The north half of the West Coast, between Vancouver Island and Alaska, has been one of the northern hemisphere's richest unprotected wildlife habitats and home to Canada's largest grizzly bears. Written to spark awareness of that area and engender protective legislation, The Great Bear Rainforest: Canada's Forgotten Coast (Harbour 1997 $39.95) by Ian McAllister and Karen McAllister, featured a foreword by Robert Kennedy Jr.

The British Columbia government introduced measures to protect some of the Great Bear Rainforest in 2006, promising in February to allocate $30 million if the federal government matched that commitment. In February of 2007, the federal government pledged to spend $30 million to help preserve 1.2 million hectares of rainforest, the largest intact temperate rainforest left on earth. An additional $60 million was raised by private organizations and philanthropic groups--making The Great Bear Rainforests one of the most influential Canadian books ever. Time magazine heralded Ian and Karen McAllister as "Environmental Leaders for the 21st Century" and credited the book as being "...the centerpiece for Greenpeace International's North American forest campaign." The book reached its fourth printing by 2007.

Karen McAllister is a conservationist with a special interest in the flora of BC's mainland coast. Born and raised in Alberta's Rocky Mountains, she studied biology and environmental studies at the University of Victoria. She is a founding member of the Raincoast Conservation Society. 1-55017-166-6

Great Bear Rainforest (Harbour $39.95)

For Ian and Karen McAllister, getting to know grizzlies was easier than compiling a coffee table book.
After charting an ecosystem which stretches from Knight Inlet to Alaska, taking thousands of photos, keeping journals, making seven pilgrimmages in seven years, building their vision to protect a 2,000-kilometre strip of bear habitat, the young Victoria couple resisted pressure to make themselves into personalities for The Great Bear Rainforest (Harbour $39.95), co-written with Cameron Young.
"People all over the world understand the importance of salmon and bears," says Ian McAllister. "We didn't want to distract their attention as characters. Our goal was to explore every single intact valley on the mainland coast."
Like modern-day Darwins in a rain-soaked Galapagos, the McAllisters succeeded in the spring of 1996, setting foot in Smokehouse Creek off Smith Inlet, the last valley on their list.
The couple used a trimaran to explore an area which they claim represents two-thirds of the planet's temperate rainforest, where approximately 2,000 grizzly bears reside, where 'white spirit' kermode bears roam, where spring migration of eulachon can attract thousands of eagles, where pictographs abound and where an overzealous photographer can get bruised on the chin by a flying salmon -- it happened -- to present their anti-logging perspective on behalf of the their Raincoast Conservation Society, which they co-founded with Ian's father and a few friends in 1990.
"With the same doggedness that drives the tobacco industry to insist smoking doesn't necessarily cause cancer, the forest industry insists clearcut logging doesn't necessarily harm salmon stocks...
"The indisputable fact is that after twenty-eight years of clearcutting, the once mighty Rivers Inlet sockeye run fell from over 3 million fish to 65 thousand, and one of the planet's great salmon fisheries had to be closed to commercial harvesting."
The McAllisters' next step -- after publishing an American edition of their book with the Sierra Club, addressing the Rockefeller Foundation and discussing production of an IMAX film -- is to prepare a 'biological blueprint' for conservation in consultation with all the 'stakeholders' along the coast. "The government's not doing it," says Ian McAllister. "They're being totally negligent."


[BCBW 1997]

Karen McAllister on Great Bear Rainforest
Interview (1998)

Ever since Ian and Karen McAllister started learning about the adverse effects of logging on bear and salmon habitats in 1990, the Victoria-based couple has become increasingly vocal in their opposition to potential logging in pristine valleys.

Now their coffee table book, The Great Bear Rainforest (Harbour $39.95), co-authored with Cameron Young, is having a major impact around the world as Greenpeace supports a global campaign to preserve 80 coastal river valleys in B.C.

While touring Europe in March, Ian McAllister persuaded some pulp and paper companies to curtail purchases from B.C.-based operations accused of poor logging methods, to the consternation of the Forest Alliance of B.C. spokesman Patrick Moore who contends The Great Bear Rainforest is unfair propaganda.

The following month Greenpeace staged protests in Antwerp and 23 German cities that included the erection of a four-metre-tall inflatable bear atop the Canadian embassy in Bonn. Seven demonstrators were arrested. In Antwerp, 30 Belgian activists painted a 100-metre slogan on the hull of Saga Wind, a freighter carrying B.C. lumber. It read, "Don't buy rainforest destruction. Stop Doman and Interfor."

Those protests in Bonn and Antwerp can be traced to a 1990 decision made by Peter McAllister, a past president of the Sierra Club of Western Canada, to take along his son Ian for a one-week reconnaissance voyage to the remote Koeye River, an important habitat for grizzlies that was being threatened by logging and resort development.

