Getting Inspired

Image from 'Twelve Little Girls,' another book still sitting on my back burner, getting slightly singed.

An image from ‘Twelve Little Girls,’ another book still sitting on my back burner,
getting slightly singed.

After the success of our Moose in a Maple Tree Series, I was supercharged by the idea of doing my own book. I knew a bit about the industry now, and had a pretty good grasp on what would sell and how to do it. It suddenly seemed more viable, less daunting. But what would I write about first?

The obvious choice was a book I’d been working on for some time, a true passion project for me. A few years ago I walked into a clothing shop belonging to a friend of a friend, and discovered a series of gorgeously-rendered paintings of  young girls tangled up in a dark forest. Each painting featured a single girl who had somehow become integrated into the woods around her. One was sitting high in the crook of a black, bent tree bough, looking angrily down at some unseen thing below her. Another sat on a carven throne atop a ‘tree ladder,’ in a forest hung with tiny mirrors, the largest of which she had fixed with a rapt gaze .

Vain

The ‘Forest of Mirrors’ image from ‘Twelve Little Girls.’

Another showed a claw foot bathtub, supported by ascending roots, gauzy bath curtains hanging from the tree-branches above, blowing in the wind. Half-submerged in the bathtub lay a beautiful girl with greyish skin, hair hanging lankly over the tub’s rim, her thin, frail limbs dangling corspe-like over the edges. Yet another depicted a girl whose hair had grown into tree branches, and intertwined with the boughs above her, that had reached down and dragged he up off of her feet so that she dangled in the wind like and uprooted weed. Another showed a tall, bent girl carrying a treehouse on her shoulders, with branch-like hair that grew up through the porch and chimney.

Drain Forest Bath

‘Drain Forest,’ another image from ‘Twelve Little Girls.’

This images screamed at me, demanded my attention. I asked the store owner, Gabrielle, who was also the artist, if she had ever considered making this series into a children’s book. She hadn’t, but she loved the idea, and I offered to write stories for the illustration. She was thrilled by this, so I got to work. Soon a new book concept was born, ‘Twelve Little Girls.’ It was told in rhyming couplets, a cautionary tale about 12 young girls who enter a dark forest as friends, and end up separating, straying from the path and becoming entwined in separate fates of their own making. It was dark, it was mysterious, and it rhymed. Gabrielle loved it, and offered to create new artwork to flesh out the full twelve stories (she only had eight paintings to start with). Together we came up with four new girls to add to the mix, and the story became an exciting project. The trouble was Gabrielle had a day job, and these paintings had been done over several years, so it was not a quick process. Again, the back-burner loomed.

And then I heard about the Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal.

When I first discovered that an oil pipeline was being planned by a major oil company to run through an old-growth rainforest in Northern BC, I was pretty stunned. Was this real? Could our government seriously be considering this? They were talking about the Great Bear Rainforest. From what I understand, this area is pretty famous for being a bit of an ecological relic–a true old-growth forest that has never been logged or developed. A place where biodiversity has been allowed to flourish to the point where a unique subspecies of bear has emerged–one that sports a coat of pure white. Where else on earth could you find that? Nowhere, it turned out.

I think that I, like most Canadians, harbour a sense of pride in the natural, often pristine beauty of our country, and have always felt as though Canada had its head and heart in the right place in terms of conservation. It turns out that it just seems that way because we have such a tiny population in relation to our land mass, so we’ve always had so darned MUCH wilderness that destroying it all hadn’t really become a viable option as of yet. But now, it seemed, things were changing.

Grizzlies in the Great Bear Rainforest

Grizzlies in the Great Bear Rainforest

In the wake of this new, unsettling information, I began to educate myself. I leaned about Enbridge, the corporation that wanted to build the Northern Gateway Pipeline. I read about the Tar Sands, with their massive tailings ponds filled with toxic leftovers from the oil extraction process. I learned what bitumen was. Dirty. Sludgy. Super-carcinogenic. Oh, and in order to make it fluid, it’s cut with super-toxic solvents before it enters the pipelines, so that in the event of a spill, you’ll have a caustic mix of chemicals injected into your water supply that will give otherwise healthy people migraines, seizures, and over the long term, cancer. Not the best news I’d heard all day.

