Even as one threat to the coastal ecosystems is wrestled to at least an uneasy draw, new threats arise, said world-renowned biologist Wayne McCrory in Qualicum Beach Friday.
Speaking to a capacity crowd in the Civic Centre, McCrory outlined a series of victories and partial victories by environmental crusaders over his many years on the forefront of the push to preserve some of British Columbia’s special places and endangered species.
The importance of wilderness, he said, exceeded environmental considerations and went right to the core of what it means to be human.
“In the mountains of Italy I was struck by the beauty of the alpine and went to a place called the Valley del orso, valley of the bear,” he said. “The sun was shining through the mist and my guide called me over and showed me four holes in the ground, two and a half feet apart in a square. He told me that when Pope John Paul was dying he was taken to the park and they put his chair right there and he sat there and looked down that same valley. Here was the head of one of the biggest churches of the world, with beautiful churches and cathedrals, and where does he go to commune in his dying days? To a protected wilderness.”
McCrory talked of his seven-year fight to preserve the Valhalla range of mountains 35 years ago, where he and his late sister, Colleen McCrory, began their work.
“We saved over 1.5 million acres of parkland,” he said. “After we saved Valhalla Park in 1987, I thought, oh boy, that’s enough politics for me. I’m going to go back to the cozy world of doing research and my lifestyle in the Slocan Valley.”
However, it was not to be.
A plain brown envelope showed up on his doorstep one morning, detailing the threat to grizzly bear habitat in the Kutzymateen Valley.
A gruelling float plane trip to the remote site convinced him that this, too, needed to be preserved. That trip also opened his eyes to the full extent of logging damage on the B.C. coast.
“I saw just how horrible the logging was,” he said. “I was shocked and appalled. Valley after valley had been clearcut.”
The Kutzymateen, he said, was a grizzly bear paradise.
“Everywhere there were dead salmon, bear tracks and bear trails,” he said. “I’d never seen so much grizzly sign in my life.”
McCrory and his colleagues began a campaign to save the remote valley.
“We launched a big study with the World Wildlife Fund and mapped the rainforest and timber values and grizzly bears and started some of the first bear viewing programs on the coast.”
It was another seven-year battle, but help from local First Nations, the World Wildlife Fund and thousands of individual British Columbians, the valley was saved.
Since then, he said, other campaigns have continually cropped up, some which ended in victory, some in defeat and others in a mid-range compromise.
Whether it be mountain caribou habitat in the Selkirk range, wild horses on the Chilcotin Plateau or the Great Bear Rainforest, McCrory and his colleagues with the Valhalla Wilderness Society and other groups, continued to fight a rearguard action to preserve B.C.’s special places and give its mega-fauna, such as grizzly bears or caribou, a fighting chance to survive as viable species.
“Along the way we became frustrated with single issue campaigns and while the Great Bear Rainforest campaign was going on, 15 scientists on the team concluded that to save an ecosystem you need to have 50 per cent of it protected in large areas,” he said.
“We organized a big rainforest symposium and made a declaration and took maps to different First Nations bands and environmental groups and invited them to make proposals to protect inland temperate rainforests.”
By the year 2000, he said, the campaign had come a long way and government added 108 conservancies, including three expansions to the Kutzymateen conservancy, were put in place.
However, he said, new threats continue to loom, the latest being the possibility of supertanker traffic through the narrow waterways of the B.C. coast if the Northern Gateway pipeline goes ahead.
“Our work is never done,” he said. “One of the biggest threats to hit the coast is the Enbridge pipeline and the huge tankers plying these passageways. Some of them are almost a kilometre long and some of the passageways are only two kilometres wide.
“An Exxon Valdez happening is predictable and would be 10 times worse. Imagine, there will be 260 of these tankers a year going through an area with some of the worst storms in the world. I don’t want to belabour the point, but we just dealt with one threat to save a bunch of areas, but a new one is looming on the horizon.”