As human development continues to spread across the globe, very few major ecosystems remain relatively intact and uninterrupted by highways, cities, or other man-made obstacles. One of the biggest exceptions is the Yellowstone to Yukon region, or Y2Y, stretching more than 2,000 miles northwest of Wyoming, across northeastern Oregon, and up into Canada’s Yukon Territory.
For the past 30 years, conservationists have worked to knit this vast tract of land together under the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative† Y2Y tries to make room for wildlife in connected landscapes that give animals the ability to move over large areas – whether tracking them age-old migration patterns or responding to a changing climate†
In this vast region, hundreds of partners — conservation organizations, private landowners, businesses, government agencies, tribes and scientists — have worked to stitch landscapes together and make it possible for animals to migrate across them. Participants have built road crossings in the wildexecuted “bear aware” campaigns to reduce collisions between humans and animals, placed conservation easements on private land and supported Indigenous Efforts to protect sacred spaces.
These efforts have allowed grizzly bears to reach further into the areas near Yellowstone National Park than they did 30 years ago. Animals roam safely across 117 new wildlife crossings instead of being killed. And Y2Y is consistently highlighted as an example of: how conservation of large landscapes can work†
we study wildlife ecology and international cooperation for nature conservation and have both served on Y2Y’s board of directors. One of us, Charles Chester, is the US president of the Y2Y Council, which advises the Y2Y Initiative. We’ve both spent a long time assessing how major conservation initiatives like Y2Y are making a difference. While the answer may be difficult to quantify, we identified a number of ways in which Y2Y has increased the scale and effectiveness of conservation.
Inspired by a wolf
Y2Y was conceived by the Canadian conservationist Harvey Locke in 1993, when countries were looking for ways to fulfill their obligations under the Convention on Biological Diversity† Signed by 150 countries on the Rio Earth Summit 1992This comprehensive paper discussed the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources, global justice, and other goals related to protecting life on Earth.
Locke was inspired by the wanderings of a single wolf† On a rainy morning in 1991, Canadian biologist Paul Paquet recorded “Pluie” or “Rain” in French, Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies — the first time a scientist put a satellite radio collar on a wolf. Over the next two years, researchers were amazed at Pluie’s widespread movements over several months 40,000 square miles in Canada and the US before she was killed by a trapper in British Columbia.
This solitary journey clearly showed that conservationists had to think beyond creating individual protected areas, such as parks and nature reserves, for diverse species and consider larger landscapes. This approach was in line with the principles of the emerging field of conservation biology – the science of protect and restore all forms of life on Earth†
Yellowstone explains to Yukon’s conservation scientist, Aerin Jacob, why large mammals need ways to travel many miles to survive.
Over the past five years, we have worked with several collaborators to measure Y2Y’s conservation effects. We used a counterfactual approach to compare trends in protected areas before and after the formation of Y2Y, and to compare Y2Y with regions without comparable broad views in two areas of North America. Our analysis asked what would have happened without Y2Y by comparing the rates at which protected areas in the Y2Y region have expanded with other areas in North America without comparable conservation visions.
We found compelling evidence that Y2Y has significantly increased wildlife protection across the region† From 1993 to 2018, habitat protection increased from 7.8% to 17.6% of the Y2Y region. Elsewhere in North America, protected areas grew just 2.5% over the same period.
We also found that:
• Federally endangered grizzly bears have expanded their range in the US part of the Y2Y region.
• Private land protection in the region grew significantly; and
• Building at least 117 crossing wildlife gave the Y2Y region the largest number of such structures in the world, allowing wildlife to move around and making roads safer for humans.
Y2Y is one of the world’s earliest and largest landscape conservation initiatives. conservationists view it as a model of how conservation can work for all beings, big and small.
In our view, perhaps Y2Y’s most significant achievement is expanding the conservation community’s understanding of: how to effectively and equitably preserve large landscapes?† Through connect and collaborate with hundreds of organizations and individuals working on targeted conservation projects across the region, it shows how humans and wildlife can thrive together.
The future of Y2Y
There is still much to do. in a internet enabled economy, people can work anywhere. Many move to the Y2Y region for its natural beauty, abundance of wildlife, and outdoor activities. Ironically, Y2Y .’s success generates developmental problems†
Logging, mining and fossil fuel production also pose major challenges to land protection. And climate change is changing conditions for people and wildlife throughout the Y2Y region† Y2Y and its partners have: recognized this threatbut it remains to be seen how land conservation will play out in a deeply changed landscape.
A key Y2Y priority is recognizing the rights of indigenous groups, who are often displaced from land they have managed for years when outside groups come in and turn these sites into protected areas. This approach has come to be known as fortress preservationbecause it wants to protect places by building walls around them.
The Y2Y movement recognized the rights of indigenous groups from the beginningand works with them to develop several new Indigenous-led Protected Areas in the Y2Y region. These additions were led by and will be managed jointly with indigenous governments.
An international model
In the fall of 2022, international negotiators will meet in Kunming, China, for the second part of the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Biodiversity Convention. One of the main goals of this meeting is to finalize a working draft of a strategic plan for preserving global biodiversity for the next decade or more.
The current draft calls for the protection of 30% of the world’s land and seas by 2030, based on the growing science of area-oriented nature conservation† Achieving this target would more than double the targets agreed by countries in 2011: 17% for land, 10% for seas.
Such goals once seemed out of the question, but initiatives like Y2Y show that they are achievable. As we see it, Y2Y is the right scale for effective conservation on a changing planet.