I read about the Enbridge bitumen spill down in Michigan. How the Kalamazoo River had more than a million gallons of this stuff pumped into it over a weekend. How it took eighteen hours before a Michigan utilities employee noticed the spill and reported it to Enbridge, who had yet to detect a problem. I watched documentaries about people suffering the after-effects of having a 40KM stretch of river contaminated with this ‘black gold.’ I saw a video made by an ex-Enbridge employee who had been a part of the ‘cleanup effort,’ and had decided to come forth and tell the truth about what had really happened. Cover-ups. Threats. Complete extinction of all life in the river. Rocks and sand poured over oil they knew they couldn’t remove from the environment (or didn’t want to spend the money to do so). Canvas and grass seeds thrown over top. The appearance of a complete and total renewal of the waterway. But dig down a foot or two, and dark, glistening bitumen oil blooms to the surface. The river was ruined. Lifeless.

This terrified me. Could our government actually be considering running a substance this dangerous through an ancient BC rainforest??

In my years at Uni we had made trips up to Carmanah Valley and Clayoquot Sound to study these old-growth forest systems. I had seen them. I knew how they worked.  How precious, rare, unique and invaluable they are to life on Earth. How everything in the system is connected with every other thing, and how losing even one element would compromise the entire system. How these places were precious jewels, the lungs of the planet. And they wanted to bring this deadly, life-extinguishing oil into one of these places?

Surely this was not possible. It seemed like madness.

Potential devastation from a spill by tankers for proposed Northern Gateway project.

Potential devastation from a spill by tankers from the proposed Northern Gateway project.

There was talk of jobs. Of new safety standards. Of the importance of Tar Sands oil in the new economy, of its importance to Canada. And of tankers longer than the Empire State Building navigating treacherous waterways inhabited by humpback whales, orcas, spawning salmon, and this crazy white bear that no one seemed to have heard of before, even though it was one of the mascots for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. And there were more spills. And more cover-ups.

And there were outright lies. Like when Enbridge created a map for their website that showed  tankers gracefully cruising through a wide bay to alight in Kitimat, undeterred by the pesky network of islands that the map illustrator had conveniently chosen to erase.  Surely this was a joke.

It wasn’t. They believed that people really were stupid enough to swallow all of this propaganda, and shrug their shoulders and look away, as they far too often do.

My first instinct was to DO SOMETHING. This hit me hard. I lived in Toronto now, but I grew up in Vancouver, and BC’s wilderness had been my childhood playground. It was in my blood. I wasn’t going to let anyone spill oil all over my nice, white bears and pretty rainforest.

My first thought was to write a children’s book. It was the one thing I knew how to do (sort of) that might have a little impact. I envisioned a story that took place in the Great Bear Rainforest after an oil spill had hit the area. I was serious about it. I discussed it and workshopped ideas. And then, as so often I have done in my life, I lost faith in my own idea. ‘Who’s going to listen to me?’ I thought. ‘What impact could my book possibly have? It won’t make a difference.’ And with that, I dropped the whole plan.

Months passed and the issue didn’t disappear. My guilt gnawed at me, but my negativity was far stronger. ‘What good can one person do? No one will care about what I have to say,’ I told myself.

That summer I went camping with some friends on a long weekend. We discovered this pristine little lake a few hours North of Toronto, with no buildings or boats, and very few people. Walk-in campsites near the lake, no cars. It was heaven. As we lay on the smooth rocks on the water’s edge looking up at the stars one evening, we began pontificating on the virtues of wilderness. How important it is to the soul. How it’s strange that something so natural, so wonderful, should be so difficult to find and have access to. And something clicked in my head. I brought up the pipeline issue and the rainforest in BC. Everyone agreed it was a horrible plan. Disgusting. Ruinous. How could our government be so greedy, so corrupt?

‘I have to do something,’ I said that night.

‘I have to write this book.’

An inspirational moment.

The actual night that I decided to write ‘Spirit Bear.’

