Saving the Spirit Bear: A Significant Endeavor
D. Simon Jackson
It was in the days following one of the most horrific terrorist attacks in the history of humankind, September 11th 2001, that I realized the gift of life is, in fact, life – all life. Despite the pain and suffering humankind inflicts on one another in the name of an ideology, the world continues to turn; the planet, at its most basic level, remains unchanged, sustaining itself, as it always has, in the circle of life. The gift that we receive each day is often taken for granted in the midst of the specifics of our everyday lives.
It is easy to forget to care for our environment – our precious home – in times of international crisis. But as I returned to an untouched corner of the world a week after September 11th, its inhabitants were oblivious to the world’s events, and I was reminded of the importance of preserving nature in our world as a means of grounding us and sustaining us. It is this gift of simplicity and complexity that is the fundamental building block of life and, in this age of expansion and change, it is a gift we are too close to losing. If we have one commonality as a species, it is that each of us is both the recipient and steward of our planet.
Far from the terror and tragedy of ground zero, deep within the tangle of ancient trees and misty fiords on Canada’s west coast is a place few know exist, a place far removed from humankind. It is an indispensable component of our planet, a lifeline for creatures near and far. With wildlife as diverse as that found in the Serengeti, to raging rivers teaming with salmon, to the cathedrals of ancient trees – it is a biological and ecological gem, a spiritual conduit, an essential beauty, and a wilderness in every sense of the word.
Neither words nor photographs can do justice to being in a place where perhaps no one has ever walked before, nor does it create the emotions that are felt when hearing the screech of an eagle or the howl of a wolf. Everyone who enters this forgotten world is humbled by its power and inspired by its beauty. It is a place protected by the Raven, guardian of the regions’ most celebrated inhabitant – the rare, white spirit bear. And it is here that I have traveled to from my new home at the University of Toronto to participate in the filming of a documentary for National Geographic on the spirit bear and the work of my organization to save this wilderness – the bears’ last chance for survival.
From the time I was very young, I have had a passion for bears and the wild spaces they call home. And from selling lemonade when I was in grade two to help protect Alaska’s Kodiak bears, to organizing a letter writing campaign to ban lead shot for waterfowl hunting, thus protecting bald eagles, I have always believed in the power of one. Seven years ago, I learned of the plight of the spirit bear and I knew I had to help. What started out as a high school letter writing campaign quickly developed into a broad based global issue. I founded the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition with the hope of uniting youth around the globe to help give this bear a voice. And they did. Thanks to the support of many high profile figures such as Dr. Jane Goodall, Charlotte Church, Sum 41, and the Backstreet Boys, we were able through the media and education campaigns to reach millions and create a network of 5 million young people around the world.
For years, students have approached me and said: Simon, I’m one person, if I don’t bother to write a letter, it won’t make a difference. And to that I would answer – you’re right. If you don’t make your voice heard, you won’t make a difference. No one will know what you think. But imagine if every person, said, ‘yes, I can make a difference, I will do my part, I will make my voice heard’. Think if everyone believed that.
In the case of the spirit bear campaign – besides showing the public that this issue existed and was in desperate need of support – we had the challenge of breaking through these preconceived notions. But we were able to get this message to enough people – so as each person sat down and wrote a letter, a friend or family member would write one as well, and soon 25, 000 letters from young people alone, were pouring into the Premiers office. Soon the message had legs.
As a result of these efforts and, of course, those of many others, this issue went from political oblivion to the forefront of boardrooms, cabinet meetings, and the public eye. Our organization helped bring the disparate parties to the negotiating table, which in turn paved the way for a recent, historic land-use agreement that protected or deferred development in an area two and a half times the size of Yellowstone National Park. But more importantly, this announcement proved to the youth who helped give this bear a voice that they had indeed made a difference and that they could do the same thing for any issue they believed in, whether on a local or global scale. We must all realize that there are no insignificant endeavors.
My voice is only so loud and I have the ability to reach only so many people. It is because of youth that we have come as far as we have, and it will be because of youth that this issue will finally be resolved. Half of the spirit bear wilderness remains threatened, including its heart and soul, the Green River. Without full protection for this 250,000 hectare wilderness, the spirit bear will most likely not survive. I believe to rob this rainforest of a part of its soul will impoverish humanity and take away a part of our soul. The spirit bear is a global treasure, whose survival is in our hands.
Today, we must illustrate that the greatest sin is not trying and that by trying, together – as one voice – our dreams are possible and our missions are most certainly winnable. We are the voices for the sick, the poor, the children, the dreamersƒand the bears. It is our most important endeavor and our greatest tool for a better tomorrow. For me, it begins by saving this undeniably, irreplaceable bear. In the words of Alfred Lloyd Tennyson: “Tis’ not to late to seek a newer world.”
Throughout the last seven years I have experienced many things. I have learned to focus, not to lose hope, and to follow my dream. I’m grateful for the time and experience so many people have shared with me and most of all, I’m grateful for Raven’s gift – the spirit bear and the wild space it calls home. It is a place that is truly wild and free and all that that implies. And as I watched the white bear feed on wild Pacific salmon, shaded by thousand year old trees, I remembered why I spend every day trying to preserve this wilderness for generations to come. This wilderness, in its most basic form, is a reflection of humankind – our quest for sustainability. If we fail to sustain the life in this ecosystem, can we be sure that we will be able to sustain ourselves. When we lose creatures like the spirit bear, we lose a piece of ourselves and affect the delicate balance that intertwines humans, animals, and our planet. This is the beauty and fragility of life.
D. Simon Jackson,
Director, Spirit Bear Youth Coalition