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Winners (alphabetical) > Briony Penn Environmental broadcaster and educator

Silver winner
Briony Penn Environmental broadcaster and educator
Photo: Larry Halverson
Briony Penn
Environmental broadcaster and educator

Environmental Learning, 2003

"The survival of wild surroundings is fundamental to me. Eliminate the landscape, and you erase all memory."

Briony Penn is passionate about protecting British Columbia's wild places, and she's willing to be a bit wild herself to help pass that passion along to others. Whether it's grabbing corporate loggers' attention with a Lady Godiva-like ride through downtown Vancouver or in-the-wild reporting for a weekly Victoria television spot, Penn combines solid research with creative flair and humour to win converts to conservationism.

Penn, who holds a doctorate in geography and has been writing about the natural world since her undergraduate days at the University of British Columbia, began her activist career with a 1991 campaign to save the indigenous Garry oak ecosystem on the West Coast. When news that the trees atop Christmas Hill, in Saanich — Penn's childhood stomping grounds — were threatened by urban development, she co-founded the Garry Oak Meadow Preservation Society and declared her defiance by nailing up a sign that read "Zoned for Oak Trees."

Now living on Saltspring Island with her husband Donald Gunn and their two sons, Penn is director of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, one of several groups in which she is actively involved. "Collectively," she says, "we can move mountains." Successful collective action, Penn explains, resembles the functioning of an ecosystem: "Biological communities function in this way; every member has a vital role that helps sustain the entire web of life."

A television and print journalist who has written and illustrated a best-selling book, A Year on the Wild Side, Penn also develops museum displays and educational materials about the natural world. Her half-hour weekly show, "ENVIROmental," is a niche into which she seems to fit effortlessly, drawing on the irrepressible high spirits that stood her in good stead among three rambunctious brothers. Through the show and her other work, Penn lives out her belief that environmental protectionism does not have to be adversarial. But don't let the activist's upbeat energy deceive you into thinking she's afraid of a fight. "Hell is a mall," says Penn. "The survival of wild surroundings is fundamental to me. Eliminate the landscape, and you erase all memory."

Last updated: 2003




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