Suddenly it dawned on me that if everyone took the attitude I had been taking, we would certainly fail as a species. Evil would run rampant, since good people preferred to remain silent and feel powerless. I wasn’t going to go down that path. Not anymore. I was going to do whatever I could do, as ONE person. If only a handful of kids read my book and got inspired, I knew it would be worth it. If every person in the world decided to do SOMETHING–whatever that something was–to make the world a better place, then we’d have a better world. Simple. So I wasn’t going to worry about what other people thought. Or whether or not I was ‘good enough’ to put an idea into print. I was going to do this. Because this issue was bigger than me. And it needed my attention.

No more shrugging, shuffling and looking away. That night I decided to write Spirit Bear.

Next Blog: The Birth of a Little White Bear

Declining catch rates in Caribbean Nicaragua green turtle fishery may be result of overfishing

A green turtle is being unloaded by fishers in Río Grande Bar community. A 20-year assessment of Nicaragua’s legal, artisanal green sea turtle fishery by the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Florida has uncovered a stark reality: greatly reduced overall catch rates of turtles in what may have become an unsustainable take.

A 20-year assessment of Nicaragua’s legal, artisanal green sea turtle fishery has uncovered a stark reality: greatly reduced overall catch rates of turtles in what may have become an unsustainable take, according to conservation scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society and University of Florida.

During the research period, conservation scientists estimated that more than 170,000 green turtles were killed between 1991 and 2011, with catch rates peaking in 1997 and 2002 and declining steeply after 2008, likely resulting from over-fishing. The trend in catch rates, the authors of the assessment results maintain, indicates the need for take limits on this legal fishery.

The study now appears in the online journal PLOS ONE. The authors are: Cynthia J. Lagueux and Cathi L. Campbell of the University of Florida (formerly of the Wildlife Conservation Society), and Samantha Strindberg of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

“The significant decrease in the catch rates of green turtles represents a concern for both conservationists and local, coastal communities who depend on this resource,” said Dr. Lagueux, lead author of the study. “We hope this study serves as a foundation for implementing scientifically based limits on future green turtle take.”

Caribbean coastal waters of Nicaragua contain extensive areas of sea grass, principal food source for green turtles, the only herbivorous sea turtle species. Green turtles in turn support a number of indigenous Miskitu and Afro-descendent communities that rely on the marine reptiles for income (by selling the meat) and as a source of protein.

The catch data used by the researchers to estimate trends was gathered by community members at 14 different sites located in two geographically political regions of the Nicaraguan coast. The research team analyzed the long-term data set to examine catch rates for the entire fishery, each region, and for individual turtle fishing communities using temporal trend models.

Read the full story here.

The Best Way to Deal With Ocean Trash

A manta ray and a green sea turtle feed in the midst of plastic bags, milk jugs, and other debris floating off one of Oahu’s highest-rated beaches.

Tony Haymet, former director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, has heard hundreds of ocean cleanup plans. Late at night, over many beers, he’s come up with a few dozen of his own. None of them, he says, has seemed likely to work.

That includes this spring’s offerings. A Dutch engineering student, Boyan Slat, envisions a contraption with massive booms that would sweep debris into a huge funnel. Songwriter and music producer Pharrell Williams wants to fund the monumental cost of any cleanup by turning recycled ocean plastic into yarn and then clothes.

The challenge is huge. For one thing, the garbage is spread over millions of square miles. For another, it’s made up mostly of degraded plastic, broken down by sunlight and waves into tiny bits the size of grains of rice.

“That’s what makes it so horrifying,” Haymet says. “The micro-plastic is the same size as the stuff living in the water column. How would we ever go out and collect it? So far no one’s come up with a plan to separate all the micro-plastic from the living life that’s the same size.”

In the face of growing criticism, Slat had to back off his optimistic boast that he could clean up the oceans in five years. He posted a notice on his website asking the media and the critics to wait until he finishes his research.

Meanwhile, the garbage keeps growing.

Consider this alarming statistic from CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, which is wrapping up a three-year study of marine debris: Every decade global production of plastics doubles. Even if someone came up with a workable collecting mechanism, how much impact could it have?

Read the full story here.

The road to civil disobedience

Haisla girls basketball team…as they flash mobbed the Kitimat mayor.

Thanks to the BC Civil Liberties Association for presenting protest rights workshops across BC’s northwest this week. The calm and cogent presentation outlined the laws around peaceful gatherings and what protesters can expect from police and what their rights are when the police question, detain or arrest participants.

