July 3 - 16, 1998
to Rogers Pass, Montana 220kms
This is the third of 9 updates from
the trail journals and community halls of the Yellowstone to Yukon Hike
- a 2200-mile trek from Y to Y with more than 50 stops to deliver
presentations and talk to the media about the visionary initiative to
maintain a system of connected parks and reserves in the wild heart
of North America.
It's been 16 days on the trail,
or about 330kms, since we last saw sign of grizzly bears along
our route just south of Bozeman. But the day before yesterday,
high up on the ridges of the Continental Divide south of Highway
200 and west of Wolf Creek, were numerous diggings - areas of
loose, dry soil and gravel tilled by the claws of a grizzly bear
in search of biscuit root. Today, after presentations in
Missoula, we'll head out along the Divide again, heading north
into the Scapegoat Wilderness Area and the US Fish and Wildlife
Service's Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone for the Northern Continental
Divide. From a conservation biology perspective, this area represents
one of the largest intact habitat islands in the Y2Y system.
If there's one message we can send about the connection we traversed
between the Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide Ecosystems,
it is one of optimism. In the 16 days it took us to traverse this
linkage zone we crossed 25 fence lines, representing the holdings
of no more than a dozen landowners, most of them ranchers. And
many of them - ranchers like Bryan Hilger from the 10,000 acre
Hilger Ranch - have already applied conservation easements to
part or all of their land holdings.
is active in the area, especially in the Big Belts, but even there
we have reason to be optimistic. According to US Forest Service
Biologist Quinn Carver, many of the areas that are being selectively
harvested now are being done so under the condition that existing
roads used to access the forestry sites will be restored to their
original slope and replanted when these harvests are complete.
Our route led us through one of these cuts, and to a wonderful
hour-long conversation with Bill Kelly, owner of a sizeable logging
operation that is cutting in areas throughout Montana and Idaho.
We discussed in detail the Y2Y concept and the potential for logging
practices like selective cutting and road restoration in key wildlife
movement zones in the Y2Y system. Bill was very supportive of
the idea and wants to be kept abreast of theY2Y Initiative.
Perhaps the greatest threat to wildlife movement that we witnessed
on the ground in this corridor was roads - old jeep trails and
forestry roads abound in the area, especially in the Big Belts
- sometimes to the point of making route-finding difficult. Many
packs were dropped, maps consulted and heads scratched at the
countless road and jeep trail junctions we encountered. Quad and
motorbike riders and 4X4 enthusiasts passed us on the tracks and
trails at least 10 times. Some stopped long enough to chat. Most
of those that did had heard of the Hike and the Y2Y project from
the local papers.
road vehicles are a form of backcountry recreation that is literally
exploding in the region and, with their powerful lobbying to open
more roads and trails to them, represent one of the greatest threats
to wildlife habitat and movement security in the region. The Montana
Wilderness Association recently launched a "Quiet Trails
Campaign" that attempts to fight the growing number of trails
and areas that are being opened to motorized travel.
Another significant issue in the area is a proposed cyanide heap-leach
gold mine along the Blackfoot River - 12 miles from the Scapegoat
wilderness and the Continental Divide. Thankfully, Canyon Resources,
the mining company pushing the project, is finding it difficult
to secure financing in light of low ore prices. Contact the Blackfoot
Legacy (Box 1148 Lincoln, MT 59639) for more information.
The hot dry weather is a welcome contrast to the wet and snowy
squalls that surrounded us in the initial two weeks of the trek.
Ironically, getting enough water is one of our more pressing concerns
on the trail, not how to get dry. The feet and bodies are holding
out well. Webster the dog has become the target of some hungry
wood ticks, one infected bite has cleared and healed itself, another
has given him a limp on one of his front legs - nothing a couple
days rest in Missoula isn't healing though.
and Bryan Hilger, lifetime rancher, at Gates of the Mountains Wilderness
Area. Bryan is one of many ranchers who has already put a conservation
easement on part or all of their land holdings.
Ted Kerasote from New York's Sports Afield
Magazine joined us for a day on the trail last week. Look for an article
on the Y2Y Initiative in the EcoWatch column of Sports Afield's October
issue. The Missoulian daily newspaper ran a story on the Hike and Initiative
on the front page of the Montana section today (July 16). Interviews with
the hikers were also carried on Missoula's local CBS TV station, as well
as on National Public Radio. A writer from the Ottawa Citizen has contacted
us and likely will be joining along for a segment of the Hike this fall.
Thirty-five people attended the Missoula presentation on a hot summer
evening last night. Among the co-presenters that talked about local issues
that fit into the Y2Y vision was Dan Kemmis, Director of the Center for
the Rocky Mountain West. As a past city mayor and active environmental
advocate, Dan and his group are working to cross ideological boundaries
in the Rockies to improve land planning and natural resource management.
Dan was very excited about the Y2Y project and will likely be a valuable
contact for ideas and information about effective approaches toward achieving
the Y2Y vision in the Missoulan and Western Montana areas.
Our Townsend presentation was less well attended but led to great indepth
discussions with the local National Forest biologist and two rangers that
attended. We're finding that many Forest Service employees are working
hard on initiatives within their departments that contribute to the Y2Y
vision but that, in the face of strong lobbying pressure from Off Road
Vehicle and other user groups, are finding it difficult to see many of
their projects and ideas to completion. Y2Y could help support many of
these agency representatives with.
On the recommendation of the Townsend biologist, the supervising biologist
for the entire Helena National Forest came out to meet and talk with us
about Y2Y at the Rogers Pass trailhead two days ago. There have been many
suggestions about presenting the Y2Y concept to all Montana National Forest
biologists and rangers at their winter meetings.
The next update will be in about three weeks from the Whitefish/Kalispell
area. We look forward to seeing many of you along our route. Please check
our website for photos and our route,
email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a message for us on the cell
phone (403) 540-6446.
Finally and importantly, we wish to extend a special
thank you to Maxine Achurch, who, due to
unforeseen circumstances, is unable to continue with the Y2Y Hike project.
Maxines contributions and sacrifice has helped make the Y2Y Hike
Webster the dog (hikers)
Justin Thompson (publicist)