by April Bencze
The boat engine roars to life as Diana and I untie from the dock this misty morning. Clay the dog is curled up in the only wind-free spot on the boat as we make the short passage to Bella Bella from Denny Island. Leandrea, a Pacific Wild intern, greets us at the dock on the other side. With tool kits in hand and gumboots on foot, we climb in the truck and head up the mountain to perform some electrical maintenance to keep the hydrophones and remote cameras operating smoothly.
Steadily the truck climbs the inclining path, peeling apart the overgrown branches on either side of the road as we pass by. It is a soggy morning atop the mountain. Although we cannot see it, we know a spectacular view must sit beneath the blankets of thick mist hanging over the surrounding islands and waterways below.
We arrive at the relay station where solar panels face the sky, a wind turbine spins and satellite dishes high atop a mast connect with the cameras and hydrophones dotted around the coast. Diana unlocks the control boxes containing batteries and wiring, and the team gets to work replacing temporary switches and improving the flow of wires.
The mist begins to lift, slowly uncovering the spattering of islands surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. Once finished with the maintenance, Diana and Leandrea pull out the netbook to test the improved system. After flicking the switch back on, lights illuminate and Diana sounds pleasantly surprised as she informs us that everything is working smoothly, on the first try! The bugs who kept close company, borrowing some blood as we worked, must have been a motivating factor to do it right initially. So we label the reconfigured wires in the electrical box, top up the water in the batteries and close up the relay station for the day. Down the mountain we go, stopping for deer on the overgrown roadway. The boat ride back to Pacific Wild headquarters is a dry one as the soggy morning begins to evaporate.
After lunch we attend an Enbridge Opposition strategy meeting put on by the Heiltsuk Nation at the Community Hall in Bella Bella. We brainstorm ideas to halt the pipeline project in its oily tracks. The sense of community and connection with the land and ocean is alive in the hall as we put pen to paper, letting ideas flow to protect British Columbia’s natural coastline from pipeline and tanker threats.
We are now in the floatlab for the rest of the afternoon, Diana and the interns closely monitor the hydrophones as orcas sing into the microphones, and porpoises surface outside the window of the lab. One of the remote cameras is trained on the sea lion haul-out on the outer coast as they enjoy an afternoon nap. It is another great day at Pacific Wild headquarters.
GreatBearLIVE – View sea birds and marine mammal interactions on this sea lion haul out on the Great Bear’s rugged outer coast. Press play to view the underwater camera in the seal garden – a nearby kelp forest and eelgrass bed. Sign up for Great Bear LIVE Alerts to stay up-to-date on the latest action and watch highlights here.
Spring in the Rainforest – By April Bencze
It is difficult to understand a place you have never been before. Pacific Wild introduced me to the ecosystems thriving in the Great Bear Rainforest on British Columbia’s wild coast long before I came here. They have unveiled the behaviours and interactions of wildlife using non-invasive, high-quality camera systems streaming live from remote locations, bringing you a piece of the Rainforest, wherever you may be in the world. Before I ever set foot here, Pacific Wild brought me face to face with wolves, bears and marine life with still images that captivated, inspired and introduced me to the many faces of this place.
I first met the wolves of this coast through Ian McAllister’s photography and conservation efforts. Then I met the bears, followed by the inhabitants of the underwater world. Ian’s images and those from the remote cameras brought me into the heart of a place I had never been, uncovering the lives of creatures I would not have known existed, like the spirit bear. I felt connected and driven to protect the Great Bear Rainforest, and all those who call it home. As a diver and wildlife photographer, I knew my future would be tied to British Columbia’s central coast, due to the strength with which it affected me. So here I am, at Pacific Wild headquarters operating the remote cameras from the Float Lab.
I was born and raised in Campbell River, on the east coast of Vancouver Island in Southern British Columbia. I spent a year scuba diving in Australia and Indonesia, before returning to my home waters to dive my days away. Photography slipped itself into my life through an urge to share the underwater world with the people around me. It quickly became much more and I find myself in the pursuit of a life dedicated to conservation of the natural world through photography. There is a responsibility to the subject after the shutter is pressed and an image is created. It is an obligation to share their story, and unfortunately many of the lives I am photographing are threatened.
This is what brings me to the Great Bear Rainforest, to do what I can to help protect the wildlife from the many threats they are facing. Pacific Wild has been an inspiration and I am thrilled to be volunteering my time to aid in their conservation efforts. Three weeks ago, I loaded up my touring bicycle with my camping equipment, camera gear and a cooler of food. Six days of riding from Campbell River brought me to Port Hardy, where I jumped on a short flight to Bella Bella.
