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September 1, 2014
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The Dividends of Thinking BIG

The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative is transforming the way the world thinks about ecology and commerce

The Grand Teton National Park pronghorn herd of about four hundred animals has the longest migration route of any mammal in the Lower 48 states. Round-trip, the trek between their summer home in Grand Teton and their winter grazing grounds near Pinedale, Wyoming, is about 150 miles.

The Grand Teton National Park pronghorn herd of about four hundred animals has the longest migration route of any mammal in the Lower 48 states. Round-trip, the trek between their summer home in Grand Teton and their winter grazing grounds near Pinedale, Wyoming, is about 150 miles.

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The setting sounds remarkably familiar: A valley with chiseled iconic peaks rising above; a national park gateway community central to the conservation identity of a country; an outpost where horses once trailed cowboys into the mountains; a booming modern tourism economy; a vacation-home mecca for some of the world’s social elite; a landscape that draws grizzly bears, wolves, and mountain lions into close quarters with other animals—and people.

Here on a quiet Sunday afternoon in June 2005, Isabelle Dube set off on a jog with friends down a popular hiking trail. Dube, running behind, was wearing headphones, contentedly listening to music on her iPod. Investigators say she likely never saw the grizzly that charged out of the forest and killed her until it was too late. Four winters earlier, just after New Year’s Day, Frances Frost was enjoying a solo cross-country ski on a different trail near the local national park. Investigators say she also had little time to react in fending off the cougar that fatally mauled her.

These events didn’t happen in Jackson Hole but rather, in the outskirts of Banff and Canmore, Alberta. A pair of interconnected towns in the Canadian Rockies, Banff and Canmore possess an uncannily similar pedigree to Jackson Hole. Ecologists and conservationists say Jackson Hole and Banff-Canmore are like biological twins separated at birth. And now, a grand conservation idea is reuniting them.

Conceived twenty years ago, the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) is a linear corridor tracing the Northern Rockies from Wyoming’s Red Desert to the Canadian Sub-Arctic. Some 2,000 miles long and up to five hundred miles wide, it knits together a mosaic of public and private land including national parks, federal and provincial forests, and reserves. In total, it covers 502,000 square miles, making its southern anchor, the massive greater Yellowstone ecosystem, seem small. The Y2Y corridor contains more large mammals and a greater diversity of large mammals than anywhere else south of Alaska.

“By scale, it is one of the last truly wild and healthy bioregions left on Earth,” says lawyer Harvey Locke, Y2Y’s founder and a prominent conservationist. “We know it’s wild because it still has all of its major wildlife components that were there 10,000 years ago.” He ticks off a few: elk, moose, white-tailed and mule deer, black bears, pronghorn, bison, mountain goats, bighorn sheep (two different kinds), woodland caribou, wolverine, lynx, bald and golden eagles, peregrine falcons, river otters, beaver, hundreds of species of breeding birds, and, of course, lions, wolves, and grizzlies.

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