The Great Bear Rainforest
The Great Bear Rainforest is located on the British Columbia coast, along the fabled 'Inside Passage' route to Alaska. Known by some as 'Canada’s Amazon', this remote and little visited Shangri-La is considered the largest intact temperate rainforest on the planet.
This partially protected ecological wonderland hosts a cluster of ancient First Nations communities and a medley of majestic species from 1,000 year-old cedars, to humpback whales, grizzlies, salmon and the iconic white “Spirit Bear”. It's an area roughly the size of Ireland and its timberlands contain more biomass than any other jungle or wilderness on earth.
The Great Bear Rainforest is as much a maritime entity as it is a terrestrial one. No abrupt division exists between land and sea. Both overlap harmoniously, each providing for the other. Rain coming off the ocean sustains the forest. Nutrients from the forest floor, in turn, trickle into the sea, feeding aquatic life ranging from phytoplankton to whales. The five major Pacific salmon species return to the region's rivers to spawn, and are hunted by birds and land mammals, who in turn deposit their carcasses in the forest, which act as fertilizer.
In an environment so delicate, the encroachment of the outside world with its engines of consumption, set off a period of confrontation that continues to this day. In the 1990s, environmental groups launched a campaign to stop wanton deforestation, which they insisted was destroying watersheds and endangering salmon populations. By 2006, after much lobbying, conservancy designations were announced for over 30% of the 'Great Bear Rainforest' – bringing into popular usage the name coined by conservationists. A subsequent deal in 2016 brought various levels of protection to up to 85% of the area.
Environmentalists maintain that these deals fall short of what is needed to properly protect the area.
The largest issue of contention surrounds the proposed pipeline and tanker projects slated for the area. If completed, those projects would see supertankers carrying liquified natural gas and bitumen condensate from the ports in and around Kitimat, through the treacherously narrow channels of the Great Bear Rainforest. An accident and spill, which residents say is inevitable, would deal a crippling blow not only to the region, but to an ancient culture and way of life.