"Conservation is a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of ensuring the safety and continuance of the nation." --President Theodore Roosevelt (1)

A look at a rain forest presents us with numerous paradoxes. At first, we are presented with a serene, almost Eden-like beauty which is a magnificent refuge from city life as we know it. However, this serenity gives way to an innate, predatory cruelty as we see the wolves, bears and other animals stalking their prey, locked in a titanic battle for survival with their fellow forest inhabitants.

Sadly, these majestic sanctuaries are growing more and more scarce. Loggers, hunters and trappers, while serving an important function in maintaining both ecological and economic balance, often far exceed the reasonable limits of their practices. Unfortunately, the result has been devastating to nature’s glorious habitats. While replanting and other forms of replenishing are helpful, at best, they simply turn the lands into "tree museums," since old growth forests can take centuries to replace.

This is the convincing premise of the PBS special Last Stand of Great Bear. In their inimitable documentary style, National Geographic offers us a probing look at one of North America’s last great rainforests, Canada’s Great Bear. The program focuses primarily on three specific sets of animals which are native to the forest:

The program focuses on the work of a small group of researchers (Chris, Ian, Paul and Chester, AKA "Lone Wolf"), and their passionate journey to observe and educate on the fascinating inhabitants of this forest. The outstanding camera work offers us rare glimpses of the bears as they fish for prey among the spawning salmon (including a graphic scene of bear ripping the eggs from inside of a female). We also find out the wolves like to fish as well, only unlike the bears, they prefer the salmon’s brains rather than the eggs, and they leave the fish’s headless carcasses as a gory "calling card."

The team’s precise approach to research provides us with numerous fascinating facts, such as how a follicle of wolf’s hair can tell us everything the wolf has eaten since the follicle formed. We also see footage of the elusive "spirit bear," a white (although not albino) variant of the common black bear. We learn that this bear is only found in this particular forest, and accounts for approximately one out of ten black bear births. Legend has it that the spirit bear was put there as a reminder of a time when the region was cold.

Perhaps the most intriguing element of the documentary (at least to me) was the comparison of the forest before and after a rainy season. The early scenes depict a drought condition in which the salmon must struggle to even remain submerged enough to swim. However, the rainfall instantly brings the land to life, even starting "instant waterfalls." This amazed me, as I had never thought about how much impact one rainstorm could have.

In conclusion, Last Stand of Great Bear was an insightful, as well as challenging, work that made me take a fresh look at the role of rainforests in the earth, and how careless we can be in our stewardship of God’s creation. In this age of mass media, it is easy to dismiss environmental causes as simply being political grandstanding. As one whose political view lean right-of-center, I must say that this educational, yet apolitical approach provoked me more than any angry speech I have heard on TV. As the previous quote from President Roosevelt (arguably our first "environmental president") shows us, conservation is not a partisan issue. Whether we be Republican, Democrat, Conservative, Liberal or otherwise, we literally all breathe the same air and drink the same water. Hopefully programs such as this one can rally us all to a common cause we can all agree on.


1. Quote taken from the Republicans for Environmental Action web site: http://www.repamerica.org/index.html