October 9, 2018
Jackie Hong, Yukon News
David Mossop says he’s more embarrassed than anything.
The Yukon biologist and naturalist, whose career at this point spans nearly 50 years, says his work, for the most part, has never quite felt like work, which is why he’s still wrapping his head around his latest accolade — a lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Museum of Nature.
“I’m not dead yet, and I guess that’s the thing that bothers me about a lifetime achievement award,” Mossop joked during an interview Oct. 1. “I think you’re supposed to be dead, aren’t you? Or at least almost, and I’ve got things to do.”
The museum announced Mossop’s award, as well as the finalists in six other categories for its 2018 Nature Inspiration Awards, in a press release Sept. 20. The annual ceremony, now in its fifth year, celebrates “individuals, groups and organizations whose leadership and innovation connect Canadians with the natural world,” according to the release, and winners are selected by a jury.
Mossop is the first Yukoner to receive the lifetime achievement award.
Even though he’s been “retired” for a number of years now, Mossop still teaches a course in natural history at Yukon College’s Whitehorse campus, where he’s been a professor for 20 years. He also sits on a subcommittee at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve, of which he’s a co-founder and where he still runs research projects, and is a director for the Yukon Conservation Society. In all his roles, Mossop is well-known for his passion to get people, especially students, out of buildings, away from screens and into the field.
“People spend their professional careers staring into computer screens and those stupid little screens they carry around in their pockets, you know? It’s been an evolution of professionals away from natural history and natural history has to be done in the field,” he said.
“I spend a ton of time getting students out looking down ground squirrel holes and wondering what’s going on in woodpecker holes and that’s the kind of stuff that makes a person that really contributes conservation-wise and others. Once you get to know, in a personal way, the critters out there on the land, empathy is really what we need. We’ve isolated ourselves so badly from the natural world that we can lose things and people don’t even notice.”
Prior to teaching, Mossop served as a Yukon government biologist for 25 years, during which he, among other things, kickstarted the interpretive programs that continue to run to this day and created or contributed to invaluable datasets on keystone species found in the Yukon.
“He’s very passionate about the work he does and committed. I mean, this is a person that uses his own resources to go out and do the things he does, and a lot of his personal time as well,” said Clint Sawicki, the associate vice president of research operations at the Yukon Research Centre.
“Keeping databases and keeping information, I mean, the biodiversity database that (Mossop’s) got … He’s worked with people in Old Crow for years and has gone back and is now working with some of the children of the people he worked with 30, 40 years ago … The wealth of knowledge he’s gained over those years is amazing.”
Perhaps what Mossop is most well-known for though, is the critical role he played in the recovery of the once-endangered peregrine falcon, dedicating thousands of hours to monitoring the population as it suddenly dwindled in the ‘70s and ‘80s, finding remnant populations that were still breeding and taking them into captivity, and then releasing young falcons back into the wild.