Wolverines' Need to Roam Spotlights Eco-Plan Vision

Brian Handwerk
for Ultimate Explorer
March 12, 2004

For more on the wilderness vision of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, watch Ultimate Explorer: One Wild Ride: Yukon to Yellowstone Sunday, March 14, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on MSNBC TV.

The inspiration behind the Canadian and United States national park systems can be found in the majestic mountain region that stretches from Yellowstone National Park, on the Wyoming-Montana border, to the Yukon Territory.

Today, that region has also inspired some new ideas about wilderness protection. Some conservationists argue that the Rocky Mountain region represents one of Earth's last, best opportunities to preserve a complete mountain ecosystem.

Groups like the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) say that realizing that vision, however, will require unconventional approaches outside the normal boundaries between nations, states, and protected areas.

Y2Y is championing the creation of an enormous ecoregion stretching nearly 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) from Wyoming to the far north of Canada's Yukon Territory, just 37 miles (60 kilometers) shy of the Arctic Circle.

The plan would link existing wilderness and natural areas with wildlife travel corridors to enable large predators and other animals to migrate. The concept presents an experiment in how mixed natural and human communities might coexist to the benefit of both.

The area eyed by conservationists for the proposed ecoregion includes towering peaks, rolling grasslands, salmon-filled rivers—and many human communities. Critics of the plan fear economic hardship if industries like logging are curbed.

But proponents argue that the plan's time is now.

"Recent scientific research reinforces what experience has already shown those of us who live in the Y2Y region—small islands of protection haven't been able to maintain the things we care about," said Jeff Gailus, Y2Y's communications coordinator.

"If we want to ensure that our children and grandchildren can enjoy clean water and abundant wildlife, we need to think on a larger scale."

One animal that helps spotlight the potential benefits to wildlife of the core Y2Y vision, albeit on a somewhat smaller scale, is the wolverine.

The reclusive predator (Gulo gulo) is the largest member of the weasel family. A typical adult female weighs 17.5 to 22 pounds (8 to 10 kilograms), while males tip the scales at 26.5 to 31 pounds (12 to 14 kilograms).

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