Friday, September 3, 2010

Dispatch From The Field: The Journey To The Great Bear Rainforest

Photo courtesy Ian McAllister, iLCP

Between now and September 14, the iLCP, a group of internationally renowned photographers are taking part in a RAVE (Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition) in British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest. Home to white spirit bears, ancient forests, and stunning marine biodiversity, it is one of the planet's most priceless treasures, but overseas oil interests wanting access to western Canada's tar sands, the second largest known oil reserves in the world, have put the region in threat, prompting the action of conservation groups and the iLCP. Throughout the expedition we'll be bringing you profiles, stories, statistics and photos to learn more about the region and why it's so crucial that we all work to protect it. Please follow along here on the iLCP blog, on Facebook and Twitter.


iLCP's Jenny Nichols reports from the field...

For lack of a better cultural reference, I feel as if I’ve landed on the set of the movie Twilight. My niece would be looking over her shoulder for vampires and werewolves, however we’ve traveled to the Pacific coast of British Columbia to face an immensely more threatening danger — the proposed Enbridge pipeline that will carry crude oil from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada to the coast of the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia. The creation of this pipeline is destructive for the ecosystem and the First Nations and wildlife that call it home, and it will also lead to a massive increase in tanker traffic.

After a semi bumpy 2-hour flight from Vancouver into Prince Rupert, I landed on a tiny fog-cloaked island off of Prince Rupert. Dave, who I sat next to on the plane, explains that now we take a bus and a ferry to the island of Prince Rupert. In Prince Rupert, everything is moving in sweet slow motion, no one is in a hurry, no one is stressed, and everything is running smoothly. The effect was refreshing. I slipped effortlessly out of my autopilot travel mode, and started to look around. The air traffic control personnel knew almost all of the passengers getting off the plane, the baggage handlers passed my bag with a gesture that was similar to a handshake. The crowd slowly rolled onto the sidewalk outside the one-roomed airport and waited for the bus to start loading. I assumed that we would heave our luggage under the bus, but then realized there were no compartments. An open backed moving truck backs up and started to load our luggage. With our gear safely stowed in the truck, we got on the bus and took off for the ferry. I sat next to Dave again on the bus because it’s not entirely clear where I would meet my good friends and colleagues Trevor Frost and Joe Riis who are already in Prince Rupert preparing for the Great Bear Rainforest RAVE.

Photo courtesy Cristina Mittermeier, iLCP

As we drove onto the ferry, Dave started to tell me about the wood mill on Prince Rupert that shut down about 8 years ago.

“Its why I moved here,” he comments and in the same breath mentions that the population has gone from something like 20,000 to 10,000 in just 8 years because of the lack of jobs. He thinks the main reason for the plant closing down was that the new environmental standards were too expensive to implement.

As an avid conservationist I am torn at this comment.

Part of me rejoices, as I look out over this incredible landscape where water and terrestrial habitat seem to converge with such grace. I secretly celebrate the fact that these trees will not end up as woodchips and 2x4s. However, Dave is clearly pained by this occurrence and the economy of Prince Rupert has clearly suffered enormously. I don’t know what the answer is in Prince Rupert, however I do know that conservation has to involve and empower the local communities to succeed. So often conservation movements and conservation groups are perceived as being the voice that says, “no, you can’t do that.” We need to turn that around and be the voice that says, “yes!” Yes you can be stewards of the land. Yes! This pristine landscape is still here because you protected it. Yes! You can still kayak along the Pacific Coast of BC and see whales, orcas and bald eagles. Yes, there is still a lot of work to do, but yes, there is also still time to make the right choice.

Photo courtesy Cristina Mittermeier, iLCP

The International League of Conservation Photographers and partners strive to make that choice obvious by telling the story of the Great Bear Rainforest through imagery and video. To help bring attention to the people living in the Great Bear Rainforest whose voices are not being heard. To show how imperative it is to protect this unique place and how together the people of Canada and the global community can stop this proposed pipeline and avoid an increase in tanker traffic that could destroy and ecosystem and a way of life.

So, how can you help? Here are three simple ways for you to support the work of iLCP and raise awareness about the threats facing the Great Bear Rainforest. Together, we can protect this precious ecosystem and the communities that live there!

1. Give! Support iLCP and the Great Bear RAVE

2. Take Action! Keep Oil Tankers Out of Great Bear
3. Tell the Story! Tell your friends, your family, your neighbors! Post stories from Great Bear on your own blog, on Facebook and Twitter!

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