I am blown away by the diverse habitats and life seen in my short time exploring this coast. I have traveled to many corners of the world, yet nothing can compare to the natural beauty I have witnessed in my time here. After the past few weeks of listening to whale song on the hydrophones and observing the wildlife in the Great Bear Rainforest, I am beginning to understand just how devastating supertankers in these waters would be. It would be destructive for the people, the land, the wild and marine life of the most untouched place I have ever seen. I’m incredibly thankful to the First Nations people and conservation groups who are working, and will continue to work, tirelessly to stand up for our coast.
Yesterday, Ian and I left Pacific Wild headquarters to do some camera maintenance. We headed out by boat during calm seas. As we passed numerous small, rocky islands, it was apparent that it was June in the Great Bear Rainforest. Harbour seals with newborn pups dotted the shorelines, sea otters bobbed in the kelp, and Oystercatchers trilled from their nests. New life was buzzing all around us as we cleaned the camera housings and completed some electrical maintenance.
The remote camera systems are proving to be a powerful tool in telling the story of this coast. Right now, one of the cameras is trained on a Steller sea lion rookery on the outer coast. It is capturing the birthing and nursing of this year’s pups on the live feed and distributing it to the world. I am in awe recording the intimate daily behaviors of the sea lions, in a way I have never been able to when out photographing them in the field. Please watch a compilation of sea lion and bird footage I pieced together in the weeks I have been here. The stories of the numerous species of wildlife continue to unfold before my eyes with these cameras. I hope you are watching the live cameras and meeting the local wildlife who call this coast home as well!
Help support our Digital Technitian Geoff Campbell and his friend Mikhayla’s “Ride for the Wild” Indiegogo campaign. Geoff and Mikhayla are undertaking a A2,500km bike expedition down the Pacific Coast to raise money to fight pipeline development & increased tanker traffic in British Columbia.
The first herring spawn began today in the Great Bear Rainforest. A keystone ritual that has provided a foundation of life, so revered over the last ten thousand years that the Heiltsuk new year is marked by the miracle of the herring spawn.
Like a gathering shadow, herring have been filling the bays and inlets of the central coast these past weeks while salmon, wolves, bears and whales close in on the herring spawning grounds ready for the first big feast of the year. Normally this would be a cause of celebration and renewal for the Heiltsuk people, but these days this spawning event seems more like a lament fuelled by anger and controversy.
Against all principles of precaution and conservation, the Federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea chose to open the corporate-controlled industrial kill fishery that will target these fragile remnant stocks. By doing this she is ignoring the pleas of First Nations while also overruling her very own scientists who recommended a closure in 2014.
The Minister is also jeopardizing the Heiltsuk traditional spawn on kelp fishery that collects a small amount of the eggs but allows the adults to live and spawn in future years. By all accounts the Heiltsuk fishery is a sustainable, community-based alternative to the DFO-supported fishery that indiscriminately kills both male and female herring of all sizes. The DFO model strips the females of eggs and the rest ends up as pet food or fishing bait.
And for what? The fishing fleet that has arrived here has a 750-tonne harvest quota valued at around $200 per tonne. Most of these boats have already incurred over $20,000 in expenses, when fuel, crew and licenses are added up – before a single fish is caught.
So no one is making money on this fishery. In days gone by 30,000 or 40,000 tonnes were taken by the fleet here, and a big year was 60,000 tonnes. DFO states they are only taking ten or twenty percent of the fish biomass. But that is ten or twenty percent of
a stock that is on the verge of collapse.
Another hallmark of the herring season is the heavy-handed presence of RCMP officers that arrive with the fleet. There have been six RCMP boats stationed here on Denny Island along with two-dozen officers ready to enforce this desperate fishery. A needless waste of public money is being used to intimidate a small community that is simply fighting for the future of herring.
The ecological tragedy that this coast suffers because of the unsustainable herring kill fishery is made even worse when DFO knows there is a sustainable solution. They should be supporting the Heiltsuk in rebuilding herring stocks while practicing sustainable harvest methods such as the spawn on kelp fishery.
For twenty-five years I have watched the Heiltsuk fight for sustainable management of their local stocks, sacrificing their own economic interests in favour of conservation. They have done everything possible from the courts to the frontlines of the herring grounds to convince the federal government to simply back off and give the stocks a chance to rebuild.
For a community that right up until the industrial fishing began here can show ten thousand years of documented and uninterrupted history with herring, perhaps it is time that DFO came to Bella Bella and listened.
