Spirit Bears: The Next Environmental Superstar

Photo spread aims to bring attention to pipeline plan near rare bear's habitat.

ByABC News
October 13, 2010, 6:19 AM

GREAT BEAR RAINFOREST, British Columbia, Canada, Oct. 13, 2010 — -- The Great Bear Rainforest is not an easy place to get to. It's a wilderness area the size of Switzerland, all but cut off from the rest of civilization.

Our ABC News team traveled by float plane. There are no roads here and no landing strips except for the flat stretches of water along the fjords.

What brought us to this remote corner of Canada is the spirit bear -- "Canada's panda" -- black bears with white fur because of a genetic variation.

With no more than 500 of them on Earth, spirit bears are more rare than pandas.

Click here to see a slide show with photos of spirit bears.

The spirit bear is the marquee species for a region that's also crowded with whales, wolves and eagles.

"It's a magnificent bear," said Ian McAllister, director of the nonprofit conservation group Pacific Wild.

Today, the Great Bear Rainforest faces a threat -- a massive oil pipeline from Alberta to British Columbia, Canada. The plan would turn the spirit bear's home into a superhighway for supertankers.

"They want to bring Big Oil to this coast," McAllister said. "The only thing that's standing between that is really the spirit bear, the concerted efforts from conservationists and the First Nation [native] people."