At the heart of the hearings to decide the future of the Great Bear Sea and Rainforest is whether, and under what conditions, we should permit super tankers and a bitumen pipeline in one of the last intact temperate coastal rainforests on Earth.
WWWF – CANADA BLOG – January 11, 2012 Posted by Gerald Butts
Please see link I’ve included at the end of this article regarding another threat to our humpback whales
The hearings to decide the future of the Great Bear Sea and Rainforest got off to quite a start this week. Big oil, foreign intrigue, a grassroots uprising, dueling polls, angry Ministers; this one has all the makings of a blockbuster. No wonder the media interest has been so strong.
But all this fervor has obscured the heart of the matter, which is whether and under what conditions we should permit super tankers and a bitumen pipeline in one of the last intact temperate coastal rainforests on Earth.
I suspect most Canadians would be surprised that the proposed route of the Enbridge pipeline bisects this ecological treasure. Pipeline proponents would rather frame this issue around developing an Asian market for oil sands bitumen – and the allegedly nefarious U.S.-based interests who would prevent U.S. from doing so – than have a science-based debate about the very real risks associated with getting it there via this route.
It is the peculiar Canadian paradox that we are blessed with such natural beauty and abundance that we often fail to value it appropriately.
Even by our standards, however, the Great Bear is a special place. It is the only habitat in the world for the Spirit Bear, which is rarer than the Giant Panda. Humpbacks, orcas and many other species of cetaceans take advantage of this uniquely quiet cold ocean to prosper. Eagles are as plentiful as sparrows are in Canada’s urban parks.
All five species of Pacific salmon are present, providing the basis for a prosperous fishery. When spawned out or dragged into the forest by grizzlies and bald eagles, these fish deliver the nitrogen needed to grow trees to a size they have no business reaching at this latitude. This in turn allows for healthy and sustainable forestry.
Mercifully, the communities that have been sustained by this wondrous ecosystem for millennia do not share our paradoxical undervaluing of nature. B.C.’s Coastal First Nations know well that Great Bear’s value as a functioning ecosystem dwarfs the tantalizing but fleeting promise of short-term cash from oil revenues.
And they know from history what we know from traditional science: that this meticulously interconnected ecosystem is very vulnerable to disruption. A toxic event, even in Enbridge’s own estimation, cannot be ruled out. The 1,170-kilometre pipeline would divide the rainforest, crossing countless salmon rivers. At Kitimat, toxic diluted bitumen would be loaded onto supersized tankers.
© Andrew S. Wright / WWF-Canada
This isn’t the first time the Great Bear has been threatened. Just 25 years ago, it was slated to be clear-cut. After 15 years of conflict, a group of unlikely allies found a solution. First Nations, forestry companies, NGOs, the Harper and Campbell governments and both Canadian and U.S.-based philanthropists came together to create a world-leading model of ecosystem management and economic development. By combining conservation with better logging practices, and using a public-private funding model to finance new economic development, we found a way to protect the environment and the economy of the Great Bear.
The current question of whether foreign interests can participate in the NEB hearings is curious in this context. Should we prohibit oil sands companies, the majority of which are foreign-owned and operated? It also hypocritical, given that the industry and government has spent untold millions to lobby foreign governments, air PR campaigns in foreign markets and solicit foreign direct investment in the oil sands. The message we are sending the world is that you are free to come to Canada to exploit nature, but not to protect it.
In the interests of full disclosure, less than two per cent of our revenue came from U.S. foundations that have been targeted by smear campaigns recently. We are proud to add that support to the larger contributions we receive from almost 150,000 like-minded Canadians. We are also proud to provide a platform for Canadians who care deeply about conserving nature around the world, from the Amazon to tiger habitats of Russia and south Asia. Most important, we are transparent about our sources and uses of revenue (see wwf.ca), which cannot be said for those leading this spurious campaign.
Ultimately, this debate is a red herring designed to distract. The Great Bear is globally significant. If this development were proposed for the Amazon or the Great Barrier Reef, people around the world would engage. These are irreplaceable sites and input from global citizens who care about nature should be welcome. This expectation ought to be second nature in an open-society such as ours.
A version of this opinion piece ran in The Globe and Mail on January 11, 2012.