that contributed towards environmental protection, his appreciation of the environment was remarkable. His birding skills were second to none, and his enjoyment of the great outdoors was a joy to behold.
Gerry Whitley will be missed.
Photo: Gerry Whitley (L) recipient of the Gerry Couture Stewardship Award 2019, and Skeeter Wright (R)