BC's incoming government must act swiftly
“Ancient” and “innovative” aren’t words that often go together. But in the Great Bear Rainforest, innovative ideas are springing out of some of British Columbia’s oldest forests. I’ve just returned home from my first trip to the Great Bear Rainforest, and it has renewed my commitment to protect this unique place.
As soon as we arrived, I felt like I was transported back in time. Though the Great Bear Rainforest hasn’t been totally immune to the effects of unsustainable development, it provides a unique window into what the Pacific Coast might have looked like thousands of years ago.
In a matter of days we watched a Spirit bear feeding on salmon, saw humpback whales breaching, and had to save our hosts’ dogs from a near-miss wolf attack. We were invited into a Bighouse, where people of the Heiltsuk First Nation practice their culture, following protocols thousands of years old.
It is here, in a place of ancient ecosystems and traditional cultures, that some of the most exciting new models for sustainable economies are being developed. Just a decade ago, conventional wisdom held that wholesale clearcutting of these trees was the only way to provide jobs to local communities. Today, with millions of acres declared off-limits to logging, new economies are springing up and proving that another way is possible.
We met guides from Spirit Bear Lodge who’ve developed a successful ecotourism business, and toured a sustainable seafood plant that processes local wild salmon, shrimp and crab for high-end markets. We learned about a project that employs Heiltsuk youth to make beautiful wooden children’s toys, providing good jobs but using only small quantities of sustainably harvested wood.
There’s still a long way to go in protecting the Great Bear Rainforest. About 50% is already protected, but we need to push the BC Government to protect at least 70% in order to preserve the integrity of the ecosystems. More sustainable economic opportunities are needed for local communities, which continue to struggle with high rates of unemployment. While there’s more work to be done, new economies developing in the Great Bear Rainforest show there are environmentally responsible alternatives to the destructive, extractive economic paradigm that has dominated Western Canada.
The cruel irony is that these fragile new economies are now threatened by one of the most reckless, unsustainable industries on the planet -- the tar sands. Enbridge Inc. has plans to pipe dirty oil to a new supertanker port in Kitimat. From there, tankers would turn through narrow channels, winding through the rainforest before reaching a tar sands shipping route.
One oil spill would wipe out the new, environmentally responsible industries and threaten cultural practices passed down from the first inhabitants.
Prime Minister Harper is a feverish cheerleader for tar sands expansion; BC’s Premier Clark would support Enbridge’s tanker scheme if the province got a payout. Yet grassroots opposition is growing to unprecedented levels. We can win this, but only if we grow our movement and escalate our pressure on political leaders.