Most peaceful protest does not involve the breaking of any laws. Marches, sit-ins, gatherings, and picket lines are legal methods of drawing public, government and industry attention to concerns about unjust laws, unfair practices, or dangerous activities. Often, in fact, it seems the public needs to organize demonstrations to pressure government or police to enforce existing laws: sawmills blow up, rivers are polluted, air quality is toxic and nothing happens until the public pressures officials to step in.

Civil disobedience occurs when people knowingly break laws they consider unjust (Rosa Parks sitting near the front of the bus) or break laws to prevent activities they consider wrong (Haida elders blocking logging on Lyell Island or Tahltan elders blocking access to the Sacred Headwaters).

Read the full story here.

World’s oceans threatened by floating trash

No evidence of a crash, but lots of garbage. So far that’s what the search for Malaysia Airlines flight 370 has uncovered, highlighting the rubbish problem in the world’s oceans. The Indian Ocean contains one of five major ocean gyres — rotating whirlpools of water — believed to trap huge collections of trash in its currents. The other four massive gyres are located in the North Pacific, South Pacific, North Atlantic and South Atlantic.

Ocean debris can cause damage to animals that swallow the plastic, either accidentally or mistaking it for food. Some experts suggest the smaller plastic particles — which fish could mistake for plankton — may absorb potentially harmful chemicals swirling in the waters.

Read the full story here.

Opposition grows to BC government’s plan to weaken farmland protection

The chorus of opposition to the B.C. government’s planned rewrite of the agricultural land reserve is growing.A letter with more than 100 signatures, mostly from academics, biologists and naturalists, has been sent to Premier Christy Clark critical of Bill 24, which was introduced in the legislature on Mar. 27.

The chorus of opposition to the B.C. government’s planned rewrite of the agricultural land reserve is growing.

A letter with more than 100 signatures, mostly from academics, biologists and naturalists, has been sent to Premier Christy Clark critical of Bill 24, which was introduced in the legislature on Mar. 27.

The letter contends that the bill “reduces the ability for science to inform land use decisions…will increase pressure to remove land from the reserve at a cost to the general good” and overlooks the importance of farmland as habitat for wildlife and endangered species.

Agricultural lands produce not just crops but contain wetlands, streams, ponds, riparian areas, woodlands, hedgerows, and uncultivated grasslands that are either adjacent to or integral to farm operations. “These areas are instrumental in protecting functioning healthy ecosystems and in many cases, these diverse services help boost agricultural production.”

The list of threatened or endangered species that find habitat on farmland include the burrowing owl, American badger, yellow-breasted chat, sage thrasher, Nooksack dace, and west slope cutthroat trout. Other species such as swallows and common nighthawks actually benefit agriculture.

Species prized for hunting such as deer and elk also use “so called marginal agricultural lands,” the letter notes.

“Allowing more nonagricultural uses on ALR land and the release of more lands from reserves will have the unintended consequence of threatening many important ecosystems and, by extension, many valuable species including species-at-risk.”

Read the full story here.

Kraft Mac & Cheese Warning Label Published by NY Times

Warnings on a Kraft box.

What’s considered the most respected newspaper in the world today published the Kraft warning label that a Food Babe reader found in the UK on an imported US box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. I want to thank the NY Times for investigating and broadcasting this label to the world and millions of Americans in their newspaper and online for everyone to see. This is a huge victory in food awareness!

Given all the media coverage since March, it is now becoming blatantly apparent that there are serious concerns with the ingredients in Kraft Mac & Cheese. Everyone who reads the NY Times today will see the 2 warnings:

Warning #1:

This Product May Cause Adverse Effects On Activity And Attention In Children (This warning label is required because The US version of Kraft Mac & Cheese has artificial food dyes yellow #5 and yellow #6 which are proven to be linked to hyperactivity in children.)

Read the full story here.

Alaskan Copper Mine Could Destroy the World’s Largest Wild Salmon Run

The Pebble Mine will destroy the largest wild sockeye salmon run in the world

A giant copper and gold mine proposed for Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed could devastate thousands of acres of wetlands and the world’s largest wild salmon run, the Environmental Protection Agency says in a final assessment.

