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Canmore's Gerry Hurley wins top conservation award

“I like to do my part to try and protect the wildlife, particularly the grizzly bears. It’s been an amazing experience,” said Canmore's Gerry Hurley.

CANMORE – Canmore’s Gerry Hurley has been honoured with a prestigious award for his conservation work in Alberta, including his ongoing efforts on grizzly bear monitoring in Kananaskis Country.

Hurley was one of five Albertans who won a 2021 Alberta Order of the Bighorn award, which recognizes Albertans for their exceptional volunteer efforts toward fish, wildlife and habitat conservation.

Among his many volunteer accomplishments, perhaps Hurley’s most significant one may be his long-term commitment to assisting with the Kananaskis Country grizzly bear monitoring and aversive conditioning program.

Hurley, who is about to celebrate his 75th birthday, said he is deeply honoured by the award, which was presented to him in Edmonton last Thursday (Dec. 2).

“When I got the email about the award, I didn’t believe it at first and thought it was a joke,” he said. “Needless to say I was quite thrilled. The award ceremony itself was one of the premiere events of my life. There was an honour guard leading us in and we were treated like royalty.”

Shortly after moving to Canmore with his wife Rae in 2001, Hurley began volunteering in numerous community groups, leading to recognition with the Canmore Mayor’s Award in 2008 for his contributions.

He still volunteers for many groups, including Rocky Mountain Adaptive, which is a charity providing individuals with disabilities the opportunity to participate, learn and excel at mountain sport and recreation, as well as Rundle Riders, a therapeutic horse riding association.

He was also delivering meals to people in need throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am retired and I’ve got time so I try and give as much time as I can,” he said.

Most significantly related to the Order of the Bighorn is his volunteer activities with Alberta Parks, Alberta Fish and Wildlife and Bow Valley WildSmart.

For over the last 15 years, Gerry has held down the Thursday and Friday shifts conducting radio-telemetry on grizzly bears throughout the Kananaskis region. This work involves meticulously scanning for collared bears and reporting their positions to conservation officers and staff as well as assisting with aversive conditioning efforts.

Hurley has also helped staff set up area closures and warnings in relation to wildlife-human conflict incidents as well as to manage people and traffic. Hurley is often out there still volunteering until the bears go into their dens.

“I like to do my part to try and protect the wildlife, particularly the grizzly bears. It’s been an amazing experience,” he said.

“We bought our place in 1995, and we arrived here in 2001, and I’d been reading the local paper that I had sent to me and I realized that wildlife was quite an interest here – and so my interest was piqued.”

In celebration of Alberta Environment and Parks’ 50th anniversary, the Alberta government resumed the Order of the Bighorn Awards to provide an opportunity to recognize individuals whose voluntary efforts contribute to achieving shared conservation goals in the province.

Joining Hurley as winners in the 2021 Order of the Bighorn awards are Jim Smith, Heinz Plontke, Rex Coupland, and Calvin Rakach. From conducting interdisciplinary research on sustainability, corporate social responsibility and land use to advancing habitat and wildlife conservation to increasing sustainable public lands access and recreational activities, this year’s winners have demonstrated outstanding volunteer environmental conservation efforts.

The Order of the Bighorn awards was first established in 1982. The original name was inspired by the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.

“The Order of the Big Horn awards celebrates the critical role in strengthening conservation in Alberta and protecting Alberta’s environment for current and future generations,” said Jason Nixon, Alberta’s environment and parks minister in a news release.

Since its inception, 114 individuals and organizations have received the prestigious award.