Premieres Wednesday, Nov. 3, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on PBS (check local listings for details)
Canadian premiere to be announced in early spring 2005
Along the coast of British Columbia lies an enchanted wilderness, where bear-hunting wolves take to the sea, grizzlies clash in titanic battles and wild salmon are the pulsing lifeblood of an entire ecosystem. As this precious arc of habitat faces an uncertain future, threatened by chainsaws and fish farms, a team of dedicated scientists is racing to prove that it must be protected. National Geographic joins these experts on a 250-mile adventure through remote and unexplored territory, battling nature’s brutal worst elements and witnessing its breathtaking best. Premiering Wednesday, Nov. 3, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on PBS , National Geographic’s “Last Stand of the Great Bear” reveals the magic of a truly untamed Eden.
The Great Bear Rainforest is one of the last intact temperate rain forests in North America. It covers an area the size of Ireland with a landscape and cast of wildlife that seems larger than life – centuries-old groves of cedar, hemlock and spruce rise hundreds of feet toward the sky; grizzlies, wolves and killer whales rule the food chain; and the migrations of Pacific salmon feed both animals and trees. Extraordinary behavior is found here: Wolves, well adapted to swimming, move among the coastal islands in search of food. Even more surprising – their menu includes bears.
“We all know about our national parks, but how many of us know that a place as wondrous as the Great Bear exists in North America,” notes Michael Rosenfeld, senior executive producer for National Geographic Specials. “We wanted to capture the extraordinary lives of the grizzlies, wolves and spirit bears, because the uniqueness of the place is the best argument for preserving it.”
Plying the waterways that feed Great Bear, two schooners serve as home to the expedition team members. Environmentalist Ian McAllister first ventured here 15 years ago, falling in love with the forest and joining family and friends to form Raincoast.
Biologist Chris Darimont’s fieldwork focuses on coastal wolves, and his studies are the first to analyze wolf fishing behavior. Darimont’s mentor, Dr. Paul Paquet, is an expert in carnivore biology, particularly interested in bears. Also on the team is Chester Starr, a member of the Heiltsuk Nation, one of the First Nations whose rich and complex civilizations thrived along the Pacific coast for millennia. Together, McAllister, Darimont, Paquet and Starr form a wilderness detective squad, collecting clues that will decipher the secret life of the forest’s elusive inhabitants and perhaps reveal a glimpse of the rare white spirit bear.
“It’s an incredible gift to live and work in a place where there are spirit bears, because it’s the only part of the planet that they are found,” says McAllister. “In sheer numbers, the spirit bear is probably more rare than the panda. We are so fortunate today to be able to actually be so close and watch one.”
“I’ve been studying wolves on the West Coast now for four years and, you know, we’re only just really scratching the surface in what we’ve learned about these wolves,” says Darimont. “It’s really a dream come true to work in these ancient forests. It’s one of our planet’s last sort of frontiers.”
The science gathered on this expedition is more than notations in a field notebook: it is invaluable ammunition in the battle to save Great Bear. This extraordinary wilderness tract on the Pacific lures the attention of loggers and developers. When old growth forest is clear-cut, its centuries-old trees are milled into two-by-fours and plywood, and its diverse ecosystem replanted into something resembling tree farms. To conservationists, the resources gained from this kind of logging can never equal the ecological treasure that is lost. Overfishing, logging and pollution have taken their toll on wild salmon stocks as well, with many remaining fish carrying toxins in their bodies that slowly poison their way up the food chain. Parts of Great Bear have been protected, but McAllister’s team feels that much more needs to be done. They know that time is short and the challenges can feel overwhelming, but they also feel that Great Bear deserves a champion.
“We are in a race against time, there’s no doubt about it – there’s a real urgency,” says Paquet. “And we have to act now to preserve what we have.”
“Last Stand of the Great Bear” allows viewers to explore this precious arc of earth, as mysterious as it is rare. National Geographic is witness to the annual migrations of salmon and the astounding pilgrimage of wildlife that greet them at the river’s edge in the Great Bear Rainforest.
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For more information, please contact:
Denise Jones, National Geographic, Ian McAllister, Raincoast Conservation