British Columbia’s Threatened Sacred Headwaters Carr Clifton

British Columbia’s Threatened Sacred Headwaters

It is not often a photographer has the opportunity to explore lands which have rarely, if ever, been captured by the lens of a camera. Collaborating with National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and author Wade Davis, and the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP), photographer Carr Clifton was fortunate enough to have had this experience in the Sacred Headwaters of British Columbia.

Throughout nine weeks trekking hundreds of miles of backcountry trails and roads, and 250 hours of helicopter flights, Clifton captured some of the most beautiful and endangered lands in North America. From aerials of the region’s rivers and valleys to remote lakes, mountains and glaciers, Clifton’s portfolio of the incredible region conveys the importance of protecting this extraordinary ecosystem.

One of Earth’s most precious landscapes, the Sacred Headwaters is being threatened by large scale industrial development. Home to Canada’s most important salmon rivers, the Stikine, Skeena and Nass, the combined impact of the proposed projects in the Sacred Headwaters would have a massive environmental impact, threatening to degrade water quality for fisheries and communities, endangering the largest lambing herd of Stone Sheep in the world and jeopardizing British Columbia’s largest concentration of Woodland Caribou.

The scope and scale of the proposed development is unprecedented, with major threats from large energy and mining corporations as follows:

  1. 1.  Shell Canada Energy is exploring coal-bed methane gas extraction that would require gas wells, access roads and pipelines across a tenure of approximately one million acres. Extracting the gas would involve hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” which requires large volumes of fracking fluid containing toxic chemicals to be injected underground to blast apart the coal and release gas. Coal-bed methane production has never been performed in a wild salmon-bearing watershed, and this development will threaten the water quality of the Skeena, Stikine and Nass Rivers. The current moratorium on coal-bed methane gas development in this region expires in 2012.

    Carr Clifton|Abandoned Mining Camp, Boundary Ranges, Coast Mountains

    Carr Clifton|Abandoned Mining Camp, Boundary Ranges, Coast Mountains

  2. Imperial Metals’ proposed Red Chris Mine is an open-pit copper-gold-silver mine and milling operation, which would process more than 30,000 tons of ore per day during a period of approximately 28 years with a tailings storage area located in fish-bearing waters. Despite First Nations objections and a court challenge that went to the Supreme Court of Canada, Red Chris received Provincial and Federal environmental approval. With permits in-hand and subsidized power about to be delivered, this mine is a major threat to the Sacred Headwaters.
  3. Fortune Minerals’ proposed Mount Klappan open pit coal project on the edge of the Spatsizi Provincial Park is in the environmental assessment process for development of a three million ton per year coal mine and process plant.

In 2006, Iskut First Nation elders formed a group, the Klabona Keepers Elders Society, to ensure long-term sustainable stewardship of their territory, especially the Sacred Headwaters. In August of the same year, the Iskut Nation hosted a gathering to support protection of the Sacred Headwaters. Joining the Iskut Nation were the Haida, Gitxsan, Wet’suwet’en, Taku River Tlingit and Haisla Nations, as well as non-aboriginal allies. This collaboration is critical to turning back this tide of aggressive, poorly planned development. A reasonable plan would be for the British Columbia (BC) government to halt any industrial development in the Sacred Headwaters and slow down the pace of development and exploration elsewhere in the Stikine.

In 2010, iLCP mobilized a small team of photographers to the Sacred Headwaters with the intention of securing photographic portfolios to be used for environmental advocacy, thus giving voice to the cultural and ecological significance of this important area. The newly released book, The Sacred Headwaters: The Fight to Save the Stikine, Skeena and Nass Rivers, was written by Wade Davis and beautifully illustrated by principle photographer Clifton. Additional contributions from fellow iLCP photographers Wade Davis, Paul Colangelo, Joe Riis and Claudio Contreras are the result of this mobilization. Such efforts help to communicate that no amount of methane gas can compensate for the sacrifice of a place that could be the Sacred Headwaters for all Canadians and peoples of the world. All proceeds from the sale of the book will be used to protect the Sacred Headwaters.



Carr Clifton|Nass Lake & Nass River, Headwaters of the Nass River, Skeena Mountains

Carr Clifton|Nass Lake & Nass River, Headwaters of the Nass River, Skeena Mountains

Please support the First Nations men and women as they seek a permanent legislative ban on mining in the Sacred Headwaters and the creation of the Tahltan Tribal Heritage Protected Area.
For more information and ways to help, please visit the following websites:


Carr Clifton

Carr Clifton is an award-winning photographer and documentary filmmaker, has spent 30 years exploring and documenting the endangered, wild landscapes most people will never know. An accomplished wilderness guide and traveler, Clifton is widely recognized for his distinctive and artistic landscapes of remote regions. He has dedicated himself to his art, which he says “isn’t only framing the image in the camera but getting myself to the wildest places where I do my best work.” Clifton’s wilderness skills have allowed him entrance into the solitude of some of the world’s most remote and least populated regions.

A native Californian living in the northern Sierra Nevada near Taylorsville, Calif., Clifton began photographing in 1977 after seeking advice and inspiration from his mentor and neighbor, master landscape photographer Philip Hyde. A Commercial Photography graduate of Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood Springs, Colo., Clifton began his freelance career in photography documenting landscapes from Arctic Alaska to the Amazon Basin in Brazil and from the Queen Charlotte Islands of British Columbia to the hardwood forests of New England.



Carr Clifton|Woodland Caribou, Upper Slopes of Klappan Mountain, Skeena Mountains

Carr Clifton|Woodland Caribou, Upper Slopes of Klappan Mountain, Skeena Mountains


Best known for his five exhibit format books showcasing his work, Clifton’s portfolio comprises thousands of editorial, corporate and advertising credits and the award-winning documentary, Three Women, Three Hundred Miles. An Associate Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP), Clifton has worked extensively with international, national and local conservation organizations whose vision, diligence and unswerving commitment have protected some of the last wild, living places. His highly acclaimed book, Wild by Law, was the result of his collaboration with Earth Justice and is a visual documentation of the impact environmental law has made on our nation’s institutions and conservation policies.

Exhibitions including Clifton’s prints have been displayed at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute, the Nikon House, the California Academy of Science, San Diego Natural History Museum and Mountain Light Gallery. Recent awards include the Detroit Creative Director’s Silver Caddy Award for outstanding landscape photography in advertising, International Color Awards and the Theodore Roosevelt Association Founders Medal for outstanding expeditionary achievement. Clifton’s fine art prints have been purchased for display by environmental, corporate and private collections worldwide.

Clifton can be contacted by email at or by phone at 530-284-6205.


Carr Clifton’s British Columbia Slideshow