Spirit Bears: The Next Environmental Superstar

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"We weren't even allowed to talk about it," he said. "If we were sitting at the dinner table, you know, and someone mentioned that they'd seen one. ... They'd tell you, 'Shh, keep it quiet.'"

Pipeline Through the Rain Forest

The residents of Hartley Bay, Robinson's hometown of 150, held a potluck dinner for the visiting photographers. Among the delicacies was fresh seal meat and smoked sea lion.

Helen Clifton, a tribal elder, said the elders strongly oppose the pipeline.

"We, the red race, were to be keepers of the land," she said. "We need all of you to help our spirit bear that we have out there."

But proponents of the pipeline say there's no cause for alarm, that the pipeline would skirt the Great Bear Rainforest. The oil would travel through the region only in modern, double-hulled tankers and guided by tugboats. They add that the pipeline would bring jobs to the region.

"We believe the potential for a spill is remote," said John Carruthers, president of the Northern Gateway pipeline project. "We'll also put in very thorough plans in the event of a spill, but the public needs to know we can respond very effectively if there is one."

The Enbridge oil company, unfortunately, has had some practice. An Enbridge pipeline in Michigan burst this summer, spilling 1 million barrels of oil into the Kalamazoo River, which flows into the Great Lakes. Last month, one of the company's pipelines in suburban Chicago started to leak.

It's little wonder that the fishermen are skeptical and worried that an oil spill could destroy their way of life.

"This is my bread and butter," one said.

The Search for the Spirit Bear Continues

The second day of our hunt for the Spirit bear involved a strenuous hike into an even more remote patch of woods.

Robinson, our bear tracker, said the area was off limits to everyone. Only he and his guides were allowed to enter.

The moss was so thick and soft, it could be used as a pillow. The place was so quiet that the only sound, besides the rapids, came from the salmon swimming upstream and the ravens flapping their wings overhead.

There was plenty of evidence that bears recently had been there -- fresh salmon killed on the rocks of the river and fresh bear droppings in the woods.

We hid quietly by the side of the river.

"This is where the bears are most likely coming to feed on salmon," Robinson said. "[With] the carcasses all over, you know, there's good signs."

The Search for the Spirit Bear Continues

Almost immediately, a white form emerged from the woods -- a lone wolf surprised to see humans. Black bears arrived. We waited and waited until the light faded. Disappointed, we trudged out of the woods.

On our last day of shooting, we set off early in hopes of better luck. And suddenly, there he was in an open field at the edge of the woods.

"It really feels like a ghost," said National Geographic photographer Nicklen. "You feel like you've seen a ghost -- the way they so seamlessly slip back into the forest and they're gone again. You have to look at your pictures to realize what you've just seen. It's just amazing."

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