From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 4, Number 23 - September 2, 2004
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

The Y2Y Initiative
The Money Trail: Part II of series
by Cat Urbigkit

The Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative is a joint Canadian-United States network of more than 180 organizations working together on what's been called the "world's best chance to retain a fully functioning mountain ecosystem," and "the boldest conservation vision in the world."

The Y2Y Initiative is focused on building a comprehensive Conservation Area Design or "wildlife network" for the Yellowstone to Yukon ecoregion, where "land-use decisions in the region are based first and foremost on ecological principles."

The entire Y2Y ecoregion is viewed as one large wildlife corridor. The southern border of Y2Y includes Cokeville and Riverton. The northern border is in the Yukon.

According to one Y2Y document called "A sense of place," even grand, large-scale ecoregions "are quickly spoiled by modern seekers of economic opportunity, recreation and aesthetic retirement.

"It is shocking to realize the speed with which the fabric of such huge, remote areas can unravel," the document's preface stated, noting that roads are the greatest threat in the region, and the reason for the roads is "irresistible" oil and gas deposits.

"Roadless areas are being violated by natural resource managers hiding political agendas under Smokey Bear hats," the preface, written by Wildlands Project President Michael Soule, stated. Soule also offered criticism of heavy recreational use by nature lovers, backpackers and all-terrain vehicle and snowmobile riders as well.

"There is no time to waste in establishing a network of permanent nature reserves for this region, a system that will insure the survival of the wild for the next thousand years."

The vision

Y2Y followers envision a day:

when a life-sustaining web of protected wildlife cores and connecting wildlife movement corridors has been defined and designated for the Y2Y region;

when that life-sustaining web is embraced as a source of pride for all who live within it and is acknowledged as a living testimony to the society wise enough to recognize the need for such a web, altruistic enough to create it and prudent enough to maintain it;

when all natural and human communities in the Y2Y region co-exist in a healthy mountain ecosystem of clean air and water, abiding beauty and abundant wildlife and wilderness;

when all residents of the Y2Y region take it for granted that their long-term personal, spiritual and economic well-being is inextricably connected to the well being of natural systems;

when land-use decisions in the region are based first and foremost on ecological principles; and

when natural resources in the region are managed with the goals of ecosystem integrity and long-term economic prosperity in mind.

Y2Y Executive Director Rob Buffler wrote that he was inspired by people outside the Y2Y circle, "some at the highest levels of government, have recognized that conservation on the scale of Yellowstone to Yukon is the way of the future."

Protection of national parks and wilderness areas isn't enough, according to Y2Y, which called these areas "islands of pseudo-protection in a matrix of human development." Y2Y alleges that only 10 percent of the region is reserved in some time of protected area, so these small protected areas are simply one key part of a much larger network.

Groups

Included in the Y2Y network are organizations from near and far, including, the Buffalo Field Campaign, Central Rockies Wolf Project, Endangered Species Coalition, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resource Defense Council, Sierra Club, Predator Conservation Alliance, Sonoran Institute, Turner Endangered Species Fund, Upper Green River Valley Coalition, Wild Rockies Earth First!, Wildlife Conservation Society, Wildlands Project, Wilderness Society, Wyoming Outdoor Council and Wyoming Wildlife Federation.

Grants

The Y2Y Initiative has its own scientific grants program that is funded by the Wilburforce Foundation. There are numerous local research projects that have received grant money from this program, including the National Wildlife Federation study examining the potential to close western Wyoming's 22 elk feedgrounds and Audubon Wyoming's sage grouse behavior study examining the impacts of natural gas field development. Many of the researchers involved in Y2Y science grant projects are government employees.

Science morphs into advocacy

At a Y2Y conference held last year in Calgary, emphasis was placed on the need for a partnership between science and conservation action or advocacy.

The goal is to "reach across boundaries and move together into the 'fire' of conservation efforts in the larger Y2Y context."

According to the symposium compendium: "While there are a number of talented young and emerging researchers in conservation biology and in the Y2Y Network, there is a strong sense among many of them that they need to first establish credibility within the scientific community before being able to (more) safely branch out into a public policy realm. Evan those scientists whose credentials and experience make them less vulnerable recognize that there is the danger of overexposure on conservation issues, or the danger that they will be perceived as increasingly driven by an agenda."

The compendium alleges "anti-conservation interests" have co-opted science by funding and producing studies that "arrive at the conclusion that resource development can be done without damaging environmental consequences."

One of the scientific papers at the conference was on defining grizzly bear habitat in the Y2Y and was co-authored by David Mattson of the U.S. Geological Service's Biological Resources Division in Idaho. That paper stated: "If we want grizzly bears we must define areas where human wants are secondary to the bears' needs."

The paper continued: "We need to reserve all remaining wildlands. We need to re-wild areas to create secure connective habitat between core habitat areas. We need to re-establish bears in all core habitat areas with sufficient legal protection to insulate them from hostile extractive politics."

Mattson and co-author Troy Merrill of LTB Consulting ("Committed to the conservation of things that can eat us") concluded: Conservation of grizzly bears is about more than saving bears. IT is also about saving lynx, marten and other species dependent upon wildness. It is about feeling shame at slaughtering wolves and bison to protect livestock and increase sport hunting opportunities. It is finally about how we define ourselves as humans. Will we accept, with humbleness and good will, our role as citizens of the natural community, or must we continue as dictators, ordering imprisonment and death to the wild?"

The paper identified the entire Wind River Mountain range as high potential grizzly bear habitat.

Louisa Willcox of the Sierra Club Grizzly Bear Ecosystems Project had the concluding paper in "A sense of place." Her focus was to summarize the issues facing the Y2Y region: loss of habitat security, road and human access, over-exploitation, introduced species, changes in vegetation, toxic pollution and damming and diversions of rivers. Willcox asserted that the southern portion of the region is where human impacts are most pronounced.

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