Great Bear Rainforest: a primer

Amid all the talk about the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and its potential effects on the BC interior and coast, the term ‘Great Bear Rainforest’ is frequently mentioned.

Yet many Canadians may still have only a vague idea where, and what, the Great Bear Rainforest is. So here’s a bit of a primer.

The term Great Bear Rainforest is new, which may be why the region is hard for many people to pinpoint. It was coined by environmental groups in the late 1990s, who wanted an emotive moniker for the region, then seriously threatened by logging concerns.

In 2009, after fifteen years of lobbying, protests, advocacy and public consultation, a consensus was reached to protect the Great Bear Rainforest region that included the government of B.C., First Nations, coastal communities, environmental groups, and logging concerns. The World Wildlife Fund declared the agreement ‘A Gift to the Earth.’

The Great Bear Rainforest region stretches 400 km along the west coast of British Columbia, from the Discovery Island, to the southern reaches of Alaska. This is the largest tract of extant temperate rainforest in the world, comprising 64,000 km2 of land, most of which is either protected, or subject to strict land-use regulations.

The Great Bear Rainforest includes the traditional territories of 27 First Nations. Within this area are found iconic tree species including thousand-year-old redcedar, sacred to many First Nations people, and towering Sitka spruce. The average age of trees in the forest is 350 years. The region’s wildlife includes cougars, grizzlies, mountain goats, Sitka deer, wolves and the unique kermode or ‘spirit’ bear—a black bear subspecies of which one in ten individuals has a white coat. The watercourses of the Great Bear rainforest provide spawning habitat for a fifth of coastal Pacific Salmon.

Environmental groups, First Nations and other stakeholders are rightly concerned that having been substantially (though not totally) protected from logging, the Great Bear Rainforest might be at serious risk from a pipeline. An even greater risk might be posed by projected tanker traffic within the coastal waters and inlets of the Great Bear Rainforest region, as this National Geographic map shows.

Here’s hoping the spirit of the ground-breaking agreements that have protected the Great Bear Rainforest to date will guide future efforts, for the good of all concerned.

Visit the Great Bear Rainforest with Adventure Canada, September 20-29.

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