"I knew as much about grizzly bears as I knew about photography," Ian McAllister recalls. "Very little...

"On the return journey through Queen Charlotte Sound, everyone on board fell silent as the obvious question moved through us like electricity. If the Koeye River could be so spectacular and yet so unrecognized, what about the eighty or ninety other river valleys on the mainland coast that were still intact and unprotected?"

Father and son spent the winter collecting as much information as they could about every dot on the mid-coast map; they barely filled a shoebox.
"Clearly no one -- no government and no private organization -- had ever undertaken an inventory of this coastline in search of even the most most basic biological and ecological information.

"Yet the rights to log the forests of these valleys had been licensed to large logging companies, a decision that could deface the wild raincoast landscape forever."

Along with three friends -- including Karen Schulz, who became Ian's married partner -- the father and son team formed the Raincoast Preservation Society. In 1991, with a small Cessna airplane and a video camera, they undertook a systematic aerial reconnaissance of all intact river valleys between Bute Inlet and the Alaska border.

A boat was needed to properly explore the area. When Ian and Sally McAllister heard about a used trimaran sailboat for sale (cheap) in Ontario, they bought the 36-foot Companion over the phone, with money from their treeplanting jobs. Neither had sailed alone before.

Sometimes relying on decorative maps on placemats for direction, they managed to navigate from Ontario, through the Panama Canal, to Hawaii and back up to B.C. After 30,000 sea miles, they began their seven annual forays up the coast, intending to visit every intact valley and assess wolf and bear populations. Armed with pepper spray and Ian's cameras, they succeeded in 1996, setting foot in Smokehouse Creek off Smith Inlet, the last unvisited valley on their list.

In the process the McAllisters took thousands of photos, kept extensive journals and helped produce three short films -- Legacy, Watershed and Greencoast -- while compiling statistical information to support their preservationist stance.

-- A 1996 American Fisheries Society study shows that North America's coastal rainforest has lost 142 local races of salmon; 624 others are at high risk. The Society claims 766 salmon stocks in B.C. are extinct or at high risk of extinction.

-- Of the jobs produced by mid-coast logging, 90% are held by by people who don't live in the area.

-- Although the Wildlife Branch of the B.C. Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks acknowledges that the grizzly bear population is at risk, they support the legal hunting of approximately 350 grizzlies per year.

-- A 1995 Angus Reid poll found 91 percent of British Columbians opposed trophy hunting of bears.

-- The grizzly has been displaced from 99 percent of its original habitat in the lower 48 states, and more than 60 percent of its original range in Canada.

Two years ago, when Victoria's Cameron Young interviewed the McAllisters for an article in Conservation International, he suggested they ought to combine Ian's photos and their extensive journals for a book. The Great Bear Rainforest was published in the fall of 1997.

To be closer to the Great Bear Rainforest -- a term they invented -- Ian and Karen McAllister have since moved to Bella Bella where they continue to mobilize local support.

"It's only British Columbians who can invoke the change in legislation that's needed," says Karen McAllister, who completed her biology degree at UVic in May. "It's only British Columbians who can put pressure on the government. I hope this book will stoke the fire and spark debate... but what I don't hope for is a war in the woods."


The following interview was conducted by Alan Twigg in Victoria with Karen McAllister several hours before The Great Bear Rainforest received the Bill Duthie Booksellers' Choice Award, as selected by a ballot of B.C. booksellers. An American edition was released by the Sierra Club.

BCBW: Who was your ideal reader for this book?

MCALLISTER: We thought, first and foremost, the audience was British Columbians.

BCBW: Why do a book -- rather than organize another protest or make another film?

MCALLISTER: The Great Bear Rainforest is so inaccessible, you need to start with education. Without a public that knows about the rainforest, you can't make progress. We talked it over with Cameron Young. We were really afraid that if we used our personal journals it could turn into a book about personalities rather than the coast. So we made a conscious decision to limit the personal stuff; that way the campaign was front and center.

BCBW: How did the Sierra Club get involved?

MCALLISTER: We were sailing up the coast, at Ellerslie Island, finishing off the book, when we happened to meet a bunch of Sierra Clubbers up there. One of them was Adam Werbach, the president of the U.S. Sierra Club. About a month before he had done an article in Time magazine saying he didn't think coffee table books were an effective way of invoking environmental change, as coffee table books were a negative medium. Personally, I've always wanted a coffee table so I could have a bunch of coffee table books! The next thing we knew he was keen and Sierra Club Books called us the following week.

BCBW: A coffee table sits prominently on a table and easily promotes discussion, unlike a video cassette.

