SPECIAL GUEST BLOG POST
Big Wild Raises Funds and the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP) Sponsors A Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition (RAVE) To The Coal Bed Methane Threatened Sacred Headwaters In Northern British Columbia…
By Paul Colangelo
In March, Paul Colangelo received the North American Nature Photography Association’s 2010 Philip Hyde Grant to help with photography of the Sacred Headwaters in Northern British Columbia, Canada. Paul Colangelo gives us an update on progress since in his own words. Please support the protection of the Sacred Headwaters with YOUR VOTE BY DECEMBER 7. (See below.)The Sacred Headwaters is the shared birthplace of three of British Columbia’s greatest salmon-bearing rivers, the Stikine, Skeena and Nass. The Sacred Headwaters supports one of the largest intact predator-prey systems in North America, and it has been the territory of the Tahltan Nation for thousands of years. It is now under threat of industrial development, but a moratorium has given us two years to decide the fate of this land. We have until December 2012 to protect the Sacred Headwaters.
The Sacred Headwaters is a remote mountainous region in northern British Columbia, at the intersection of two of the continent’s major wildlife corridors: the Yellowstone to Yukon region and the boreal forest. In this subalpine basin, three of British Columbia’s salmon-bearing rivers – the Stikine, Skeena and Nass Rivers – are born among mountains and vast meadows. The Sacred Headwaters, known as the “Serengeti of the North,” supports one of the largest intact predator-prey systems in North America.
The Sacred Headwaters has been the traditional territory of the Tahltan First Nation for thousands of years. The Tahltan consider this land sacred for its hunting, cultural, and spiritual values. The health of the rivers’ salmon and trout populations are vital to the ecosystems, culture and local economies of the northwest.
In 2004, the British Columbian government granted Royal Dutch Shell tenure for nearly one million acres in the Sacred Headwaters for a Coal Bed Methane development. This would result in thousands of Coal Bed Methane wells, connecting roads and pipelines, turning the heart of the Sacred Headwaters into an industrial maze. Not only would this fracture critical habitat, but the process risks contaminating the rivers and altering water levels.
Members of the Tahltan Nation, environmental organizations, and concerned citizens of Northwestern British Columbia united in opposition to Shell’s Coal Bed Methane development and pressured the government to end resource development in the Sacred Headwaters. Tahltan elders blockaded road access, and every First Nation and municipal council downstream of the Sacred Headwaters called for a moratorium on development. Renowned environmentalist David Suzuki and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Wade Davis spoke out against the Sacred Headwaters development. Ali Howard from Smithers, British Columbia swam the entire 610 km Skeena River over 28 days to raise awareness.In 2008, as a result of this pressure, the British Columbian government issued a temporary moratorium on Coal Bed Methane development in the Sacred Headwaters. This only delayed the Coal Bed Methane development, as the moratorium will expire in December 2012, allowing Shell to commence drilling. Conservation efforts are now aimed at increasing public pressure on the British Columbian government to establish a permanent moratorium on Coal Bed Methane development within the Sacred Headwaters.
Few people, however, have witnessed this remote landscape, and without a comprehensive body of visual work, campaigns cannot visually connect the public to the place they are being asked to protect from Coal Bed Methane destruction.
To aid in the conservation effort, I began shooting Sacred Headwaters, Sacred Journey, a photography project aimed at taking people on a journey through the Sacred Headwaters and presenting the issues that surround it. I have spent the past year and a half shooting and campaigning to raise awareness of this relatively unknown region. A big part of the project has been collaborating with environmental organizations, providing them with imagery for their campaigns to raise enough public support to permanently protect the Sacred Headwaters in our last window of opportunity.
This project was made possible by the generous support of foundations, companies and private donors. The NANPA Foundation or North American Nature Photography Association Foundation supported the project with its 2010 Philip Hyde Grant, which is awarded annually to an individual NANPA member who is actively pursuing completion of a peer-reviewed environmental project that is consistent with the missions of NANPA and the NANPA Foundation. [For more about the 2010 Philip Hyde Grant see the blog post, “NANPA Philip Hyde Grant 2010.” See also the blog post about the 2008 Philip Hyde Grant recipient, Amy Gulick, and her work in the Tongass National Forest, Alaska, “Salmon In The Trees: Amy Gulick’s Conservation Photography.”]
The International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP) joined me in the Headwaters this past summer to conduct a Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition (RAVE). Go HERE to read what a RAVE is. The iLCP is made up of the world’s top conservation photographers and has a mission to further environmental and cultural conservation through ethical photography. Their RAVE initiative sends a group of conservation photographers to a threatened region to create a body of work to be used to raise awareness. This summer, iLCP photographers Wade Davis, Carr Clifton, Joe Riis and Claudio Contreras spent three weeks photographing in the Sacred Headwaters.
Sacred Headwaters, Sacred Journey was awarded Mountainfilm’s inaugural Commitment Grant, which supports five individuals who are producing film, video, photography, book, art, and multimedia projects intended to move audiences to action on issues that matter. The Mountainfilm Festival in Telluride, Colorado from May 27 – 30, 2011 will include an exhibit on the Sacred Headwaters, and Wade Davis will speak about the issue.
How You Can Help…
There are a number of ways you can support the Sacred Headwaters campaign. Visit www.sacredheadwatersjourney.com to learn more about the issues and tell the BC government that you support the protection of the Headwaters from Coal Bed Methane and other destructive uses by signing an online petition and emailing the Premier.
Vote Here Please…
You can also help the project win funding by voting for it in a competition sponsored by The Big Wild, an organization aimed at protecting half of Canada’s public land. The Big Wild will award $10,000 to three conservation projects out of a group of five finalists, and Sacred Headwaters, Sacred Journey is in the running under the North West Watch Society. Please visit www.thebigwild.org/bucks to cast your vote. A vote for the North West Watch Society is a vote for the Sacred Headwaters.
Paul Colangelo specializes in editorial assignments and conservation efforts. His work has been exhibited at the Smithsonian Institute, was awarded an honorable mention in the International Photography Awards, and named a finalist in BBC’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year. Paul Colangelo lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. www.paulcolangelo.com