Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Great Bear Rainforest

Canada’s fragile coastal wilderness

Executive summary by darmansjah

Sometimes you can see both the forest and the trees. The Great Bear Rainforest, the planet’s largest intact coastal temperate rain forest, is an untamed strip of land stretching 250 miles along British Columbia’s coast that harbors extensive tracts of giant hemlock, Sitka spruce, and red cedar. The mighty trees rise high above a moist and ferny forest floor patrolled by coastal wolves, minks, Canada’s largest grizzly bears, and rare white Kermode spirit bears.

This tranquillity has recently been rocked by a proposal to send tar sands crude oil from Alberta to a terminal at Kitimat in the Great Bear Rainforest. The project would entail two pipelines crossing some of the world’s largest salmon-producing watersheds and a steady procession of supertankers plying the narrow channels. The local First Nations and environmental groups are vehemently opposed, fearing the catastrophic effects of an Exxon Valdez–type spill. “This is a wilderness sanctuary, a very spiritual place,” says Ian McAllister, founding director of Pacific Wild. “The pipelines would fundamentally alter the coast forever.” A decision on the pipelines could come by the end of 2013. —Robert Earle Howells

Travel Tips

When to Go: May-September

Where to Stay: At luxurious King Pacific Lodge (accessible only by floatplane), all-inclusive amenities include gourmet meals, whale-watching, and guided kayaking tours. Spirit Bear Lodge, a tour/lodging outfitter in Klemtu, is owned and operated by the local Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation community.

How to Get Around: Sail through the rain forest on a guided, multiday tour with experienced outfitters like Maple Leaf Adventures or Bluewater Adventures.

Where to Eat or Drink: Reserve a table (and one of the day’s homemade desserts) at tiny Cow Bay Café, a funky, dockside lunch and dinner hotspot in Prince Rupert.

What to Watch Before You Go: Last Stand of the Great Bear, DVD, National Geographic (2004). Wilderness detectives embark on a 250-mile adventure through the Great Bear Rainforest in search of the rare white spirit bear.

Fun Fact: The rain forest’s most celebrated resident is the Kermode bear, or spirit bear. A recessive genetic mutation causes these black bears to be born with cream-colored fur. One in three black bears on Gribbell Island is white.

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