Two Books Explore Wildlife of BC Rainforest

Urban dwellers have equal say over fate of wilderness

BY NICHOLAS READ, Vancouver Courier, September 29, 2010
Photograph by Ian McAllister

When Ian McAllister and I decided to write two books for children about the Great Bear Rainforest, that vast and still largely pristine piece of wilderness along B.C.'s central coast, we did so for the same reason. We both care passionately about the place, and we wanted to tell other people--mainly schoolchildren--about it.

After all, it's the last sizable swath of untouched temperate rainforest on the continent, and it's home to an array of animals who really do take your breath away when you see them up close. Grizzly, black and spirit bears, humpback whales, coastal wolves, Sikta black-tailed deer, moose, bald
eagles, sea lions and more. They are a Who's Who of the province's most beloved wild species, and they all live under one great life-giving umbrella of old-growth forest.

So, I'm attempted to add with a kind of eye-rolling, foot-stomping, teenaged ferocity, how could anyone not care about it?

I don't know, but I'm well aware that plenty of people don't, and that a good many of them are in government.

Nevertheless I do, and so does Ian. Hence our books: The Salmon Bears: Giants of the Great Bear Rainforest, about the rainforest's grizzly, black and spirit bears, and The Sea Wolves: Living Wild in the Great Bear Rainforest, about its fishing, swimming wolves. The Salmon Bears came out in April, and The Sea Wolves is due in October.

Ian's passion is easy to explain. As the founder of Pacific Wild, an organization dedicated to saving the Great Bear Rainforest from industry, sport hunting and now, most destructive of all, a proposed oil pipeline from Alberta, the rainforest is his raison d'être. He and his family live on a small island off its coast. He tastes it, breathes it, and experiences it almost every day of his life. So how could he not care?

As for me, yes, I've visited the rainforest and seen the animals we wrote about several times. Awe-inspiring moments to be sure. But my home is in Kitsilano. My job is at Langara College where I teach journalism. I hike in the wilderness now and then, and I do find it revitalizing. In fact, I'm continually surprised at how powerful its influence is. But my life is in the city. And while I never sip lattés, I have been known to buy tofu at Capers. Imagine.

Does this disqualify me from having a say in the rainforest's future? Some people--sport hunters, guide outfitters and government wildlife officials among them--would say yes.

They would argue that because I don't "utilize" the rainforest, because I'm hardly ever in it, because it's not part of my everyday life, I can't presume to have as much say in its future as someone who's in it every weekend.

It would be different if I had a vested interest in exploiting it. Or if I lived in those one or two northern ridings the B.C. Liberals are so terrified of losing if they did the right and popular thing--according to polls--and banned our annual slaughter of grizzlies. (If killing for fun isn't immoral, what is?)

But I don't, they'd say, so what I think doesn't count.

To that, I invoke a bull and his undigested organic matter. I do presume to take as much interest in the rainforest as someone who "utilizes" it, and I don't apologize for that.

My position, heretical though it might be in a world where everything is measured in human and economic gain, is that not everything should be. Some things--like the Great Bear Rainforest and the animals in it--are too precious. Their price really is beyond rubies.

And oil.

For me, it is enough that the rainforest exists--that it is a home and refuge to a myriad marvelous creatures who couldn't survive without it. Whether I use or see it again is of no consequence to them, and it shouldn't be to anyone else. Because what matters are those creatures.

Yet perilously for them, their future is in human hands. I'd like to believe that some of those hands are like mine--hands that just want to leave them and their forest alone.

But I know better. The government would never go for that.

---

Nicholas Read is a journalism instructor at Langara College. The book The Sea Wolves: Living Wild in the Great Bear Rainforest (www.seawolves.ca) will be published next month.
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