Photographer/conservationist Ian McAllister is at Okanagan College in Vernon Monday to present a talk on his new book

Photos help preserve contentious coastline

Great Bear Rainforest crusader Ian McAllister gives a presentation on his new book, Great Bear Wild, at Okanagan College in Vernon Nov. 3.

It’s a photo that has been seen around the world and has brought attention to an area of B.C. noted for both its unparalleled marine and land wildlife.

Taken by noted photographer/conservationist Ian McAllister, the photo shows a black bear and its white-coated ursine brother, the Kermode, in the region known as the Great Bear Rainforest.

It’s an area that McAllister knows well.

He has not only toted his camera through hectares of  the temperate rainforest, known for its 1,000-year-old western red cedars and 90 metre-tall Sitka spruce, but he also lives on a small island off the Central Coast in a region he says is “dominated by the ocean.”

“People see the imagery and they want to learn about the place and want to visit there,” said McAllister, who is currently on tour to launch his new book of photography, Great Bear Wild: Dispatches from a Northern Rainforest, and stops in at Okanagan College’s Vernon campus Monday for a presentation.

“It’s such as privilege to work in a place of such beauty with the wildlife and landscape.”

McAllister actually lived in Vernon as a child, and left the grasslands and cemented corridor of what is now the Okanagan for the greener and more lush pastures of Vancouver Island and later the Central Coast in 1990.

He now lives on Denny Island with his wife Karen, also a conservationist, and two children, ages eight and 11.

“There is no road through the Great Bear Rainforest. There are no roads to our house on the island. We travel by boat,” he said.

There are approximately 70 year-round residents on Denny Island, and the children living there, including McAllister’s, attend a one-room classroom.

“My kids grew up in the Great Bear Rainforest. It’s all they know. We are right close to the Inside Passage, so in the summertime we have more people coming up to visit the area. Once fall comes around though, it’s a lot quieter,” he said.

The area is also dominated by extreme weather, so if a storm hits, shutting down the ferries and planes, things can get a little isolated.

McAllister wouldn’t have it any other way.

A co-founder and current director of aptly named organization Pacific Wild, McAllister is like The Lorax, in that he speaks for not only the trees, but for every living thing that calls the Great Bear Rainforest and the coastal region home.

He is the author of The Great Bear Rainforest, winner of the B.C. Bookseller’s Choice Award, and his images have appeared in publications around the world. He has been honoured by The Globe and Mail as one of 133 highly accomplished Canadians, and he and Karen were named by Time Magazine as “Leaders of the 21st Century” for their efforts to protect B.C.’s rainforest.

McAllister is also a member of the International League of Conservation Photographers and has won the North America Nature Photography Association’s Vision Award and the Rainforest Action Network’s Rainforest Hero Award.

McAllister’s intention with his latest book is to document not only the species and landscape of the region he calls home, but to show what the threats from increased energy production entail.

He is especially concerned about the marine ecology that he says is threatened by humans and their incessant need for oil.

Recent news of the Russian tanker, carrying 400 tons of bunker oil and 50 tons of diesel fuel, which went adrift for three days off the B.C. coast, is just one indication of future catastrophes, he says.

“The work we do is one way to symbolize more than the rainforest, but Canada’s decision whether to protect or impact the planet and specifically this region,” said McAllister.

Present when the joint review panel for the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline recommended that the federal government approve the project, McAllister, says the time is now to make that decision.

“It’s all about the jobs and the economy, but what’s at stake on the coast is the large functional ecosystems, the wildlife and wilderness, and sustaining First Nation communities,” he said.

McAllister says the return of marine mammals such as the humpback whale as well as increased populations of Pacific white-sided dolphins and sea otters to the region will be impacted by more oil tankers navigating the waters.

“It’s like the ocean is telling us not to give up. There’s an abundance of these mammals from over a decade ago. It was rare to see a humpback whale in these waters and now you see the blowholes. These are acoustically reliant animals that will be completely affected by more tanker traffic,” he said.

And as the saying goes, a picture says a thousand words when it comes to showing just what will be affected.

“The more I get involved in my film work and photography, the more immersed I become. It’s more of a heavy responsibility to show what’s truly at stake by illustrating and describing the relationship between the rainforest and the ocean… And there is a lot of work still to do.”

Part of the Science in Society Speaker Series (a joint project by Okanagan College and the Okanagan Science Centre), McAllister will give his multimedia presentation entitled The Great Bear Wild: Why Should We Care About Its Protection? in the lecture theatre at Okanagan College’s Vernon campus Monday at 7:30 p.m.

Admission for the event is $7 in advance or $10 at the door. For tickets, call the Okanagan Science Centre at 250-545-3644 or visit


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