Our ecological treasure is the issue with Northern Gateway – by Gerald Butts (Globe and Mail – January 11, 2012)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

Gerald Butts is president and CEO of World Wildlife Fund Canada.

The hearings to decide the future of the Great Bear Sea and Rainforest got off to quite a start this week. Big oil, foreign intrigue, a grassroots uprising, duelling polls, angry ministers – this one has all the makings of a blockbuster. But the fervour obscures the heart of the matter: whether and under what conditions we should permit supertankers and a bitumen pipeline in one of the last intact temperate coastal rain forests on Earth.

I suspect most Canadians would be surprised that the proposed route of the Northern Gateway pipeline bisects this ecological treasure. Pipeline proponents would rather frame this issue around developing an Asian market for oil sands bitumen – and the allegedly nefarious U.S.-based interests who would prevent us from doing so – than have a science-based debate about the real risks associated with getting it there by this route.

It’s the peculiar Canadian paradox that we’re blessed with such natural beauty and abundance that we often fail to value it. Even by our standards, however, the Great Bear is a special place. It’s the only habitat in the world for the spirit bear, which is rarer than the giant panda. Humpbacks, orcas and many other species of cetaceans take advantage of this quiet cold ocean to prosper. Eagles are as plentiful as sparrows are in Canada’s urban parks. And all five species of Pacific salmon are present, providing the basis for a prosperous fishery.

Mercifully, the communities that have been sustained by this wondrous ecosystem don’t share our undervaluing of nature. B.C.’s coastal first nations know well that Great Bear’s value as a functioning ecosystem dwarfs the tantalizing but fleeting promise of short-term cash from oil revenue. And they know from history what we know from traditional science: that this meticulously interconnected ecosystem is very vulnerable to disruption.

A toxic event can’t be ruled out, even in Enbridge’s own estimation. The 1,170-kilometre pipeline would divide the rain forest, crossing countless salmon rivers. At Kitimat, toxic diluted bitumen would be loaded onto supersized tankers. Each year, more than 200 would travel through narrow fjords and into some of the world’s most treacherous seas.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Globe and Mail website: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/opinion/our-ecological-treasure-is-the-issue-with-northern-gateway/article2297912/

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