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Issue: 2016-04-14, PHOTO: Peter Mather
The Peel Watershed
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Issue: 2016-04-14, PHOTO: Adam Ford
Wildlife overpass in Banff National Park
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Issue: 2016-04-14, Map: y2y.net
Yellowstone to Yukon Region
According to the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) website, the 3,200 kilometre stretch of mountain range running from Yellowstone to the Yukon is one of the last intact mountain ecosystems on earth. It’s amazingly still home to all the same wildlife species as when the first European explorers came.
It’s an area that includes the Peel Watershed, the Rocky Mountains and Yellowstone National Park, as well as cities, highways, mines and farms. Some parts of it remain pristine untouched wilderness; other parts contain people’s homes, jobs, livelihoods.
This is the area that Y2Y has spent the last 22 years working to protect, connect and restore.
It started around a campfire in the Muskwa-Kechika, a protected area in Northern British Columbia that is the size of Ireland.
“We were in one of the biggest protected areas in the world and its ecosystem was still struggling,” says Candace Batycki, Y2Y program director for B.C. and the Yukon. “We realized what we were trying to protect was not big enough. We had to think bigger. A lot bigger.”
So they thought really big – extending their vision to include the entire mountain ecosystem the Muskwa-Kechika sits in: 1.3 million square kilometres that cross territorial, provincial and national boundaries.
Today Y2Y is known as one of the most successful collaborative large-landscape visions in the word, Batycki says. This is largely because the core of their vision is coexistence.
“Our mission is connecting ecosystems so people and nature can thrive,” Batycki says.
And the Muskwa-Kechika is a great example of this. The area, which is globally significant for its intact wilderness, includes Parks and Protected Areas, as well as areas where resource extraction is allowed – albeit with very high standards of operation.
The area is an example of the coexistence of animal, plant, and human needs.
“People tend to think its jobs vs. the environment, you can’t have both,” Batycki says. “But you can’t have one without the other. These ecosystems are providing us with everything we need for survival, including our jobs. It’s about finding this balance.”
“Development can occur without negatively impacting ecosystems,” she says.
In pursuit of this balance, Y2Y has worked in a multitude of ways to reduce conflict between human and animal needs. For example, wildlife bridges, like the one in Banff, allow animals to safely cross a highway that interrupts an otherwise intact wilderness; the mining company that purchased 18,000 kilometres of protected land in the Flathead River Valley; electric fences installed on cattle farms so bears can continue to pass through without any conflict with the livestock or farmers.
They also run or fund local bear-smart programs, like Yukon’s WildWise, and offer a small grants program that groups like the Yukon Conservation Society benefit from. They work with individuals, industries, and municipalities across all the boundaries the Y2Y area crosses.
“We’re engaging with decision makers at all levels,” says Batycki. “We’ve worked with over 300 partners over the years. The only way to work across a landscape this big is partnership.”
The work Y2Y does can be seen in three main ideologies.
“If you look at the Y2Y region from north to south, at the top we think protect, in the centre we think of connect, and in the south we think of restore,” Batycki says. “The further south you go the more connection issues you have due to things like highways.”
This means many parts of the Y2Y area are made up of fragmented landscapes separated by development.
But not, of course, in the Yukon, where Y2Y’s focus is more on maintaining what we currently have going on.
“It’s rare in the world,” she says. “That’s why people come here.”
There’s another reason Y2Y’s focus is on such a wide area: climate change.
“In terms of ecosystems adapting to climate change, things have to be connected, or they will die,” Batycki says. “If you’re an insect you have a different ability to move than a tree species does. It’s not like ecosystems are going to move – what you have in one place might not happen in another place. Without that connectivity it makes it very difficult for any kind of species to adapt.”
According to the Y2Y website, “the best solution to support these inevitable changes is to maintain and connect large swaths of ecologically diverse land, like those found in the Yellowstone to Yukon region.”
And as Batycki notes, “climate change is disproportionately affecting the north.”
Yet the Y2Y area still presents an opportunity for connectivity that development in other parts of the continent have made impossible.
“The good news of Y2Y is it’s a mountain ecosystem,” says Batycki. “The terrain has meant that there are a lot more opportunities remaining than there are in more heavily impacted regions.
“Y2Y people travel, we go to different conferences around the world. And people say wow, what you have here is really special.”