At $14.5 million, Dax Dasilva’s gift is almost four times bigger than the previous record received by the B.C. Parks Foundation.
Dasilva, a Vancouver native who is a Montreal-based tech star and environmental/social activist, was in Vancouver on Tuesday for the announcement, although a float-plane flight planned for over the Pitt River Watershed was a no-go because of limited visibility due to bad weather.
The founder of ecommerce company Lightspeed — he stepped down last month as CEO to focus on environmental projects through an environmental alliance he formed five months ago called Age of Union — Dasilva cut his activist teeth protesting the logging of old-growth forests in Clayoquot Sound as a teen.
The $14.5 million he donated to the foundation is part of a $40 million pledge for environmental work around the planet; in B.C. the initial focus is the Pitt River Watershed, where Dasilva footed the bill to buy-up land earmarked for development, and the French Creek Estuary on Vancouver Island (again, saving it from development).
The watershed is a vital sanctuary for salmon, elk and other wildlife found on Katzie First Nation territory, while the Island estuary is one of a diminishing number of pit stops critical to thousands of migrating eagles and at least 180 other bird species in Qualicum and snaw-naw-as territories.
“I have deep-rooted connections to British Columbia landscapes,” Dasilva said. “It’s incredibly important for me to see through necessary conservation work to protect the province’s precious land.”
The amount isn’t only the largest, by far, that the foundation has received in one donation, it’s also the single largest donation in the history of conservation in B.C. as far as Andrew Day, CEO of the B.C. Parks Foundation, knows.
“It’s unprecedented, from what we can tell,” Day said. “It’s a tyee gift. It just really shows how much British Columbians care about keeping B.C. beautiful.”
It also speeds-up fundraising that usually relies on crowdsourcing. To date, the independent registered charitable foundation — which is to the provincial Forestry Ministry what a hospital foundation is to hospitals — has protected a dozen locations in the province covering more than 5,000 hectares of land.
More locations to be protected in B.C. thanks to Age of Union will be announced in the coming months.
The water levels in Pitt Lake can rise more than a metre and, surrounded by three spectacular provincial parks, it’s the only freshwater tidal lake in Western Canada and one of very few in the world, according to geocaching.com. Besides being home to fish and game, the area has waterfalls and hot springs, as well as 19 at-risk species.
In 2000, the Upper Pitt was designated as B.C.’s most-endangered river because of development pressures. But the 300 hectares of valley-bottom and riverfront land Dasilva’s money purchased, plus almost 10 more hectares of French River Estuary land, removes those threats for good.
The Upper Pitt stands at the heart of unceded Katzie territory and Katzie Coun. Rick Bailey welcomed not just the funds, but also the opportunity for his people to get back a share of control over traditional lands.
“The Nation has long fought to protect the local environment and preserve the bounty of the land for future generations,” Bailey said.
As war, plague and natural disasters vie for air time on the nightly news, the 44-year-old Dasilva remains remarkably upbeat about the future. Maybe it comes with the territory when the company you built from scratch employs 3,000 people, operates in more than 100 countries and is one of the 10-biggest publicly traded tech firms in Canada.
“One of the most exciting responses I received when we launched Age of Union in October was on LinkedIn from business people, from tech people,” Dasilva said. “I don’t think it’s just (stereotypical environmentalists) anymore that are funding these (initiatives).
“We’re aware of the problems around the planet, now it’s time for action. If the narrative continues to be doom-and-gloom, people will throw-up their hands, but if they see action they’ll be, ‘Whoa, we can do something.’ ”
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