Canadians should do everything possible to support this community in their fight to protect a species that has built and sustained so many for so long.
Our volunteer copywriter Danielle explains how a Lake Louise wildlife centre and a search on Google led her to the Great Bear Rainforest.
Three months ago, I’d never even heard of the Great Bear Rainforest. Now, here I am, living in the thick of it.
I came to Canada in April last year, an English woman hankering after the outdoors. The real outdoors. Open horizons, epic mountains, space. I came looking for forests and rich-hued lakes, for the great mammals, for a life lived in closer connection with the Earth. I came in search of the wilds that in my so-called ‘old’ country no longer exist. I found all of this, and it put me on a path that led to Denny Island, and Pacific Wild HQ.
My epiphany happened back in August, during a trip to the Canadian Rockies. At a wildlife interpretive centre in Lake Louise, I was sadden to learn that the majority of recorded bear deaths in the Rocky Mountain parks are a direct result of human activity. Behind the bear-wary precautions we took as tourists out on the hiking trails – singing, jangling bells, scrutinizing scat – and behind our half-nervous jokes about ending up as a bear snack, a real irony lay. As much as we were sensible to give Canada’s great iconic mammal a wide berth, the truth is that we have far less reason to fear it than it does to be terrified of us.
Once I’d seen wild Black bears with my own eyes, that was it. I couldn’t get those beautiful bears, or their breathtaking habitat, out of my head. My growing concern for a world of shrinking forests and melting ice caps, and my growing love for Canada – the real, wild Canada – spurred me into action. I wanted to experience the wilderness, and I wanted to make my own contribution towards protecting it.
Unearthing the Great Bear
After some rummaging around on Google, I found Pacific Wild. I learned that there was a Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia. I learned that Black bears could be white, and that it’s legal to shoot grizzlies for no other reason than a warped and marginally held concept of ‘sport’. I learned just how willfully governments, conventional energy corporations and a tiny minority of B.C.’s citizens are ignoring the astonishing, life-affirming natural wealth that’s been gifted to them. One of the last untouched stretches of our blue marble planet. A place I traveled seven and a half thousand kilometres to discover.
My role in the all-new Pacific Wild website!
So here I am on Denny Island. I’m thrilled that my skills in charity comms and Web writing are being put to good use in the development of Pacific Wild’s brand new site. I can’t wait to see it launched! It’s going to be visually stunning, informative and easy to navigate – a showcase for the world-class photography, Great Bear LIVE footage and audio that will have the natural world leaping off your screens and into your homes, wherever you may be.
I hope that the new pacificwild.org will aid your own discoveries of this ancient coastal forest, its waterways and ocean – all teeming with life. May it bring a touch of wild beauty to your day. And may that experience inspire you to take action in whatever small way you can. It’s your little act, added to the little acts of many others, that in the end will add up to a big force for change.
We’ll be announcing the launch date of the new pacificwild.org on our social media sites in the coming weeks, so make sure you follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @pacificwild to stay up to date!
Despite the pouring rain and high winds, more than 200 people turned up in person for the “Save B.C. Bears” rally on February 15, 2014 at the Legislature Buildings in Victoria, British Columbia. Supporters of all ages, carrying signs and placards, came to protest against the unsustainable, unethical and immoral trophy hunt in British Columbia. Speakers at the event included nationally celebrated poetry “power couple” Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane, MLA Andrew Weaver, eco-tourism operator Eric Boyum, bear guide Neil Shearer, and the legendary environmentalist Vicky Husband.
The aim of the event was to tell B.C.’s elected representatives that the trophy hunting of B.C.’s grizzly bears and black bears must stop, and that grizzly hunting in the Cariboo and Kootenays must not be re-opened this spring.
A recent report published in January 2014 by the Center for Responsible Tourism (CREST) in collaboration with Stanford University highlighted the eco-tourism dollars to be gained in British Columbia from the thousands of tourists who come to view rather than kill wildlife, taking home photographs rather than dead animal parts for display. CREST’s report Economic Impact of Bear Viewing and Bear Hunting in the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia, finds that bear viewing generates “12 times more in visitor spending than bear hunting and over 11 times in direct revenue for B.C.’s provincial government.” Furthermore, on a purely employment-related note, bear viewing companies directly employed an estimated 510 persons, compared with the 11 persons employed by guide hunting outfitters in 2012.
