Activists promote ‘Yellowstone-to-Yukon’ idea
Plan would connect isolated ecosystems
By GREG MOORE
Express Staff Writer
Creating wildlife travel corridors to link parks and
wilderness areas in the northern Rockies may be required to ensure the
survival of large carnivores such as grizzly bears and wolves, an
environmental activist said Friday in Ketchum.
Speaking at the Environmental Resource Center on behalf of
the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Harvey Locke, a Canadian now living in
Boston, made his comments during a slide presentation on the Yellowstone
to Yukon Conservation Initiative. Sponsored by U.S. and Canadian national
and regional environmental groups, the initiative seeks to accommodate the
needs of wide-ranging animals in an almost 2,000-mile-long "ecoregion"
from northwest Wyoming to just south of the Arctic Circle.
Parks and wilderness areas have been established with an
eye toward scenery and recreation, Locke said, not natural processes.
"We’re learning things about the scale of nature’s
needs that we just didn’t understand. In isolation, these boxes we make
on the landscape just can’t hold their ecological integrity over
Since the 1920s, Locke said, 21 isolated populations of
grizzly bears throughout the American Rockies have disappeared.
"The animals can’t recolonize the areas if they
have vacated because they are not connected."
Locke said animals need freedom of movement to maintain
the health of each population, to stimulate genetic diversity and to
protect the ecosystems in which they live.
"In the absence of large carnivores, ecosystems
degrade," he said.
Of particular importance, he said, is an area in Canada
just north of Glacier National Park that is experiencing increased
"It’s the lifeline to survival of many of your
forest carnivores in the U.S. It’s what keeps your grizzly bears
connected to the big gene pool to the north."
Another precarious area is that connecting Yellowstone to
Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness and Glacier National Park to the
north, and to Idaho’s Salmon-Selway ecosystem to the west. The creation
of buffer zones and wildlife corridors there is proposed by the Northern
Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act, introduced in the U.S. House of
The act would designate over 4 million acres of roadless
land in the corridors as new wilderness areas and about 2.5 million acres
as special corridor management areas. In the latter, development would be
limited but not prohibited.
Locke said former President Bill Clinton’s roadless
initiative, which prohibits additional road building on 117 million acres
of national forest land in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, goes a long way
toward achieving those goals.
"This is a really important thing to hang on
to," he said.
However, public lands do not create continuous links among
Yellowstone, the central Idaho wilderness areas and Glacier. To create
such corridors, easements on private land would need to be purchased or
obtained through donation.
Kaz Thea, local representative for the Alliance for the
Wild Rockies, said in an interview that such purchases could be funded by
part of the $12 billion contained in the federal Land and Water
Conservation Fund. The money has been accumulated from offshore gas and
oil drilling royalties, and is disbursed by Congress.
"It’s a huge pot of money that has never been used
for its stated purpose," Thea said.
In response to a question Friday, Locke called
environmentalists and ranchers "natural allies." He said cattle
ranches have helped keep private land undeveloped and permeable to
Locke said the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation
Initiative is a long-range plan whose details will need to be worked out
with residents of all the areas involved. Different areas will need
different levels and means of protection, he said.
Formed in Missoula in 1988, the Alliance for the Wild
Rockies opened its Ketchum office in December. Thea said the group’s
long-range mission here is to promote passage of the Northern Rockies
Ecosystem Protection Act. In the meantime, she said, the group will help
try to piece together conservation easements to create wildlife corridors.