A French group has put 31-year-old Toronto resident Simon Jackson on its list of 100 Guardian Angels of the Planet for his work to motivate youth to save B.C.'s rare white bears.
The Founding Congress of the World Green Games made the announcement in Paris through UNESCO this week to empower children to care for the environment.
The Green Games, which will feature sports, entertainment and environmental awareness for children aged six to 12 from around the world, are set to be launched in June 2015, according to a news release from co-founder Clemence Errand.
Besides Jackson, other Guardian Angels listed include oceanographer Jean-Michel Cousteau and wildlife researcher and anthropologist Jane Goodall.
Jackson started his campaign to save the spirit bear when he was 13 and said he's shocked he's on the same list as Goodall, his hero since childhood.
"To be included on a list along with Dr. Jane is an honour beyond description," he said. "To me, she is the elder statesperson of the conservation world and a true hero. I've been incredibly fortunate to learn from her wisdom and mentorship.
"A big portion of this honour is about trying to inspire children to become stewards of the earth today and do their part to create a wilder world," he said during a visit to Vancouver after wrapping up a national speaking tour to 75 schools.
Kermode bears, also known as spirit bears, make their home in the Great Bear Rainforest on B.C.'s central coast and are unique because they are black bears with white fur due to a rare genetic trait.
Jackson has worked tirelessly to protect their 250,000-hectare habitat for about 400 bears by taking his message to politicians and environmentalists around the globe.
He said two thirds of the area has now been protected through his Spirit Bear Youth Coalition, which has reached about six million young people in more than 87 countries.
"When you're passionate about something it's impossible to walk away from it. I've never given up on the belief that this is a great bear in a great part of the world that deserves an advocate."
Jackson said he will continue working with the British Columbia government to ensure the remaining one third of the bears' habitat is also preserved.
"We also want to make sure that this entire wilderness is a true sanctuary free from trophy hunting, not because hunting is bad but because hunters deserve their place and animals deserve theirs," said Jackson, who was named one of Time Magazines 60 Heroes for the Planet in 2000.
He also wants to ensure the area is free from oil spills from tanker traffic in the waters within the bears' home.
Jackson said his group aims to work with the B.C. government so communities on B.C.'s coast can have long-term jobs while the environment is protected as he continues to motivate youth.
"I was their age when I started this," Jackson said. "Everything we've done has been accomplished and largely done through volunteering and hard work. And if other young people have a passion for the environment, then they too can create a wilder world."