Canada's 'Spirit Bears' Threatened by Proposed Oil Pipeline

Spirit bear (Ursus americanus kermodei)

The battle of domestic energy production verses the protection of natural resources and wildlife “treasures” has many fronts. With attention largely focused on the environmental and climate change impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline, passing almost under the radar is another proposed pipeline — the Northern Gateway pipeline (proposed by energy giant Enbridge*) — that could threaten the habitat of an endangered species of black bear, known as the Spirit bear.

Spirit bears are a unique species in which roughly one out of ten is born with a white coat, due to a recessive allele (gene variant). For centuries, the indigenous peoples of the region refused to hunt the bears and never spoken of them to outsiders or fur traders, thus insuring their survival, up until the present day. Most threats to the bears’ survival have come from loss of habitat (rain forest destruction) and human development.

With only 400 to 1000 such bears still living in the wild, the fate of the Spirit bear (Ursus americanus kermodei), also known as the Kermode bear, now rests in the hands of the Canadian government. Spirit bears are only found along the central and northern coast of British Columbia, Canada, and the prime habitat just happens to be in a direct line between the the oil pipeline’s path and the ports which will ship the oil abroad.

Passing through the majestic mountains and crossing over the mighty rivers of British Columbia, the pipeline, if built, would bring an estimated 500,000 barrels of tar sands oil (yes , the same source as the Keystone pipeline) per day to ports on the coast — passing through the still pristine temperate rain forests where the remaining bears live.

The rugged and dangerous terrain over which, or through which, this proposed pipeline must pass to get to port are causing alarm amongst conservationists, many of whom see it as an ecological and environmental catastrophe waiting to happen.

Exxon Valdez oil spil
3 days after Exxon Valdez ran aground on Prince Wlliam Sound's Bligh Reef, spilling as much as 750,000 barrels of crude (NOAH)

Adding to this concern is the fact that, after loading the oil onto supertankers, said tankers will have to navigate around a series of dangerous reefs, accompanied by “hurricane force” winds, and then through a channel that is several times narrower than the channel through which the Exxon Valdez had to navigate.

Lastly, the ships will pass closely by Princess Royal Island, which is the western most habitat of the Spirit Bear, as it powers through water inhabited by orcas, humpbacks, fin whales and Stellar sea lions.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which successfully fought to protect the Spirit bears’ rain forest habitat ten years ago, is spearheading an effort to block the proposed pipeline. The Northern Gateway pipeline is also strongly opposed by thousands of native peoples from 70 First Nations residing in British Columbia, who also see their way of life being threatened

The NRDC is asking for concerned citizens from all over to call on Premier Clark to stand in solidarity with its First Nations and oppose the pipeline. To voice your concern and opposition, visit the NRDC website and send your message to Premier Clark.

* Enbridge is listed as one of the Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations

Top photo: Jackmont; CC -BY – SA 3.0

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