Bristol Bay is the large, wildlife-rich bay north of the Aleutian Islands archipelago.

The scientific  study, released Wednesday, concluded that the Pebble Mine project would demolish up to 94 miles of streams, including salmon spawning habitat; destroy more than 5,000 acres of wetlands and lakes; harm the traditional salmon-based culture of 25 federally recognized tribes; and threaten the bay’s $480 million salmon industry, the National Resources Defense Council said in a statement.

“This is a scientific indictment of the Pebble Mine – or any other large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed,” said Joel Reynolds, western director of the NRDC. “The assessment documents what we’ve feared for years – Pebble Mine would destroy the world-class wild salmon fishery, cost jobs and endanger the communities and wildlife that depend on it.”

Bristol Bay, the easternmost arm of the Bering Sea, is 250 miles long and 180 miles wide at its mouth. Several rivers flow into it, including the Nushagak and Kvichak, which are rich in mineral resources, including copper and gold. The bay attracts sport and subsistence fishers and hunters, wildlife viewers and general tourism.

Read the full story here.

Sign the petition here.

Silver Hills Sprouted Bakery: Promoting a Healthy Lifestyle with Non-GMO Products

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          Although Silver Hills Sprouted Bakery is located in Abbotsford, BC, its real roots can be traced to the Silver Hills Guest House wellness resort in the Okanagan Valley of BC. The Silver Hills Guest House purports the benefits of a vegan-friendly diet as a means of achieving a healthy and holistic lifestyle. Not long after the wellness resort opened in 1989, the resort staff discovered that they were unable to find wholesome, all-natural bread that fit their vegan dietary values. Brad Brousson, who was on the wellness resort staff at the time and who later became co-founder of Silver Hills Bakery, recalled a way of baking bread that his mother had taught him using sprouted grains. Silver Hills decided to make its own unique sprouted bread; the demand for the Silver Hills sprouted bread grew; and Silver Hills Sprouted Bakery was born.

        The process of sprouting grains consists of cleaning, rinsing, and soaking the grains in water until they begin to sprout. This process allows the grains to release their valuable nutrients. Silver Hills Bakery then mashes the sprouted grains into dough that is used to make their specialty sprouted bread.

        Silver Hills’ bread is healthy in a number of ways: The bakery’s products are organic, vegan, gluten-free and free of GMOs (genetically modified organisms). The Silver Hills production facility is certified organic by QAI (Quality Assurance International), an independent regulatory agency. Also, the Silver Hills staff regularly tests all ingredients for GMO contamination, which means that the customer can be certain that no GMO ingredients will ever be used in Silver Hills products or sold in their retail store outlet.silverhillsbread

        In order to understand what makes a product non-GMO, general knowledge of what makes a product a genetically modified organism is required. GMOs are plants and animal species created through gene splicing or biotechnology (also referred to as genetic engineering). Most genetically modified plants were created to be resistant to pesticides and extreme temperature ranges (such as drought) for the purposes of improving nutrition and producing higher crop yields. Advocates for the GMO movement declare that GMO crops are more nutritious than non-GMO crops. Moreover, they argue that GMO crops are environmentally beneficial and aid in addressing world hunger. In many cases, however, GMO crops have demonstrated the opposite of these intended effects; they have instead raised many questions about consumer and environmental safety. In the United States and in Canada, governments have approved GMOs for use based primarily on studies conducted by the companies that created the GMOs (companies that will, subsequently, obtain profits from their ongoing sale and distribution).

       A number of crop strains are deemed to be at risk of being GMO (because they have, at some point, been bio-engineered). These include alfalfa, canola, corn, papaya, flax, rice, oil, yellow summer squash, soy, zucchini, and sugar beets. The bread-making industry often uses ingredients derived from these risk crops, such as citric acid, flavorings, sucrose, amino acids, sugar, yeast products, vitamins, and vegetable oil. Animal byproducts such as meat, eggs, milk, honey, and other bee products are at risk as well due to potential contamination from feed and other input factors. Wheat itself wasn’t considered an at-risk crop until the discovery of GMO wheat in an Oregon field in May 2013.

