Naturalists talk about Idaho's "wild heart" with great reverence. Take a gander at any Western U.S. road map and the picture becomes clear. The massive Frank Church Wilderness, buttressed to the south by the White Cloud and Sawtooth Wildernesses, holds the life blood—the flora, fauna and their interactive ecology—of our state's rich natural heritage.
Take a higher view though, say from a satellite, and a bigger picture becomes clear: Idaho's wild heart is just one small ventricle in a far more vast system of wild lands stretching 2,000 miles from Yellowstone National Park to Canada's northern Yukon Territories.
The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y), founded in 1997 in Canmore, Canada, is a non-profit organization dedicated to conserving this, one of the world's last great wilderness corridors.
Ketchum resident Molly Goodyear, a development consultant with Y2Y, says the organization's role is to "carry the big picture vision of conservation in the region."
The task is harder than it may seem. The 2,000-mile swath of land—encompassing at least 17 clearly defined ecosystems—is far from untouched. It is parsed into dozens of state and national parks divided by logging roads and human encroachment. The parks are at risk of becoming isolated islands of habitat.
In his book, "Yellowstone to Yukon: Freedom to Roam," German photographer Florian Schulz visually documents the stunning features—both living and inert—that he captured during a decade spent in this wild zone with his camera. For the European Schulz, the Northern Rockies holds a mystic significance that he feels his continent long ago lost. "... I see what we in Europe have lost. I don't want that to happen here," he writes.
Schulz' photograph's are accompanied by ten essays from prominent scientific writers and conservationists including Rick Bass, David Suzuki, Douglas H. Chadwick and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
In his introduction, "Y2Y: The Power of Connections," Chadwick questions the conventional wisdom of wilderness parks. "... the notion of parks as outdoor museums where society can tuck flora and fauna away and come back at any time to find each perfectly preserved is quaint as a corset." Chadwick is addressing one of the core beliefs of the Y2Y, that, if the region is taken to be the natural heart of the continent, then breaking it apart into separate parks is akin to dissecting a still beating heart.
The roll call of wild animals that circulate through this heart is as rich as it is long: grizzly, black bear, wolf, coyote, cougar, lynx, wolverine, fisher, otter, mountain goat, bighorn sheep, moose, bison, caribou, elk, various species of deer, eagle, hawk, falcon, swan, crane duck, frog, salmon, trout and so on and so on.
Chadwick argues that separate, non-overlapping park systems engender a fragmentation of ecological zones that is, for these animals, potentially a "recipe for extinction."
Much like people stranded on a desert island, wildlife broken up into such isolated islands become far more vulnerable to disease (worsened by inbreeding), famine, fire or any curveball nature throws their way.
The Y2Y initiative then, has set itself the mighty task of preserving (or enabling other groups and individuals to work to preserve) the "wildest high-mountain ecosystem on the planet," before it gets carved up like so many subdivisions.
An armchair adventure to remember
Photographer and touring speaker Florian Schulz presents a slideshow of images from his book, "Yellowstone to Yukon: Freedom to Roam," tonight, 6 p.m. at Ketchum's Community Library. The event is part of the Armchair Adventure series, sponsored by the Environmental Resource Center.