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Larry Simpson turned his training as a land man for the energy industry into a career in conservation

A devoted employee at The Nature Conservancy of Canada wins an emerald award

Aug 1, 2012

by Geoffrey Morgan

In 1997, a 40-home subdivision was planned just outside of Waterton Lakes National Park. Waterton offers one of the most striking contrasts in Alberta’s Rocky Mountain range, where the mountains rise straight out of the flat prairie.

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Concerns that the subdivision would mar the view and encroach on the national park’s wider biosphere caused the Nature Conservancy of Canada to launch a fundraising campaign to buy the land. “In 1997, a large project [for the organization] was probably $300,000,” says Larry Simpson, who was the organization’s only employee west of Toronto at the time. “We were talking about something that was worth $1 million.” Simpson led the fundraising effort, and thanks to a generous donation from Toronto’s Weston family, the Nature Conservancy (NCC) has now conserved more than 35,000 acres that form an undisturbed ring around the eastern slopes of Waterton Lakes.

The project remains the highlight of Simpson’s career, which saw him begin as a land man in the energy industry. He worked for several years as an oil and gas land negotiator until one day in 1990, while hunting west of Calgary, he decided he would use his skills in land negotiations to conserve Alberta’s landscape rather than extract from it. “Instead of trying to build my own oil company one day and make myself rich,” he says, “I would try to see if I could make the province a richer place to be by trying to conserve the places that inspired me.”

Simpson won an Emerald Award for his individual commitment to conservation this year. That commitment has led to the permanent conservation of many more thousands of acres of pristine land in Western Canada, including 136,000 acres of land on the east side of Kootenay Lake. Simpson was also involved in talks with six Calgary companies that relinquished their mineral rights on one million acres of land in the Yukon in exchange for $1 million. That led to the creation of Vuntut National Park.

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Still, he remembers his work in and around Waterton Lakes most fondly, perhaps because he grew up nearby, east of Pincher Creek. He says a dramatic turning point for the NCC came in 1999, when Edmonton’s Poole family paid off a loan the NCC had taken out to buy 5,000 contiguous acres along the Waterton River. “From then on, we started to believe that if we had good projects, then there would be people who would want to help us,” Simpson says. He was right.

Powerful Canadian executives have joined the organization over the years, including Hal Kvisle, the former president and CEO of TransCanada Corp., who is chair of the national board of the NCC. Kvisle says, “Much of [the NCC’s] success can be attributed to the commitment and dedication of staff and volunteers to NCC’s mission, and one person in particular embodies this dedication, commitment and vision: Mr. Larry Simpson.”

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