Walking the Grizzlies’ Road, Yellowstone to the Yukon

Trekking 2,000 miles across rugged wilderness, biologist Karsten Heuer has braved bears and avalanches on behalf of a bold conservation initiative

In June 1998, Karsten Heuer, a Canadian National Park Ranger, hiked out of Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park, carrying a backpack of donated food. The 29-year-old contract biologist was about to experience remote and snowy mountain country in a way few have since the trappers of old. Heuer set out on a remarkable 2,000-mile backcountry odyssey. His mission, part low-key promotional tour and part ground survey, was to stop in towns along his route, giving slide presentations about the Yellowstone-to-Yukon Conservation Initiative, a joint Canadian/U.S. proposal to preserve or reweave connections between wildlife preserves along the northern half of the Rocky Mountains.

As he walked, or skied or paddled a canoe, Heuer took note of obstacles — highways, fences, clear cuts — that prevent the free flow of the large carnivores, especially grizzlies, that depend on enormous habitat ranges to hunt and reproduce successfully.

Along his route, he faced every kind of hardship — a raging hailstorm, an avalanche, flooded rivers, encounters with bears — as he headed northward.

He arrived at his final destination, Watson Lake, in the Yukon, in September 1999. Mile by mile, he completed an epic journey to help Y2Y become a reality. "There are possible solutions," Heuer believes. "We can make this work."

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