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Y2Y: A Blueprint for Conservation Success

Y2Y co-founder and strategic advisor, Harvey Locke, touts Yellowstone to Yukon as a blueprint for success in conserving large landscapes.

Every ten years, the world’s leading conservationists gather together at the World Parks Congress, hosted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), to set the agenda for protected areas throughout the globe.

At the most recent gathering, in November 2014, Y2Y co-founder and strategic advisor Harvey Locke joined leading scientists, policy makers and innovators for a week in Sydney, Australia.

The event’s goal was to inspire solutions for today's most pressing global challenges. But for Locke, the best solution for long-term conservation—permanently protecting large landscapes—has been known for decades; we just need to do more of it. “National parks are the best thing we’ve ever invented for protecting wild nature,” he says. “We know they work and we know they’re effective.”

Locke was at the congress for a number of reasons, one of which was to accept the prestigious Fred M. Packard International Parks Merit Award for his life-long dedicated to conservation. He was also there to deliver key messages about the importance of parks and large-scale landscape connectivity.

Harvey Locke speaking at the World Parks Congress, after receiving his lifetime award for conservation. Photo: International Institute for Sustainable Development.

Protect and Connect to Conserve Biodiversity

Currently, less than 13 percent of the world’s terrestrial area and less than 2 percent of marine areas are protected. That’s a far cry, says Locke, from the roughly 50 percent that most scientists say must be protected based on large-scale ecological assessments conducted around the world, including North America’s Rocky Mountains, India’s Western Ghats mountain range, and the Serengeti-Mara Ecosystem in Africa.

“Most scientific assessments tell us that we need to protect at least half of our ecosystems in order for them to remain healthy, vibrant and sustainable,” says Locke, adding that Canada’s First Nations have come to the same conclusions using traditional knowledge systems. Policy makers, he argues, are simply not following the science.

Locke’s keynote address on landscape connectivity focused on Y2Y as an example that can be replicated in other key areas worldwide. The Yellowstone to Yukon vision, he says, is a case-in-point for how to go about protecting large ecosystems, up to the ideal 50-percent target.

To make his point, Locke showed delegates the historic ranges for North America’s biggest carnivores and ungulates, and how current distributions coincide with the existence of large parks, such as Yellowstone and Banff. If you look at grizzly bears, healthy populations only remain in those large parks, or if they’re connected to other populations via wildlife corridors between protected areas. Grizzlies have long since vanished from all other isolated pockets—the only exception being Yellowstone National Park.

“Bears are cut off in Yellowstone from the rest of the Yellowstone to Yukon region and fragmented especially by Highway 3 in southern B.C., and by unprotected land between Yellowstone and other parks,” he says.

This map of current and historic distribution of Grizzly Bears in North America shows how important the Yellowstow to Yukon region is to maintaining and restoring populations. Map courtesy of COSEWIC.

Grizzly Bears: An Umbrella Species

Although grizzlies are only one species of many in the ecosystem, they can be viewed as a bellwether for how other species are faring. In the Yellowstone to Yukon region, if we protect and connect enough of the region to maintain healthy populations of bears throughout, we’ll ensure the same for the majority of others.

“That’s what we’re trying to achieve with Y2Y,” says Locke. “We’re going to scale and protecting at least half of a vast region in an interconnected way.” He points to maps (see below) that show the major increase in protected areas and conservation lands in the Yellowstone to Yukon region from1993 to 2013.

“We’re not done yet but we’re making material progress,” he says with a smile. “We need to create more protected areas, like the Peel Watershed, but we also need to increase wildlife connectivity in other key areas, such as the trans-boundary Flathead Valley and the Peace River Break in northeastern B.C.”

Locke’s message at the congress was important on a number of fronts. Perhaps most critically, it offered a vision, with Y2Y as a leading example, which could be replicated around the world—from Australia’s Great Eastern Ranges Initiative to the Great Mountain Corridor in the European Alps.

“This is really the only way it can work,” says Locke. “It’s why we’re protecting large, interconnected landscapes. It’s actually incredibly simple.”

Y2Y's Progress Since 1993

Using your cursor, move the white line from side to side to reveal our progress over the last 20 years.