Tourists from all over the world flock to our province of Beautiful British Columbia. Take the B.C. ferry between Port Hardy and Prince Rupert during the spring and summer months and you will meet an array of visitors from Europe (many from Germany), Australia, Asia and North America who are excited to be experiencing Canada’s great outdoors, whether they’re here to surf, kayak, or capture wildlife on their cameras. Some lucky ones have arranged to go on a famed spirit bear and grizzly bear guided tour on the central and north coast, an experience of a lifetime! Without a doubt tourism in our province is only on the rise, and bear-viewing is a definite factor in this.
It’s from the grassroots level that we can make our voices heard and continue to keep this topic in the forefront of the media. On the day of the rally we collected 205 signed letters from rally participants. However, it was through the power of social media that those who could not attend added their voice. Through a SayZu Communications/Social Media experiment, people could text and tweet their opinions LIVE. The ripple effect was tremendous! In ONE HOUR, 450 people sent out 1,200 tweets and texts representing a total unique reach of 412,197 twitter feeds. The hashtag #notrophyhunting even made the Canada twitter trends map!
You can keep the momentum going!
- Write letters to elected officials and your local and national newspapers. Addresses can be found here. For more background information on the hunt visit Pacific Wild’s Trophy Hunt Action page.
- Educate those around you by hosting a film screening of Bear Witness, a film by B.C. Coastal First Nations
- Sign the PETITION
- Utilize social media #notrophyhunt @ChristyClarkBC.
An Insights West poll from November 2013 finds 9/10 British Columbians are against trophy hunting. ARE YOU?
Keep us posted on facebook and twitter @pacificwild
If Canada has not yet been formally inducted into the elite roster of global petro-states, where a country’s democratic rights and economy are run by oil interests, then Thursday’s National Energy Board decision assures it honorary membership
The federal cabinet now has 180 days to make a final decision on bringing tar sands oil to the Great Bear Rainforest. As one journalist recently summed up this phase of the process, “Prime Minister Stephen Harper now has 180 days to choose which rubber stamp to use.“
Like a group of hyenas shredding a carcass, Enbridge and the Federal government will be working tirelessly to twist the 209 conditions attached to the JRP report into a confusion of meaningless, discretionary and unenforceable measures until the phalanx of big oil lobbyists is placated.
If this sounds overly cynical, I urge you to scan the 400 plus page report: http://gatewaypanel.review-examen.gc.ca/clf-nsi/dcmnt/rcmndtnsrprt/rcmndtnsrprt-eng.html. In the meantime here are a few nuggets I have come across:
On page 18, the panel states that in the event “…of a large oil spill, we found that there would be significant adverse effects on lands, waters, or resources used by residents, communities, and Aboriginal groups. We found that the adverse effects would not be permanent and widespread.”
An oil spill clean up is considered ‘successful’ when 10-15% of the spilled oil is recovered. This means in a best-case spill scenario approximately 90% of Enbridge’s tar-like oil will be left for nature to clean up.
The proposed tanker route is arguably the most important critical habitat for humpback whales on the entire B.C. coast. On page 242 this is how the NEB proposes mitigation for whale disturbance: “Feeding humpback whales occur in other locations along the coast of BC and feeding habitat is available to individuals potentially displaced from the project area.”
Nice one, the whales can just move north where there are multiple LNG tanker projects proposed around the Prince Rupert area or perhaps they could move south to see how they fit into Kinder Morgan’s pipeline and tanker expansion plans.
On page 17 of the report, the JRP denies a significant connection between the proposed project and any upstream or downstream impacts. This means that the effects associated with expansion of the tar sands or the refineries in Asia that would be a significant contributor to runaway climate change were not considered in their analysis:
“Many people said the project would lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental and social effects from oil sands development. We did not consider that there was a sufficiently direct connection between the project and any particular existing or proposed oil sands development or other oil production activities to warrant consideration of the effects of these activities.”
Yet the JRP gave plenty of space to the economic benefits that expansion of the Alberta tar sands would generate. It is clear that the NEB is a facilitator of oil projects and not a regulator as it was once meant to be.
Is there good news? Yes, definitely. The painful and insulting charade of the JRP public process is finally over. We also no longer have to delude ourselves into hoping that the panel would reach a democratic decision, one that would respect aboriginal rights, public interest and the environment.
I imagine when people get a chance to digest the content of the JRP report, they will get angry, really angry. Over 10,000 people contributed letters of comment or oral statements to the JRP process, an overwhelming majority (over 96%) of whom spoke out against the proposed project. According to the JRP report, their voices were heard, but not significantly incorporated into the final analysis. On page 14 of the report, the JRP states:
“We considered all the information and views filed on the public record. Our process was designed to receive all perspectives. Our recommendations are based on technical and scientific analysis rather than the on number of participants sharing common views either for or against the project.”