     As a part of its mission of promoting a healthy lifestyle, Silver Hills Sprouted Bakery joined the non-GMO movement. Silver Hills uses only non-GMO ingredients. These include amaranth, apples, barley, buckwheat, hemp, khorasan wheat, oats, millet, pumpkin seeds, rye, quinoa, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, whole grains, and spelt (a grain that is higher in protein than wheat).

To visit the Silver Hills Sprouted Bakery website, click here.

To learn more about GMOs and the non-GMO movement, and to read a list of companies that have joined the non-GMO movement, click here.

Deforestation of sandy soils a greater climate threat

This heat map shows the areas of the United States where the soil microbial biomass is susceptible to changes in vegetation cover.

Deforestation may have far greater consequences for climate change in some soils than in others, according to new research led by Yale University scientists — a finding that could provide critical insights into which ecosystems must be managed with extra care because they are vulnerable to biodiversity loss and which ecosystems are more resilient to widespread tree removal.

In a comprehensive analysis of soil collected from 11 distinct U.S. regions, from Hawaii to northern Alaska, researchers found that the extent to which deforestation disturbs underground microbial communities that regulate the loss of carbon into the atmosphere depends almost exclusively on the texture of the soil. The results were published in the journal Global Change Biology.

“We were astonished that biodiversity changes were so strongly affected by soil texture and that it was such an overriding factor,” said Thomas Crowther, a postdoctoral fellow at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and lead author of the study. “Texture overrode the effects of all the other variables that we thought might be important, including temperature, moisture, nutrient concentrations, and soil pH.”

The study is a collaboration among Yale researchers and colleagues at the University of Boulder, Colorado and the University of Kentucky.

A serious consequence of deforestation is extensive loss of carbon from the soil, a process regulated by subterranean microbial diversity. Drastic changes to the microbial community are expected to allow more CO2 to escape into the atmosphere, with the potential to exaggerate global warming.

 

Read the full story here.

Canada’s second largest Douglas-fir discovered

AFA Executive Director Ken Wu adds scale to “Big Lonely Doug”, Canada’s second largest Douglas-fir tree found recently near Port Renfrew, BC.

“This may very well be the most significant big tree discovery in Canada in decades. This is a tree with a trunk as wide as a living room and stands taller than downtown skyscrapers,” said TJ Watt, Ancient Forest Alliance (AFA)  photographer and campaigner, who first noticed the exceptional tree several months ago before returning to measure it with AFA co-founder Ken Wu yesterday, in a press release from AFA to Vancouver Observer.

Here’s more on the discovery of Canada’s second largest recorded Douglas-fir tree from the press release:

Conservationists with the Ancient Forest Alliance (AFA) have found and measured what appears to be Canada’s second largest recorded Douglas-fir tree, nick-named “Big Lonely Doug”. Preliminary measurements of the tree taken yesterday found it to be about 12 meters (39 feet) in circumference or 4 meters (13 feet) in diameter, and 69 meters(226 feet) tall.  Ministry of Forests staff will visit the site and take official measurements of the tree in early April.  Big Lonely Doug is estimated to be about 1000 years old, judging by nearby 8 feet wide Douglas-fir stumps in the same clearcut with growth rings of 500-600 years.

“This may very well be the most significant big tree discovery in Canada in decades.This is a tree with a trunk as wide as a living room and stands taller than downtown skyscrapers,” stated TJ Watt, AFA photographer and campaigner, who first noticed the exceptional tree several months ago before returning to measure it with AFA co-founder Ken Wu yesterday. “Big Lonely Doug’s total size comes in just behind the current champion Douglas-fir, the Red Creek Fir, the world’s largest, which grows just one valley over.”

“The fact that all of the surrounding old-growth trees have been clearcut around such a globally exceptional tree, putting it at risk of being damaged or blown down by wind storms, underscores the urgency for new provincial laws to protect BC’s largest trees, monumental groves, and endangered old-growth ecosystems,” stated Ken Wu, AFA executive director. “The days of colossal trees like these are quickly coming to an end as the timber industry cherry-picks the last unprotected, valley-bottom, lower elevation ancient stands in southern BC where giants like this grow.”

Read the full story here.

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