Dazzling Images, with Irony to Match

By Stephen Hume, Vancouver Sun, February 16, 2010

Friday's Winter Games opening ceremony paid homage to the spirit bear, salmon runs and old-growth forests, but government policies do little to preserve these gems of nature.

That mesmerizing Olympic opening ceremony last Friday presented to the world the icons that mark British Columbia as a special place.

There was the illuminated spirit bear, evocative of a magical benevolent wilderness presence, important to first nations from the coast to the Interior.

But despite repeated public opinion polls showing citizens want the practice stopped, B.C. continues to slaughter grizzly bears for fun and profit.

An Ipsos Reid poll in 2009 reported 78 per cent of British Columbians oppose the trophy hunting of grizzlies. Bear biologists denounce it because B.C.'s grizzly population is listed as being "of special concern." First nations chiefs from Haida Gwaii to the Great Bear Rainforest of the mid-coast object to the trophy hunt as sacrilegious.

The hunt is hardly sporting. Hunters kill bears feeding at salmon rivers. It's like shooting steers in the feedlot. Last year, 87 per cent of the 430 grizzlies killed were shot by trophy "hunters."

Some estimate that close to 11,000 of this increasingly vulnerable species have been killed in B.C. with the approval of the provincial government over the last 30 years.

Then there are black bears. They include the pale genetic variation known as the Kermode or spirit bear. About 3,500 black bears were killed in 2006, the most recent year for which statistics have been tabulated. If that were the average annual black bear kill, it would mean almost 80,000 black bears killed since the last Canadian Winter Games in Calgary.

Killer whales symbolically swam through the ceremony.

B.C.'s killer whales are an endangered species -- endangered by us. What's more, environmental non-government organizations had to launch a lawsuit before Ottawa would act on its statutory duty to protect the whales' habitat.

According to the federal science agency that monitors the status of wildlife, B.C.'s 88 southern resident killer whales are endangered, the northern population is threatened, the offshore population is threatened and even the transient population is threatened.

The ceremony depicted vast swimming schools of red salmon as a narrator's voice told of their importance to the fabric of West Coast life and first nations' culture.

But the once-abundant Fraser River sockeye run is in tatters, the once-huge Rivers Inlet run is a ruin, Thompson River coho and steelhead are vanishing and Cowichan River spring salmon are in deep trouble.

An estimated 38 salmon runs have fallen to endangered status. Despite this, our federal government approved fishing on stocks containing Sakinaw and Cultus salmon already at the brink of extinction.

There was a symbolic depiction of old-growth forest, majestic trees soaring above puny, awestruck humans.

A voiceover pronounced sentimental platitudes about the near-mystical importance of these mighty trees to the soul and sustenance of B.C.

Not so long ago, the folks trying to protect these forests were declared "enemies of B.C." by our government and some were jailed.

Meanwhile, another round of layoffs is under way in beleaguered Port Alberni. The sawmill owner says there isn't enough western red cedar -- yet more evidence of the self-inflicted depletion crisis that faces those reliant on over-harvested old-growth forests.

B.C. has long had a policy of liquidating old growth and replacing it with fibre farms. High-grading old growth has long been the practice.

The logging of old growth continues. Ancient Douglas fir forests that once towered over Olympic venues, where they have to be manufactured as light shows, are now about one per cent of what once grew in the real world.

Makes you wonder how Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Premier Gordon Campbell sat through all this self-congratulatory irony with straight faces. But that's the thing about the Big Lie. Make it glitzy enough and you start believing.

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All Photography © Ian McAllister unless otherwise noted.
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