PHOTO: PAUL NICKLEN
When photographer Paul Nicklen proposed a story on spirit bears, I was skeptical. I had worked in British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest 26 years ago and had heard about this elusive animal, but never came close to glimpsing one, let alone getting a photo. But I should never underestimate Paul. Not only did he photograph spirit bears, as the white-coated Kermode bears are known, but he also got close-up. In fact, he hung out with the big male (above) for two days. That was after going three weeks without a sighting.
Spirit bears are shy. Perhaps a thousand of them live in one of the largest coastal temperate rain forests in the world. When the bear showed up, it was like a gift. As the big male walked through scruffy second-growth forest, Paul wondered how he was going to photograph the animal in such ugly surroundings. Then the bear came to a magnificent old-growth western red cedar and went to sleep on a bed of moss at its base. The moment was powerful; it called to mind Paul's childhood dreams, in which he wandered through the forest with a bear.
Here's another thing about Paul: He's not afraid of controversy. In this issue's article "Pipeline Through Paradise," he and colleagues from the International League of Conservation Photographers cover a proposed plan to build an oil pipeline through the Great Bear Rainforest. "The beautiful bear used all layers of the ecosystem. He'd go to the estuary, eat grass, grab a salmon in the river, and walk through the forest," said Paul. This pipeline plan adds another layer to the story of spirit bears and to the challenges they face. —Chris Johns