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Activist Communiqué: The Spirit Bears of British Columbia

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Spirit Bears - native only to the coastal areas of B.C. - are a specific subspecies of the North American black bear. Due to recessive genes, one in ten of these spirit or "Kermode" bears is born with a white coat.

According to Tsimshian traditional stories, along with its white coat, the Spirit Bear (or Moksgm'ol) was given unique powers, and was therefore highly regarded and protected by Indigenous communities in the area.

There are approximately 400 spirit bears left in the world, who live solely in a small range (4%) of the Great Bear rainforest in coastal British Columbia.

The territory of these bears has been under threat since the mid 1990s from resource development and the threat along the B.C. coastline from oil pipelines and tankers.

Logging, road building and tree harvesting within ecologically sensitive areas all threaten potential hibernation and denning sites and feeding grounds for Spirit Bears. Increased tanker traffic within the area and the threat of oil spills from the tankers or the pipelines that feed them also threatened their food and water supply.

While there was some headway in regards to conservation in the past, environmental groups charge that the government has not kept its promise to protect the forest or the Spirit Bears.

The Great Bear rainforest is a region of temperate rain forest along the B.C. coast between Vancouver Island and Southeast Alaska.

The Spirit Bear conservancy areas created by the government lies within the traditional territories and land-claim areas of four First Nations: the Kitasoo/Xais-xais, Gitga'at, Heilstuk, and Haisla/Hainaksula.

A 2006 agreement between the B.C. government and environmental and Indigenous rights activists established the Spirit Bear conservancy area in the Princess Royal Island area - a series of conservancies stretching 400 kilometres along the coast. While this was a start, the sanctuary only includes a small portion of a vast territory of the Spirit Bears.

On January 21, 2007, the federal government announced that it would also spend $30 million to protect the Great Bear rainforest. This matches the pledge made by the B.C. government, also augmented by private donations, to maintain the sanctuary area in the Great Bear rainforest.

However, according to the Valhalla Wilderness Society, unless logging guidelines are significantly improved, most of the Spirit Bears' territory outside of these protected areas remains threatened by industrial forestry and other resource developments.

Environmentalists also fear the threat from the Northern Gateway Pipelines project, which if approved, would bring crude oil tanker traffic regularly passing through the channels along the coastline of Spirit Bear territory.

Two pipelines carrying tar sands oil and other chemicals like condensate will travel to the Northern Coast of B.C. between Bruderheim, Alberta and Kitimat, B.C; spanning 1,172-kilometres through environmentally sensitive areas and then out into the ocean to be transported by tankers to Asian markets.

The harsh climate of Northern B.C. is especially challenging to industry. However, Enbridge has the approval of Transport Canada, which reviewed plans for the marine routes - where tankers would sail, how fast and under which conditions - and declared them sound.

There has been strong Indigenous resistance to the Enbridge's project as major Indigenous support for Enbridge Corporation's Northern Gateway pipeline collapsed on Tuesday January 17, 2012, after the Gitxsan First Nation killed its agreement with Enbridge.

Spirit Bears have a reciprocal relationship with the old growth forest in B.C. as animals and wilderness are one. If the coastlines and salmon are poisoned by tanker oil spills, what is spilled into the ocean will also contaminate the bear's food supply, drinking water and its forest territory.

By protecting the territory of the Spirit Bears, these sacred animals will help protect the other animals, plants, land and water along the B.C. coast.

For more information on how you can help and to sign the petition, please click here.



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