Changing Planet

The Great Bear Rainforest – A view from above

“Actually being in the air and seeing the landscape from above put it into perspective. This is what we are trying to save”, said Mike Ridsdale, of the Wet’suwet’en Nation.

Concealed under the boreal forests and peat bogs of northeastern Alberta lies the world’s largest deposit of bitumen, an unconventional type of petroleum that is refined to produce crude oil. Known as the dirtiest oil, the tar sands have become a highly coveted source of fuel whose extraction methods are radically changing the natural landscape of the province.

The proposed Enbridge pipelines would be built less than 10 km north of this location. See Image Map 38 on Fraser-Fort George, British Columbia, Canada. Aerial photography was made possible by LightHawk and pilot Steven Garman.

Enbridge Inc., the world’s biggest oil pipeline construction corporation, wants to bring this crude oil to international markets and have proposed to do so via the Northern Gateway Pipelines project: the construction of two parallel pipelines stretching over 1,000 km (620 mi) between Alberta’s tar sands and Kitimat on the British Columbia coastline.

Each day, over 500,000 barrels of crude oil would be sent westbound to a new marine terminal in Kitimat from the tar sands. Traveling in the opposite direction, close to 200,000 barrels per day of natural gas condensate (used to reduce oil viscosity during the refining process) would be delivered eastbound from Kitimat to Alberta. The crude oil would reach international markets by the introduction of oil tankers in the Douglas Channel, one of the principal inlets of the British Columbia Coast, for the first time ever.

Public opinion has been overwhelmingly against the pipelines and oil tankers. Political parties, environmental groups, First Nations, and many individuals are voicing their objection to Enbridge’s proposal.

Clear cut forest near confluence of the Clore River and Copper River. The proposed Enbridge pipelines would tunnel through mountain ranges less than 5 km from this location. See Image Map 60 on Kitimat-Stikine, British Columbia, Canada. Aerial photography was made possible by LightHawk and pilot Steven Garman.

Enbridge Inc. has a long history of pipeline oil spills throughout Canada and the US, including a ruptured pipeline in Michigan less than a year ago that spewed one million gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo river system. The Northern Gateway pipelines would cross sensitive salmon spawning habitat, bisecting more than 1,000 rivers and streams. Once the oil reaches Kitimat via the proposed pipelines, it would be loaded into super oil tankers and transported through difficult-to-navigate routes whose channels cross the Great Bear Rainforest, the largest temperate rainforest in the world. After reaching the coast, the oil would continue on to international markets, feeding our global dependence on fossil fuels and exacerbating the climate change crisis.

The pipeline project has been called the defining environmental battle of our time; one that will define Canada’s international reputation.

“This pipeline route has always seemed insane to many of us who live near it (whether because of the sheer number of wild salmon rivers it plans on crossing, or our knowledge of the mountainous and avalanche-prone terrain). This tour just reinforced that Enbridge cannot engineer its way out of risk on this one. If Enbridge spills oil nearly once a week in mostly flat, prairie land, what can we expect as it tries to tunnel here through these mountains?” asks Nikki Skuce from ForestEthics.

Grizzly bear north of Frost Road and west of Stuart Lake Highway. The proposed Enbridge pipelines would be built less than 1 km from this location. See Image Map 46 on Ursus arctos horribilis. Bulkley-Nechako, British Columbia, Canada. Aerial photography was made possible by LightHawk and pilot Steven Garman.

In order to fully appreciate what is at risk, it is important to take stock of the ecosystems and people who will be affected by the pipelines. ForestEthics has enlisted LightHawk and the International League of Conservation Photographers to fly over the proposed pipeline route, taking aerial photographs and video footage to document the land and communities that would be impacted. By conveying the dramatic beauty of the landscapes and the tenacity of the people, this visual communication project will assist the campaign to stop the pipeline project from becoming a reality. For more on the Great Bear Rainforest Tripods in the Sky expedition, click here.

