Tonight I attended the AWARE screening of Spoil; an incredible documentary about the Great Bear Rainforest.

The International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP) team[ed] up with Pacific WILD, the Gitga’at First Nation of British Columbia, LightHawk, TidesCanada, Save our Seas Foundation, Sierra Club BC, and the Dogwood initiative to carry out a Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition (RAVE) in the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia. [They] focused their energy and cameras on this pristine region in response to plans by Enbridge Inc. to build a pipeline for heavy crude oil from the Alberta tar sands across British Columbia to the coast of the Great Bear Rainforest.

The film features incredible footage and stunning still shots of one of the only truly wild places left on earth.  I was completely overwhelmed by the beauty of it all. Old growth forest is nestled up against the sea and cradled by fresh water estuaries. The whole area- terrestrial and aquatic- simply teams with life; salmon (the lifeblood of this ecosystem), giant starfish that can swallow up anything (even spiny urchins!) wolves, eagles, whales and bears are just some of the inhabitants.
The Spirit Bear, from which the area takes its name is a really rare black bear with a recessive gene that makes it all white. There are something like 200-400 left and this is the only place in the world where they live. The images of the Spirit Bear, literally two feet from the lens of the photographer reveal a playful, resourceful being with just as much right to be here as we have.
The film also features the Gitga’at, one of the first nations people that call this place home. At first they spoke of the Spirit Bear in hushed tones, afraid of the attention this rare creature would bring to their hidden gem of a territory. Now that this area is in dire threat from pipeline incursion they are trying to raise awareness worldwide about the existence of the Spirit bear and the importance of protecting its home. They believe that the Spirit Bear is sacred and was sent by the Creator as a message to preserve their homeland and keep it clean.

A pipeline shipping 400000 to 1000000 barrels a day of crude oil is a huge threat to Gitga’at’s traditional way of life and food sources as it is to all of the inhabitants of the Great Bear. If the project is approved the dire threat of a spill would be a horrific specter in all of their lives, because it’s not a matter of if, but when an oil spill would happen. Enbridge alone is responsible for close to 700 spills in the recent decade (1999-2008) amounting to 132,000 barrels of hydrocarbons released into farms, wetlands and waterways on the continent. The 2010 spill in Michigan was one of the largest in Midwest history, leaking more than three million litres of oil, some of it into a 50-kilometre stretch of the Kalamazoo River. The proposed Northern Gateway pipeline is intended to cover  1,170-kilometre- the immense scale and geographic scope of the proposed pipeline (and thus the implications of a spill) are mind boggling, and not just for the the Great Bear. The pipeline will cross over 1000 waterways, several mountain ranges and a spill could cost Canada billions. That is to say nothing of the staggering impact mining the tar sands has on the boreal forest and the climate change impacts of using the filthiest crude on the planet.

Do we really need to ask what the price of clean water is? Or clean air? Or healthy fisheries? Or healthy ecosystems? Of preservation of ancient traditional wisdom and customs? Or our national sense of ethics?  These are questions that can not be answered with dollar figures. They are priceless.

I have been touched by the Spirit Bear and think a trip to the Great Bear is necessary. Perhaps as a post-marathon reward…

Where is the project at right now you may be wondering…? (I will be writing more on this soon!)

Federal regulatory hearings (AKA Joint Review Panel Community Hearings) started this month and will continue for many more months. Here’s a link to the dates and locations: (http://gatewaypanel.review-examen.gc.ca/clf-nsi/nwsrls/2012/nwsrls01-eng.html)

More than 4,300 individuals and groups have registered to speak at the hearings conducted by two federal environmental bodies over the next 18 months or more across British Columbia and Alberta. Kevin Rae of Whistler is one such individual and he said a few words at tonight’s gathering.

He said that the tar sands are the largest industrial development in the world and that the prospect of expanding them via pipeline expansion and increased tanker traffic is the biggest environmental issue facing Canadians today. It’s one about which he has serious concerns that he will be raising at a hearing in the near future. While the period to register for speaking during the review process has closed, it is possible to submit a letter to the National Energy Board or Federal government opposing the project by March 13th. He urged everyone to sign the Dogwood petition (http://dogwoodinitiative.org/no-tankers/petition) and continue to raise awareness by writing letters to local media, CBC and via social media.

Check out how these awesome organizations are making a difference!

AWARE (www.awarewhistler.org)

Pacific Wild (http://www.pacificwild.org/)

International League of Conservation Photographers (http://www.ilcp.com/)

Dogwood Initiative (http://dogwoodinitiative.org/no-tankers/petition)