BCBW: As well, we wanted to create a book you could open at any page. You can learn something from a journal entry without having to read the whole book. With Ian's photographs, it's one way for people to see these parts of the coast without actually going there. I know some people would say a book like ours will bring a lot of people to the area, but so far when people in places like Poland and Japan get sent copies for Christmas presents, they mostly just want to help.

BCBW: Just because I read about Brazil doesn't mean I'm going to take a raft up the Orinoco river.

MCALLISTER: Exactly. Initially we were worried about that. We were worried about giving away secrets. A lot of people who know about the area were afraid of that, too -- fishermen and First Nations' people. We'd go into some of the smaller places before the book came and we'd introduce ourselves. Some booksellers said they couldn't possibly carry the book -- this is a logging town. But now we've found out that they have carried the book and it's done quite well. I think anybody can read it -- any fisherman, any logger -- and get something out of it. And people's response to the issue of encroachment has been pretty sensitive.

BCBW: But not everyone is a fan.

MCALLISTER: Not everyone. There's been some press coverage quoting Patrick Moore or Jack Munro of the Forest Alliance. The Province quoted Patrick Moore, ecologist and director of the pro-industry force, saying the book resorts to shrill rhetoric and makes unsupported claims. He talks about the 'vaguely romantic' text, that sort of thing, and that The Great Bear Rainforest is a manufactured issue.

BCBW: Have there been direct exchanges between yourselves and Moore or Munro?

MCALLISTER: On the European tour, sponsored by Greenpeace, Ian went to England, Amsterdam, Belgium, Vienna and Germany. It was a public education tour, more than anything, but he also met with buyers of pulp and paper from B.C. The Forest Alliance knew about the tour and Patrick Moore tagged along. He was dogging Ian everywhere he went. So I don't think it was a matter of them not getting both sides.

Ian would open up the field for questioning and Patrick Moore would usually get his two bits in. The companies would think about it, and a week later some of them would say, "Well, I'm afraid we're cancelling our contracts until we can confirm that your logging practises are sound."

BCBW: So maybe it was a good thing that Patrick Moore went along.

MCALLISTER: I think so. According to Ian, when Patrick Moore attacked Greenpeace, people sort of looked at him like he didn't know what he was talking about. Moore was saying Greenpeace didn't back up their information with science, but most Europeans know Greenpeace does do that. They do their homework.

There are three forest campaigns that Greenpeace is involved in internationally. One is in Siberia, one is in Brazil and one is in the Great Bear Rainforest. The Great Bear Rainforest campaign is the biggest campaign. They're using sophisticated techniques. There's land-use planning, reserve design and mapping that's being done -- and lots of scientific information.

As well, Greenpeace supports the Forest Stewardship Council. It's not a boycott of B.C. forest products that Greenpeace and Ian are trying to advocate, it's a boycott of poor logging practises. It's a way to pressure companies into using more sustainable methods of harvesting. They do this world-wide.

BCBW: So British Columbians are living in an exotic part of the world -- as exotic as Siberia or the Amazonian rainforest.

MCALLISTER: Yes, I think so.

BCBW: Ironies abound. People in B.C. doesn't seem to realize anymore what a highly respected organization Greenpeace is in other parts of the world. At the same time people in other parts of the world people don't respect Patrick Moore as one of the Greenpeace founders.

MCALLISTER: Meanwhile we could basically run our entire campaign on what Patrick Moore probably makes for his salary.

BCBW: There's a difference these days between the sense of urgency with regards to environmental issues in Europe than in North America. The radicalized element in Europe seems to be bigger and more organized.

MCALLISTER: That's because Europeans have already lost so much of their original forests. They are super keen on the notion that some forests are still intact. Even in the States, they have a huge awareness of disappearing wilderness and wildlife species. It's a challenge for nature writers in Canada to portray, to Canadians, that there's a sense of urgency to protecting the environment.

BCBW: Has there been any response from the government of British Columbia to this book?

MCALLISTER: We gave books to all the cabinet ministers and invited them to our slide shows. Most of the ministers actually responded with a letter thanking us for the book, but David Zirnhelt, the Forest Minister, basically let out a press release saying the book is just a bunch of pictures of grizzly bears and salmon. We haven't heard anything from Glen Clark.

BCBW: After the NDP preserved an area in northeastern B.C. that is the size of Switzerland, protecting 80 river valleys would be a hard sell for Clark. He might be personally sympathetic but politically wary.

MCALLISTER: That might be the case with some of his cabinet minister, but I don't think that's the case with Glen Clark. He's gone out of his way to diminish the efforts of environmentalists by calling us enemies of the province. That's absolutely outrageous. It only polarizes everyone. That sort of talk isn't going to help in the long run.


[BCBW 1998]