Great Bear Rainforest Threatened With Massive Oil Pipeline, Conservation Photographers to the Rescue

great bear rainforest photo
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Photos by Neil Ever Osborne

The Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia is one of the largest tracks of unspoiled temperate rainforest left on the planet, and it is home to an incredible array of biodiversity, from grizzly bears to white spirit bears, from wolves and cougars to 1,000 year old Western Red Cedar trees. It has even been compared to the Galapagos because of its diversity and abundance. And yet, even this amazing ecosystem is under threat from big oil. A 750-mile oil pipeline has been proposed to weave in and out of the mountains and valleys. But it is not being met without a fight.

great bear rainforest photo

Enbridge Inc., the world's largest pipeline construction company, filed an application last year to the Canadian National Energy Board for a twin pipeline that would run 750 miles and carry oil from Alberta's tar sands to BC's coast. The pipeline would provide easy access to the tar sands for Asian oil interests -- but it would cross over literally thousands of streams and rivers, each one a risk, a potential threat to the area if, and when, a leak occurs.

Shortly after the announcement, in the fall of 2010, the International League of Conservation Photographers sent out a team to document the untouched beauty and wild of the area, to show the treasures that would be threatened should the pipeline gain approval.

"The iLCP works in countries around the world and we receive many important requests for support. Yet from the perspective of threats to biodiversity and indigenous culture, few issues compare to the potential environmental catastrophe this proposal could bring about," said Cristina Mittermeier, president of the iLCP in the announcement last year. "With the ongoing oil disaster we are witnessing in the Gulf of Mexico, and the State of Michigan, Canada should reconsider bringing oil to the Great Bear Rainforest."

Now, we can add on the problemsthe recent oil spill in Yellowstone has caused and is causing as yet another example why reliance on oil puts our most important ecosystems at risk.

In continuation of the work the iLCP photographers did last year, two weeks ago the group dispatched Steven Garman, a volunteer pilot with LightHawk and Neil Ever Osborne, a conservation photographer, to follow the route of the proposed Enbridge pipeline route to illustrate the beauty of the area. And it is breathtaking.

great bear rainforest photo

Nikki Skuce from ForestEthics was along on the trip, and writes, "We started off following the Kitimat River until we were in a narrow valley. Our GPS coordinates of the proposed pipeline route took us as far as Hoult Mountain which stands at 7,000 ft. at its peak. This is where Enbridge is planning on tunneling the pipelines through. The glaciers overhead and cascading waterfalls were magnificent - how could a tar sands pipeline be safely engineered through these massive mountains? And if there was an oil spill, how could folks get there quickly and with enough resources to actually clean it up? I doubt that they could."

great bear rainforest photo

If there is one lesson that became obvious with the infamous Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, it's to avoid putting oil wells or pipelines where we can't access them should something go awry.

British Columbia enacted legislation in 2006, creating the 4.4 million acre Great Bear Rainforest to protect countless species of plants and animals, including endangered species, from logging. But this pipeline proposal is danger of a new order.

During the push for protections, environmentalists focused attention on the spirit bears -- or, the Kermode bear, a species of black bear in which on in ten cubs has white or cream-colored coats. By focusing on large mammals that capture the attention and hearts of the public, they were able to gain a foothold in protecting many other species, as well as the river systems that are home to 20% of the world's salmon population.

This time, the iLCP is using conservation photography from world-renowned photographers to draw attention to the incredible habitat that is at risk should an iffy 750-mile pipeline be approved.

Here is a short documentary on the Great Bear Rainforest: