Yellowstone to Yukon
Warden takes a revolutionary hike

Daniel MacIsaac
Northern News Services

NNSL (Oct 01/99) - Karsten Heuer has walked the walked -- and generated a lot of talk about a revolutionary plan for wildlife conservation.

On leave from his job as a warden and biologist at Banff National Park in Alberta, Heuer last week completed the final leg of a two-summer, 3,400-kilometre journey by foot, horse, ski and canoe from Yellowstone Park in Wyoming to the Yukon Territory.

Heuer was invited by university friend Heather Swystun and sponsored by the Gwich'in Renewable Resource Board and Parks Canada. Heuer then flew to Inuvik last weekend -- giving a talk to Grade 6 students at Sir Alexander Mackenzie School on Friday and to an audience at the Gallery Cafe on Sunday evening.

"I was really impressed with how well-behaved the kids were," Heuer said, "and noticed how they were pretty darn interested in the wildlife here."

Heuer's trip was one of discovery, enlightenment and promotion. At issue is his argument that animals like grizzlies, wolves and caribou need larger spaces to survive than are provided by any one existing protected area in North America.

He told the SAM students, for example, that studies of wolves in western North America showed one area ranging some 100,000 square-kilometres, or 20 times the size of Yukon's Avavik National Park.

By leading the kids in an ecology game, Heuer showed them how road construction, housing development and mineral exploration cut off populations of animals from one another. The man-made barriers creating smaller and smaller genetically- related and consequently less healthy groups of bears, wolves and other creatures.

The idea he promoted through the Yellowstone to Yukon hike is to establish protected corridors between protected areas like parks to allow for natural animal migration and ranging.

"The next step in the project is happening now," said Heuer, "and that's to get people at the community level and the First Nations to sit down and map out areas where connections could be best established -- that process could take two years, but in some places it's already been completed."

Heuer said his hike also involved scores of outreach presentations, sitting down with local residents, hunters and trappers and ranchers to dispel the myths surrounding what many of them view as a hostile challenge to their own freedom of action.

"There are different tools available to help this project come about," he said. "Some people think the easiest way means simply removing the people, but there are ways to allow people to still work on the land while having the animals move through -- and there could be some compensation and guaranteed land-protection for ranchers."

Heuer said three areas of particular concern, because the scope of development, include the Bozman Mountains in southern Montana, the Bow Valley corridor, west of Calgary, and Crow's Nest Pass. But he added that he was pleasantly surprised by the amount of thriving wildlife he did encounter in the course of his 188-day trek.

"There were only 31 days when I didn't see a grizzly or a wolf, and that's a good indicator of a wild area," he said, "and in northern B.C. it was just one great wildlife encounter after another."