Rosemary Fox (1930 – 2021) – A Leading Voice for Nature and Wilderness Conservation

A remarkable environmental advocate and naturalist died January 20, 2021 in Smithers at the age of 90. Rosemary Jean (Wilkinson) Fox was an important voice for BC Nature (Federation of BC Naturalists), Nature Canada (Canadian Nature Federation), Sierra Club BC, and a founding member and dedicated volunteer for countless groups over a lifetime of service and adventure.

Rosemary was born in Lansdowne, India, a hill station in the northern state of Uttarakhand where her father was an officer with the British Indian Army. Her hometown had outstanding views of the Himalayan Mountains and much of her early life was spent outdoors. Through a close family friendship with forester and conservationist F.W. Champion, she participated in expeditions through the Himalayan foothills, travelling by elephant, observing tiger tracks in river sands, building a love of wild animals and wildlands that defined her future life.

The family moved to England in 1947. After completing school, Rosemary took a job with the British Foreign Service, working in Moscow, Bangkok and London in an intelligence capacity. This led to positions with the UK delegation to the United Nations in New York and the British Embassy in Washington. Rosemary was present at UN headquarters during Nikita Krushchev’s infamous shoe-banging incident. When British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan quipped, “May we have a translation of that please?” it may have been Rosemary who fed him that line.

During a Grand Canyon, US, hiking trip, Rosemary met her future husband Irving Fox, a natural resource academic and outdoorsman. They moved to Wisconsin, making canoeing and backpacking trips into the boreal forest and Arctic. In the early 1970s they arrived in Vancouver. Then, in the mid-1980s with Irving’s retirement, they moved to their mountainside home in Smithers, closer to the Stikine-Spatsizi Plateau country they had come to love.  

Rosemary and Irving Fox were an exceptionally close and effective team. While Irving was renowned for devising social and institutional strategies to address natural resource conflicts, Rosemary became an outspoken advocate for nature conservation and wilderness founded on an environmental ethic and scientific knowledge of ecosystems and wildlife populations. Preparing and presenting reasoned briefs and founding innovative institutions to improve conservation decision-making was their forte, but they greatly valued time in the backcountry – at their beloved cabin in the Pasayten River Valley near Manning Park and exploring northern Canada.

Soon after arriving in Vancouver, Rosemary became an active member of the Sierra Club’s Lower Mainland group, becoming a director and Chair of the Board. With Irving, she was instrumental in persuading Barrett’s NDP government to establish Spatsizi Plateau Wilderness Park as BC’s second-largest provincial park in 1975. A year later, they helped found the Spatsizi Association for Biological Research, which for 25 years sponsored research related to caribou and the complex large mammal predator-prey system for which the Plateau is renowned.  In a 1977 Nature Canada article titled “Spatsizi – Land of the Red Goat”, Rosemary described the Park and her concerns for its wildlife. She was a co-organizer of the 1987 Spatsizi Association symposium “The Wildlife of Northern British Columbia: Past, Present and Future” and edited its proceedings.

Rosemary was a vital leader of Sierra Club BC throughout the 1980s and ‘90s, acting as membership coordinator, group representative, and conservation chair. She received their Special Achievement Award in 1993 and was honored in 2009 through creation of the Rosemary Fox Conservation Achievement Award which recognizes individuals for significant achievement in protecting wildlife and wildlands.

In the 1980s Rosemary joined the Board of the Canadian Nature Federation, rising to Vice President around 1985. In this role, she served as a national voice for naturalists and wilderness advocates, exemplified in a thoughtful 1985 speech “Integration of Wilderness Values in Forestry and Wildlife Management”, published in Forestry Chronicle.

In Smithers, Rosemary served as a Bulkley Valley Naturalists director until recently. She kept an eye on the big picture for our club and, always comfortable with technology, treated us to beautifully photographed and choreographed presentations of her naturalist explorations. Joining BC Nature’s Board in the early 2000s, Rosemary was active on the Conservation Committee, as Co-Chair and then Chair from 2009 to 2016, working closely with Bev Ramey, Anne Murray and Peter Ballin, submitting regular reports to this magazine as well as drafting many conservation letters. She was much appreciated for her breadth of knowledge and respectful yet pointed writing, always accurate. Rosemary received BC Nature’s Elton Anderson award in 2013.

A partial list of other boards, committees and campaigns to which Rosemary contributed illustrates the breadth of her energies: Friends of Stikine Society (co-founder), BC Wolf Working Group, Environmental Mining Council of BC, Bulkley Valley Research Centre (co-founder & Board Member), Bulkley Valley Community Resources Board, Babine Local Resource Use Plan, Cassiar Iskut-Stikine LRMP Planning Table, Babine Watershed Monitoring Trust (co-founder & trustee), reviews and evaluations of the Federal and BC Environmental Assessment processes.

Rosemary’s signature achievement was her persistent multi-decade effort, working with coalitions that grew to include guide outfitters, local First Nations and international groups, to secure protections for the greater Stikine watershed and its wildlife. Beginning with the Spatsizi Plateau park campaign in the early 1970s –a time when few Canadians understood how quickly Canada’s wildlands could be lost, her involvement included organizing a Vancouver conference to increase awareness of the Stikine and the threat of hydroelectric dams, reforms to BC’s wildlife management policy, expansion of upper Stikine protected areas to include key winter ranges, and ultimately to a full Class A park encompassing the Grand Canyon of the Stikine.  

In her mid-80s, Rosemary returned to India with family friend James Champion to revisit old haunts and photograph wildlife in many of India’s best nature reserves.  Until a few weeks before her death she remained in the home that she and Irving built among the aspen trees on Smithers’ Hudson Bay Mountain, surrounded by stacks of books, position papers and other mementos of an eventful and purposeful life.

Compiled by Sybille Haeussler, Bulkley Valley Naturalists, with contributions from many others.

Note:  I found this to be a fascinating read on Rosemay Fox as written by her neighbour and journalist: Amanda Follett Hosgood  as written for the Tyee  LINK