Heuer, a 30-year old park warden and wildlife biologist on leave from Banff, Alberta, is on an adventure with a purpose. Since June, 1998, he has been walking wildlife migration routes through the Rocky Mountains and delivering presentations in communities along his route to help promote the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y). Y2Y is a network of more than 200 scientists, conservation groups and economists forwarding a proposal to link protected areas from Wyoming to the northern Yukon with wildlife corridors. Today, it is little more than a concept, but within the next two years, Y2Y will initiate and co-ordinate a series of workshops for local wildlife experts to map a reserve network for the entire region.
The Y2Y vision was born from the results of recent wildlife studies that followed the movements and breeding patterns of wide-ranging animals like grizzly bears, wolverines, lynx and wolves. The studies found that to avoid inbreeding and to escape fires and disease, these animals need to move over much larger areas than anyone previously imagined - areas estimated to be 10-20 times the size of Banff, Jasper and Yellowstone national parks.
Having encountered 11 grizzly bears, negotiated 94 mountain passes, and climbed more than 193,000 vertical feet over the last 2,400km from Yellowstone, Heuer admits that some of the most intense moments of the trip have been in front of angry crowds at the start of a few of his presentations. "Some hunters and foresters had heard inaccurate information about Y2Y and had arrived at the presentations with the idea that it proposed one huge park from Yellowstone to the Yukon", he said. "However, by the end of the presentation, most sceptics agreed with the importance of the initiative and understood that it does not propose an end to hunting, forestry, trapping and mining in the region."
"Creating a massive international park from Y2Y is not only unrealistic, but is also unnecessary with the proper plan in place", said Peter Aengst, Y2Y's Outreach Co-ordinator. "Smaller protected areas connected by corridors where human activity is managed to coexist with wildlife movement could be as effective for wildlife as a single, huge protected area", he added. "This is the premise of Y2Y."
"Y2Y is less about restoration than it is about making a plan to keep what exists today", said Heuer, reflecting on what he has seen along his hike so far. In walking and skiing the first 2,400km through Wyoming, Montana, Alberta and parts of BC, he has crossed only eight major highways, 4 railway lines, and 35 fences. Of 114 days on the trail, he observed signs of grizzly bear or wolverine activity on all but 19. More than half of the 114 days fell inside existing protected and roadless areas.
However, the pace of change occurring in some critical parts of the Y2Y region seriously concerns many wildlife scientists. Although few in number, many of the major roads that Heuer crossed are proven to disrupt or even block wildlife movement. Many of the towns he has walked around are quickly filling valleys from cliff to cliff. And some key, unprotected connections in the Y2Y system are busy with logging roads, oil exploration cut lines, and off-road vehicle use.
The extent of human development Heuer encounters is decreasing as he moves north. In the gruelling 400km, 28 -day ski section completed north of Jasper this winter, Heuer and Allison didn't cross one road. The only other people they saw were a group of surprised snowmobilers who, after getting over the shock of seeing them, fed them moose steaks, beer and cinnamon whiskey.
"By the end of the ski trip, we were exhausted and hungry," admitted Allison, who limped on a broken ski binding for the last week of the trip. "An avalanche and a close call when Karsten broke through the snow on a high mountain ridge were unnerving. We struggled through wet storms and extremely rough terrain that had us working through a maze of cliffs, canyons and thick bush at an excruciatingly slow pace."
Uncertainty and risk are not new to Allison, a 30-year-old native Calgarian now living in Vancouver, British Columbia. Friends with Heuer since age five, she brings extensive mountain experience to the project, including the first all-women's ascent of a difficult route up Canada's highest peak (Mt. Logan).
That experience is certain to come in handy as she and Heuer prepare to enter the largest roadless area in British Columbia. Their week-long canoe trip down the Murray River will be followed by a six-week hike through the largest roadless area in British Columbia to the headwaters of the Gataga River. There, they will meet friends who will fly in with their last food cache and canoes. After two weeks of whitewater canoeing, Heuer and Allison will leave the river for a final week of hiking along an old native dogsled trail into the Yukon.
If all goes well, they will arrive in Watson Lake, Yukon, sometime in the first week of September, just in time to begin an intense circuit of presentations about Y2Y across the Yukon and BC.
- For more information, contact:
- Karsten Heuer, Y2Y Hike at (403) 540-6446 between June 7-16.
- Peter Aengst, Y2Y Outreach Coordinator at (403) 609-2666
- After June 17, contact Erica Heuer, Y2Y Hike publicist, at (403) 540-6446
Visit the Y2Y website at: www.rockies.ca/y2y