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A Reason for the Journey

Immense virgin rainforests. Towering granite cliffs. Abundant wildlife. Utter solitude. Do we really need a reason to trek here? The place begs to be explored. However, the purpose of this journey reaches beyond the simple goals of a wilderness hike. For a bit of history about the Great Bear Rainforest and Princess Royal Island, it makes sense to start at the beginning...

Receding Ice

The Legend of The Mooksgm'ol (from Tsimshian folklore)

"The earth was covered in a blanket of ice. Raven—the creator—changed the earth to a beautiful green land. As the ice melted, Raven went among the black bear people, turning every tenth bear white as a reminder of when the world was pure and clean. Raven promised these bears would have unique powers: they would lead special people to special places and have the ability to dive deep in the ocean in search of fish.

Raven then set aside a rainforest home for the bears where he decreed that they would live forever in peace and harmony."

For millenia, the Kitasoo First Nations Tribes of BC's Northern Coast survived on the bounty of the land. Old-Growth Forests Early in the last century, the BC Provincial government marked the entire region as the "Mid-Coast Timber Supply Area," suggesting a farming plot more than a pristine wilderness. Giant stands of spruce and cedar forests were seemingly endless, and for many decades the BC Government supplied logging leases into the old-growth woods with little attention from the outside world.

But as with any "inexhaustible" natural resource being extracted at unsustainable speed, the ancient woods of the Northern Coast began to disappear. Local biologists--only beginning to understand the region's intricately unique ecosystems--realized that something needed to be done, starting with a name change. The Mid-Coast Timber Supply Area was re-dubbed "The Great Bear Rainforest," a moniker that finally conveyed the scale of the ecosystem. The name stuck. Over the following decade, in one of the largest and most contentious political struggles to ever hit British Columbia (dubbed the "War of the Woods"), environmental groups clashed with government and logging interests, both sides deeply entrenched in the future of the Great Bear Rainforest. Blockades were protested, international boycotts were launched, and multitudes of protestors and activists were beaten and thrown in jail during the decade-long turmoil.

Finally, in a breakthrough compromise in February 2006, the Great Bear Rainforest was "saved" in a landmark agreement that set aside nearly 1/3 of the region from logging or extractive industries. It was considered one of the greatest environmental victories in Canadian history. The event made headlines worldwide, showing images of celebration and relief from those who'd worked so hard for so long towards the preservation of The Great Bear Rainforset.

Soon, the cameras fell silent, and the "Great Bear Rainforest" once again faded into international obscurity.

Clearcut Rainforest

The problem with that success story is that ecologists--those who've studies the ecosystems for decades--knew this compromise was not enough to ensure the genetic viability of many species that rely on large, unbroken tracts of land for survival. In the years since the agreement, industrial-scale clearcut logging has continued in the regions of the Great Bear Rainforest not set aside in the original agreement. Of course, that was an intended part of the compromise... much of British Columbia's economy is reliant on forestry as a vital source of income, and cutting that completely (so to speak) is not a viable option for any parties involved. The debate is not about whether logging should occur... the question is what rate the logging can be allowed while guaranteeing the sustainability of the ecosystem and the industry. Today the logging continues at a pace even the Minister of Forestry admits is often "double the sustainable rate." As new roads are built and regions are cut, the large untouched wilderness gets carved into a series of isolated islands, none of which alone hold populations of wildlife large enough to sustain the genetic viability that has thrived for millenia.

In the case of Princess Royal Island, much of the island itself was put under moratorium for logging (although damage to the NE valleys and Surf Inlet was already done). Immediately across Fraser Reach and other waterways narrow enough for populations to swim across and intermix, watersheds such as the Green River Valley are currently being clearcut. As ecologists find evidence of a weakening gene pool among Kermode Bear populations, it raises the question of what the future holds for a genetically unique and isolated subspecies, as well as the populations of salmon, grizzlies, black wolves, marbled murrelets, and countless other wildlife in the region.

Black Bear

The February 2006 agreement did not attempt to address the issue of trophy hunting. Hunting of Spirit Bears has long been illegal, but black bears in the area are still subject to trophy hunting by anyone who can acquire a license (and some who don't). Since a Spirit Bear is simply a genetic mutation in the Black Bear population (often a Spirit Bear is fathered by black bears, and vice versa), killing a local black bear with that recessive gene can have a significant impact on the viability of the Spirit Bear population, whose numbers are estimated to be only a few hundred individuals. Grizzly bears have suffered a far worse fate under the scope of trophy hunters. In 2001, the BC government faced drastic evidence of reduced grizzly bear populations throughout the entire province, and posed a 3-year moratorium on trophy hunting on the species. Less than one year later, the ruling was reversed (with no new scientific evidence supporting it) and hunting of grizzlies immediately resumed. At the current rate, the area of land from which BC grizzlies have been extirpated is expected to triple within 70 years. By 2065, grizzly bears are expected to be endangered or extinct within 40% of their total range.(source) In order to sustain the ecosystems intact for future generations, something must be done to stem the pace of big-game hunting in The Great Bear Rainforest.

Simply put, the Spirit Bear Team intends to expore Princess Royal Island in a pristine state, because our children may not have that chance. We believe the only way to help push for further preservation of the area is to get the word out again... the struggle for The Great Bear Rainforest is far from over. Working with First Nations Tribes and conservation groups, an economy based on ecotourism, balanced with sustainable forestry practices (allowing tree farms to grow back as quickly as they're cut down) is the only way to ensure that future generations can enjoy the fruits of the past.

If you believe that such things matter as well, please educate yourself by reading up about current research and conservations efforts in The Great Bear Rainforest. If you believe our trek is worth pursuing, contributions are welcome.

The RainCoast Conservation Foundation
Spirit Bear Youth Coalition
Valhalla Wilderness Society
Spirit Bear Adventures

The Journey of the Spirit Bear is proud to have the support of its sponsors. All the journey's sponsors can be found in the Gear Section:

Spirit Bear photos provided with permission by