Harvey Locke paddling on the Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories. Photo courtesy Marie-Eve Marchand

Yellowstone to Yukon and beyond

Meadowlark keynote speaker has some big ideas

Harvey Locke is an environmentalist with some big goals.

Locke, a leader in the field of parks, wilderness and large landscape conservation, is leading a movement to link together parks and protected areas over a huge part of North America.

“Yellowstone to Yukon is the first large-scale conservation initiative that I worked on extensively,” said Locke. “When we started in in 1993, it was in response to scientific findings, that as great as national parks like Banff or Yellowstone are for saving wildlife, that if they become islands of habitat in a highly fragmented landscape by other human developments, they will lose their species through time.

“But if you can connect them up to each other through networks, they will retain species through time.”

Locke is also the keynote speaker for this year’s Meadowlark Nature Festival, delivering his talk on May 18, starting at 7 p.m. in Cleland Theatre.

Harvey Locke, Canadian Conservationist, on the power of wilderness from Alexandra Christy on Vimeo.

In his presentation, Locke is taking the audience on a journey from Yellowstone to the Yukon, including the Okanagan, and exploring conservation as it is practiced around the planet.

“I will be talking about these ideas, how we might think about how we live in places like the Okanagan, as it relates to sharing the world with nature,” said Locke. “I hope people will find it an interesting journey. They will be taken around the world … but it will be grounded locally and travelling globally.”

The challenge with connecting Yellowstone to the Yukon, he explains, is that you can’t just create a giant national park.

But you can create landscape conditions between the parks that allow for animals to move and maintain genetic connections to avoid inbreeding and population collapse,” he said, explaining that might include connections through private land, and highway crossing structures like those in Banff National Park that allow animals to get across busy roads.

“We’ve been able to work with land trust partners to purchase key parcels of land along busy highways and gravel bed rivers to protect wildlife connectivity,” said Locke. “We haven’t yet achieved everything we hoped to achieve, but there is certainly an awareness that the landscape needs to be connected.

“We have made some real progress. That doesn’t mean we are done.”

Another big initiative is Nature Needs Half, which was inspired in part by the decline in the number of species under threat of extinction.

“We’re seeing across Canada, even where things aren’t going extinct, a huge reduction in the numbers of species that are surviving,” said Locke. “So we need an idea commensurate with the scale of the problem.”

When the question asked about how much of a given eco-region needs to be protected, Locke said often the answer is about half.

“Many traditional First Nations Peoples, who still have a lot of intact territory, think that scale of conservation of half or higher is necessary,” said Locke. “Those ideas sort of came together, traditional knowledge and western science saying we should be protecting a lot more of the landscape than we thought we should.

“That’s the idea of Nature Needs Half, of protecting half the world in an interconnected way, both land and sea.”

It’s not surprising then that Locke is a big fan of the national park reserve proposition for the South Okanagan Similkameen.

“In places like the South Okanagan, especially the desert part of it, protecting every piece possible is a good strategy.

“There are a lot of endangered species concentrated in certain areas of Canada and the South Okanagan is one of them,” said Locke. “It is also highly desirable for vineyards and other things, residential development, second homes, so there is a lot of pressure on the landscape, so securing as much of it as possible is a first-class strategy.”

The fundamental challenge, according to Locke, is that people want to move into the places that are most biologically productive because that is where the climate is nicest.

“That’s why we end up having conflicts between human aspirations and the needs of nature,” he said. “I think we need to turn that a little bit and say that when we meet the needs of nature, we meet a more satisfying life for humans too, when nature flourishes along with us.”

Locke said over his lifetime, he has spent a lot of time in the South Okanagan and has seen the population growth and expansion of the communities. “It’s got an exceptional quality of life. But that quality of life, if it loses nature, it will be diminished,” he said.

Tickets for Locke’s May 18 keynote presentation are $20 and are available through meadowlarkfestival.ca. The 2018 Meadowlark Nature Festival runs May 17 to 21, featuring 78 tours led by naturalists, painters, biologists, writers, ecologists, Indigenous cultural leaders and more.


Steve Kidd
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
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