Air Date: Week of December 5, 1997
Conservationists and scientists have a new plan to sustain wildlife in the Rocky Mountains of North America. Advocates of the so-called "Yellowstone to Yukon" initiative hope to protect the corridors that animals use to travel from one habitat to another by changing land management policies at the local level. From member station K-B-S-U in Boise, Idaho, Jyl Hoyt reports.
KNOY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy.
Conservationists and scientists have a new plan to sustain wildlife in the Rocky Mountains of North America. Advocates of the so-called Yellowstone to Yukon initiative hope to protect the corridors that animals use to travel from one habitat to another by changing land management policies at the local level. From member station KBSU in Boise, Jyl Hoyt reports.
(Engines labor; crashing sounds)
HOYT: On the outskirts of Bozeman, Montana, a backhoe scrapes gravel onto a new road. Wildlife biologist turned economist Ray Rasker used to bring his kids here to watch elk.
RASKER: You could hear them bugling and you could hear them competing for harems. And it was really a beautiful sight. That doesn't happen any more.
HOYT: That's because people who need only fax machines and UPS service to do business are moving to places like Bozeman and building big new houses in the river valleys: prime wildlife habitat.
(Sound of a map being unfolded)
HOYT: The Rocky Mountains from northern Canada down to Yellowstone National Park used to be a fairly coherent ecosystem. Not any more, says Michael Scott of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.
SCOTT: I brought this map in. It's a map that shows landscape disturbance of the Yellowstone to Yukon area, from Yellowstone Park...
HOYT: Huge swaths of green on the map represent millions of acres of undeveloped land in the Yukon and northern Canada, where thousands of grizzly bears, wolves, moose, caribou, elk, and black bear still thrive. Red and yellow show development areas.
SCOTT: As you move south, you start to see more fragmentation occurring. The green starts to shrink and yellow and red start to predominate. And by the time you get all the way into the United States, what you've got is 3 islands left of green.
HOYT: The islands of green are Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks and the wilderness areas of central Idaho. With so much new development, large animals are having trouble traveling between isolated protected islands. That makes it difficult to mate and maintain a strong genetic pool, says Michael Scott.
SCOTT: What we hope to do is to re-establish some of those connections. It's a process of talking to people to assure that as wildlife does move, that it's accommodated.
HOYT: The process is called The Yellowstone to Yukon, or Y to Y, Initiative. About 100 environmental groups in Canada and the US have worked on Y to Y the past 4 years. What's unique about the Y to Y initiative is that instead of pushing through national laws, environmentalists are working mostly at the local level.
RASKER: It has to be organic from the bottom up, citizen driven, or it's not going to work.
HOYT: Ray Rasker, an economist with the Sonoran Institute, serves on an open space committee in Bozeman that includes environmentalists, ranchers, and home builders. They're focusing on protecting wildlife corridors and river valleys, which tend to be both more populated and under the control of city and county governments.
RASKER: One idea that I've been promoting is something called an Open Space Depletion Tax, where you tax homes that are built outside of city limits, and you earmark that tax back into a variety of different things.
HOYT: Communities could use the tax revenue to buy critical wetlands for flood control, purchase development rights from ranchers, even reward those developers who cluster their homes together and thus leave more open space undisturbed.
HOYT: Rich Walker looks for animal tracks as he makes his way through berry bushes in a steep ravine near Bozeman Pass. Mr. Walker is a biogeographer for American Wild Lands, a private environmental group trying to identify important corridors like this one for the Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative, then develop plans to protect them.
WALKER: It's important that we have intact corridors that bears are able to move fairly freely along. (Highway sounds) We use the bear as the umbrella species for a lot of other wildlife in the region. And if we can solve for the needs of the grizzly bears, a lot of other needs will be met in the process.
(Highway sounds continue)
HOYT: While this ravine is a safe haven for wildlife, interstate highways, like the one that passes over this canyon, are a major problem for wildlife. Canadians have taken the concept of highway overpasses, which cross natural barriers, and given it a new twist. Near Banff National Park, they're completing several overpasses which will allow wildlife to pass over highways. The overpasses are 50 yards wide and are covered with natural vegetation. There is opposition to the Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative. Property rights advocates say it will infringe on rights to develop their own land, and some environmentalists say the initiative is not comprehensive enough. But supporter Michael Scott says Y to Y is realistic, because in this day and age big plans often don't happen.
SCOTT: There's no silver bullet that's going to create Y to Y. What will happen over a number of years, it will be the inaction of individuals, and of towns and forests that piece by piece will put this together in a way that will protect this region.
HOYT: Mr. Scott says for the Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative to succeed, people must change the way they think. That may be happening already. Open space committees, once thought of as socialism in many western communities, are now working in many of the rapidly growing towns in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. For Living on Earth, I'm Jyl Hoyt in Boise, Idaho.
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