Yet they go on to declare that this project is “…in the Canadian public interest.”
Page 21 is a dandy where the panel states: “We were not persuaded that construction and routine operations of the project would have a negative effect on the social fabric of communities in the project area. We also were not persuaded that the project would adversely affect the health and wellbeing of people and communities along the route or in coastal areas.”
This one will haunt them. The panel is basically dismissing an unprecedented number of submissions, including 1,179 oral statements, 175,669, pages of evidence and 884 hours of hearings. Perhaps they should have told Canadians a few years ago that public participation would ultimately be ignored.
It is clear that this facade of a process was scripted many years ago by oil interests, but if this is Enbridge’s best foot forward we should be heartened. The gaps in this report are big enough to drive an oil tanker through, and what is going to follow will make the 40 year (and counting) Mackenzie valley pipeline process seem streamlined. Environmental and constitutional legal battles, pending elections and an increasingly concerned and committed citizenry will ensure that this pipeline is never built.
As we lament for a Canada that we once knew, let’s take heart in knowing that all cards are now on the table. No more waiting for government or anyone else to protect our coast and chart a sustainable future for us. That responsibility is clearly on our shoulders and we will be doubling our efforts to realize this dream for our coast.
As Haisla spokesperson Gerald Amos stated in the media yesterday when asked if he would consider civil disobedience in the future. “I don’t consider it being disobedient when I am obeying my elders and traditional laws while protecting my home.”
I like that and as this last roller coaster of a year comes to a close, I also pledge to be a little bit more obedient in the times ahead.
Happy Holidays to you and yours.
It’s not normally recommended to expose yourself so entirely; out here storms from the southeast can churn up the seas before you can say ‘purple ringed top snail’. Bobbing over the remnant swells from the last blow, we look back at the mainland before it blurs into a darkened silhouette of peaks and valleys that make up the coast mountain range. With anchor secured, we are visited by a gang of Steller sea lions, a family of river otters and the bulbous heads and watchful eyes of harbour seals in every quiet cove.
As the western sun dips below the horizon, leaving its imprint of amber and crimson light, we soak in the panorama atop a rock nearby our lonely anchorage. We hear the squeals of a sea otter pup before it comes into view, riding on its mother’s furry stomach. A curiously placed snowy owl lands on an islet nearby as we savor the experiences of another wonderfully rich and diverse day.
Extra preparation was required for today: extra paddles, air tanks, VHF radios and a sat phone, in addition to a pre-departure agreement on emergency hand signals. Rising up the steep swells in our trusty dinghy, the three of us hunkered down as white foam whipped across us. I was jealous of Ian and Tav’s dry suits. After thirty dives this past week, the divers have fallen into a familiar rhythm, and as they drop to the bottom I could see the waves of mysids flowing over them. Later they would tell me that these tiny shrimp were so thick that they blocked out the sun.
In mixed seas like this it was hopeless to keep track of their bubbles, so I relied on the strobe from Ian’s flash to monitor their positions. So much shrimp biomass ensured the surface lens was covered in sea birds and plenty of fish below.
The third dive of the day was chosen up a quiet pass, protected from the ocean swell but with lots of tidal current pushing late season bull kelp forests. I could see dozens of harbour seals swimming below in the crystal clear water weaving back and forth as they curiously watched on.
Tuning into the weather channel brings news of storm conditions descending on our rocky perch, so we make a late departure for the safety of the mainland; now instead of big swells and surfing pescavores the tannin waters of the mainland bring brilliant orange sea pens, fields of nudibranchs and a travelling group of transient orcas. After breakfast, Ian admits he’s behind on some paperwork (some excuse about due dates for a book) and sits out the morning’s dive, so Tav had the pleasure of yours truly filling in as his dive partner – what a wonderful treat to see it first hand!
The days have gone too quickly and we have only explored a tiny fragment of the Great Bear Sea, but bearing witness to this rarely-observed world has been a gift. It’s not just the magnificent combination of flora, fauna and geology that faces such an uncertain future, it’s also the human communities that rely on the health of these systems. The continuing fight against oil tankers is found in the unity of all nations, in the unprecedented alliance of the walkers and swimmers, of the slimy and spiny. And perhaps if you experience a moment of despair for this coast, know that there are thousands and millions of creatures still blowing bubbles for the Great Bear Sea!
Thanks for reading!
Ian, Tavish and Ashley