About the Photographer, Neil Ever Osborne

” I blend my backgrounds in science and visual communication to bridge gaps between people whose respective conservation goals are best met through collaboration. I do this using photography, multimedia, and visual communication strategies, while pursuing academic endeavors as a teacher and student of the conservation photography discipline.  I walk a fine line between being a conservationist and a photographer, but at the root of my work is the still image.” More here.

The mission of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP) is to further environmental and cultural conservation through photography. iLCP is a Fellowship of more than 100 photographers from all around the globe. As a project based organization, iLCP coordinates Conservation Photography Expeditions to get world-renowned photographers in the field teamed with scientists, writers, videographers and conservation groups to gather visual assets that are used to create conservation communications campaigns to foment conservation successes. iLCP is a 501 (c) (3) organization. Support our work at this link.
  • Gerald Graham

    Nice photos! I’ve sailed along the coast of the Great Bear Rainforest, and the region certainly is spectacular. In fact, it’s every bit as spectacular as Galapagos, which I’ve also had the privilege of visiting. As I am a marine environmental consultant specialising in oil spill prevention and response, I believe it is especially important to keep this precious ecosystem intact, largely undisturbed.

  • Leilani Jones

    There comes a time in each person’s life where one must decide if personal luxury and convenience is more important than protecting their surroundings, other species, the future and their progeny. Only a fool comes to the conclusion that their life is the only consideration worth evaluation. If someone is that selfish, only a fool would consider them of value.
    It is time for the working man, the poor, the middle class and the upper class of humans to realize we are all connected and sacrifice must be made to preserve all the living things that makes our own life special. Sometimes you say, “Let that that is great and special become more important than I.” That time is now, the sacrifice we should have made many years ago, must be made now. If, to preserve this special land means we need to drive slower, so be it. If it means we need to drive less, so be that. Whatever it takes, including bringing those too greedy to care beyond their addiction to money, down, so be it. We must change, and we must change now. Let it begin with this precious land.

  • VikiVi

    I agree with Leilani. Mankind must think and take urgent action to save nature and beauty that it gives us!

  • Sheila Peters

    Thanks for these beautiful photographs, Neil. Most of us who live along the proposed route or downstream of the over 1000 planned stream and river crossings are determined to prevent this pipeline from being built. It doesn’t make sense in any way: economically, environmentally, or ethically.

    And while your photographs (the ones I’ve seen) show a mostly wild landscape, there are many places along the route that are clearcut, crossed by transmission lines and roads, or devastated by pine beetle kill. This does not mean they don’t matter. By our very presence we alter the landscape and we need to work together to find ways to do that sustainably. Those of us who live in these landscapes try to keep up the pressure on forestry, mining, and tourism to develop increasingly responsible practices (with decidedly mixed results).

    We know the people in our communities need to work and we also know that doesn’t need to be at the expense of the kind of wild places that have drawn most of us to live here. A harebrained project like Enbridge’s Northern Gateway, a plan to expand the Alberta tar sands to pipe crude oil to Kitimat and send it on tankers through the Douglas Channel so it can be burned to add to our carbon output, doesn’t fit anywhere into our hopes and dreams for northern BC.

  • Neil Osborne

    Hi Sheila,

    Thanks for your comment. On this assignment we were focusing on creating images that showed how pristine some of the north still is. But, unfortunately, you are ever so right. I was blown away by the clear cuts. It brought back some memories as I use to tree plant in these areas 10 years ago. It actually made it very difficult to frame compositions that did not have clear cuts. In many of my images, the clear cuts are just outside the frame.

  • […] Osborne photos at NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC: The Great Bear Rainforest – A view from above: “Actually being in the air and seeing the landscape from above put it into perspective. This is […]

  • Kim Hunter

    I have been compiling and posting every petition I can find online to my blog.
    So many people have not heard of this crisis. The urgency of stopping this disaster is in the complacent hands of the consumer. We must be the change NOW!

  • […] It should also be noted that one ILCP associate photographer, Neil Ever Osborne,  has spent the summer flying over the route of the pipeline, capturing magnificent aerials. […]

About the Blog

Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

Opinions are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Posters of blogs and comments are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules and other terms of service.

Voices director: David Braun (

Social Media