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The GREAT BEAR Rainforest
Canada's Forgotten Coast


by Ian McAllister, Karen McAllister, Cameron Young


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The province of British Columbia on Canada's Pacific coast has long been renowned for the beauty of its coastal landscape and the rich complexity of its temperate rainforest, a rare ecosystem that at its peak covered only one fifth of 1 percent of the earth's land mass. In recent decades BC has unfortunately gained another reputation for degrading these great natural treasures by clearcut logging, over-fishing and other forms of development. Names like Carmanah Valley and Clayoquot Sound became household words as activists around the world rallied to save a few enclaves of southern BC's magnificent old growth trees from the clearcutter's blade.


What has been overlooked in the struggle to save these remnant unlogged watersheds on the southern half of British Columbia's coast is that the province has a spectacular northern coast which is also blessed with temperate rainforests of great age and immense biological richness. The difference is that the northern raincoast has survived into the twenty first century with comparatively little disturbance and its ancient rainforest ecology remains largely intact.


From the top end of Vancouver Island for 400 kilometres north along the Inside Passage to the Alaska border, a coastal wilderness the size of two Switzerlands sprawls among a maze of islands and inlets that, if it were untangled in a straight line, would stretch 16,000 kilometres. This largely unoccupied and unknown coastal labyrinth shelters a hidden universe of pristine river valleys and fords dense with wildfowl, bald eagles, salmon, sea lions, porpoise, whales, timber wolves, black hears, Canada's largest grizzly bears, and the rare all white spirit bear or Kermode bear. Every kilometre teems with gemlike islands, crystalline lakes and streams and majestic waterfalls, hundreds of them still unnamed. It is one of the last places on earth where you can spend weeks sailing or hiking in enchanting r forest surroundings without seeing any sign of human society, although the area is home to the most isolated and independent First Nations tribes left in coastal North America. The northern BC raincoast is unquestionably the most unspoiled temperate rainforest on the planet, and unlike almost every other rainforest preserve, large enough to be self sustaining on an indefinite basis.


For those who have despaired of the earth's vanishing rainforest being saved, the news seems almost too to be true, but it comes with an ominous proviso. Having cut through the more accessible and merchantable forests of the southern en British Columbia's voracious timber industry has turned its attention to the virgin forest of the north coast and has already ravaged some of the most productive watersheds. Virtually every one of the eighty odd major undisturbed drainages in the northern region is under application for clearcutting by large forest companies, and if no decisive action is taken in the next several years, the opportunity to save the planet's most important rainforest wilderness will be lost.


Ian and Karen McAllister, two Canadian conservationists whose studies first led them to the northern BC coast in 1990, immediately became alarmed at the fate about to befall this magnificent rainforest holdout. For the next seven years they dedicated every day and every dollar they could muster to exploring the region and documenting magnificence on film and in words so they could make the world aware of what was at stake. Their effort, which at one point involves circling most of North America in a small trimaran which was their home base, has been prodigious. This book reflects both the grandeur of their cause and the passion of their commitment.



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Photos © Emerald Isle Sailing Charters or © Ian McAllister. All rights reserved.

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