Wildlife Photography & the Environment

Photos by Rick O'Neill


One of the most interesting wildlife photographers I've met over the years is Rick O'Neill (right), an environmentally concerned resident of the Sunshine Coast located on the east side BC's Strait of Georgia. O'Neill lives on forested acreage he bought back in the 1970s and he treats his own property in line with his philosophy of protecting environmental habitat for wildlife, that is, he mostly lets it alone. Unless he is creating habitat for amphibians, which he has undertaken in the last few years on his property.


His photography of animals from bears to birds to newts can be exquisite - he seems to be able to bring out the personality of animals. O'Neill has been shooting wildlife photos for many years around British Columbia. (You can see more of his photos at:http://www.flickr.com/photos)


Oneill bear


"The bear leaning over the log is a grizzly bear. I first photographed that bear as a small cub in the Khutzeymateen Valley, in 1989. In that photo she is 3 years old. I recently heard that she disappeared last year and is presumed dead. That would have made her 20 years old, a fairly good age for a bear. She had at least 4 sets of cubs during her lifetime."


But O'Neill wasn't always shooting film. Another really interesting aspect of the man is that he used to be a hunter; until one day he asked himself a series of questions, listing all the pros and cons. He explains why that happened and why he stopped hunting.


"I had a whole page of reasons why I liked to hunt, but killing the animals was not one of them. I grew up in a very macho society. I was always attracted to the forest and mountains. In those days the only reason anyone went into the forest was to hunt, so I began hunting. Anyone who said he went into the forest to study the plants or mosses would have been thought of as a little weird, or perhaps a 'sissy'. As a young boy I wanted to be a macho hunter, not a sissy."


Unfortunately, those sort of attitudes still exist in some rural communities, including the Sunshine Coast. But like most mature environmental promoters O'Neill does not object to subsistence hunting.

"If someone can live off the land that is fine," he says. "And he is living a far more ecological life than someone who buys a steak every day at the grocery store." Especially considering that domesticated animal lives its entire life in a small cramped area often eating unnatural foods.

However, he is opposed to sport or trophy hunting. "I am well aware that some species become too overpopulated to be sustainable (as humans are) and may have to be culled, but call it a cull, not a sport."


For over ten years O'Neill led monthly interpretive nature walks in the forest above Roberts Creek. "I quit in 2006," he notes, "partly because it became too depressing because of the massive clear cutting. I do not do it anymore on a regular basis."

As to Mount Elphinstone and other forests in BC he says, "It is impossible to simply 'tell' of the destruction done by logging and mining. Here on the Coast logging has been the worst, but the mining industry is actually worse than the logging industry. We have a BC (Liberal) premier and a so-called minister of the environment (Barry Penner) who are still approving the dumping of toxic mine waste into our lakes. The most recent approval was just a few weeks ago."


That was at Fish Lake (Teztan Biny), where the Tsilhqot'in people and the Council of Canadians have been trying to stop the destruction of the central BC lake by Taseko Mines. http://www.protectfishlake.ca/

"What the logging, mining, oil and gas, and other industries are doing is ecocide," says O'Neill. "It is no better than genocide. Ecocide is the ruthless and brutal murder of Nature. In several other countries it includes genocide, and is paid for by Canadian mining companies. Some of these countries are: Mexico, Peru, Columbia, Ecuador, Indonesia.


Rick O'Neill obviously spends a great deal of his time in wilderness settings, and is likely one of the best people to tell us of the various wild life living on the Sunshine Coast. He has seen Whales, Dolphins, bears, marmots, shrews, minks, and many species of birds, including the Great Horned owl above, and quite a few amphibians. In other parts of BC he has photographed Kermode and Grizzly Bears.


But unfortunately, he adds, "Most of the best habitat has been clear-cut. Nonetheless there are some 800 species of fungi and mushrooms on Mt. Elphinstone and also many species of unique plants and mosses."

"All habitat is being destroyed," he cautions. "I believe it is time to talk about things like The Earth Charter, overpopulation of humans, limits to growth, Deep Ecology and a bill of rights for all sentient beings. There is lots of info about these things on the web, but how many people have heard of them. There are many inconvenient truths that people do not want to hear about."


BC is also one of the only two provinces in Canada without any endangered species legislation, and with more than half our ancient forests gone, with many endangered species it's a major concern. More information at: http://www.sierraclub.bc.ca/campaign


"It is of course nice, and much more pleasant to be positive and optimistic, however I feel it is a time for a little reality. "


For further Information:

BC Sierra Club: http://www.sierraclub.bc.ca

Sunshine Coast Conservation Association: http://www.thescca.ca/

back to top