Evan Saugstad: Will the Yellowstone to Yukon vision prove to be our future?


If you followed the great South Peace caribou conservation caper this past winter, you may have seen the acronym Y2Y. Ever wonder who they are and what they’re trying to accomplish? Does it matter, or do you even care?

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I’ve tried to understand what it is that they are trying to accomplish. In short, from what I understand, if their vision for our resource lands came to pass, our economy would be in tatters. So, what they’re trying to do does matter for those who live and work in the B.C. Peace. 

The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) is an environmental non-government organization (ENGO) based in Canmore, Alberta, and Bozeman, Montana. It was created in 1993 by a group of conservationists, scientists, and activists with a desire to conserve wildlife habitat at a large scale. Their vision was to create a “movement” corridor along the Rocky Mountains from Yellowstone National Park to Yukon, a distance of some 3,200 kilometres. 

Y2Y is not a small organization. In 2018, Y2Y Alberta’s income was $3.66 million, most of which ($3.4 million) was transferred from Y2Y Montana and designated for contract work in Canada. Y2Y Montana’s 2018 income was $4.5 million.

Y2Y is also registered as a Canadian charitable organization and had a 2018 income of around $820,000. The 2017 annual report shows Y2Y receives 66% of its total income from foundations; 24% from individuals; 6% from governments; and 4% from other sources. Recognizable donors are RBC, TD, BC Real Estate Foundation, Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), and Patagonia.

The stated vision for Y2Y is for “an interconnected system of wild lands and waters stretching from Yellowstone to Yukon, harmonizing the needs of people with those of nature.” Its goal is for complete protection of millions of hectares from Yellowstone to the Yukon, and one of its current focuses is on the Peace region, hence its involvement in caribou conservation.

The Peace area represents a zone between the Muskwa-Kechika protected areas to our north, and the parks and protected areas to our south. The Y2Y calls this the “Peace River Break” — its eastern boundary extends into Alberta near Grande Prairie, and its western boundary is just north of Prince George. It’s huge.

The Y2Y argues that not enough is protected here, as they have made sure to exclude the vast areas of parks and protected areas both north and south of this zone. They are now trying to convince government that only 4.2% of this area is protected, and that this injustice must be fixed.

The desire is to have this area protected and off limits to extractive resource industries, so critters such as grizzly bears, wolves, and wolverines are free to travel to visit their cousins in either Yellowstone or the Yukon without fear of crossing a mine, a seismic line, or cut block, or being shot in a legal hunting season. 

The Y2Y isn’t going away anytime soon. They are here for the long haul and what they do not achieve this year they will try to accomplish in the years following. 

Y2Y’s view of our resource management areas is “a narrow, but relatively intact, wildlife corridor along the spine of the Rockies … which presents opportunities for conservation ... To preserve this refuge we must manage human use better and development as a whole.”

Narrow? Not even close. It takes you four hours to drive across it.

But, who needs a job anyways, when we could spend all our time watching grizzly bears and wolves frolicking in an environment with no mines, no cut blocks, no well sites, no wind farms, and no roads that spoil the view and disturb the critters.

Evan Saugstad is a former mayor of Chetwynd, and lives in Fort St. John.

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