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Yellowstone To Yukon: The Journey of Wildlife and Art, Part III - The Flathead Valley


As part of my blog series on the Yellowstone to Yukon: The Journey of Wildlife and Art exhibit at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, I’ve written about the Nahanni and then about the concept of habitat connectivity and how we can mitigate human impacts on the landscape. Today, I want to talk about a missing piece for conservation in the Yellowstone to Yukon region: The Flathead Valley. Waterton-Glacier-Flathead is one of the eight regions highlighted in the exhibit.

Located in a region where Pacific, Prairie, Arctic Boreal and Southern Rockies plant species all come together in an environment that ranges from interior rainforest to alpine tundra to grasslands, the Flathead is one of the most biologically rich areas in the world. Lynx, bobcats, cougars, wolverines, badgers, grizzlies, black bears, mountain goats and bighorn sheep are all found here.

When Glacier National Park in Montana and Waterton National Park in Alberta were created, Rotary International members from both sides of the border worked collaboratively to bring the two parks together, leading to the parks being formally recognized as the first International Peace Park on June 18, 1932. The missing piece that I’m talking about that was left outside the protection of both parks was the Flathead Valley in British Columbia, which contains the headwaters of the Flathead River along the western border of Glacier National Park.

Earlier this week, 50 of us shared a supper across the border, to remind ourselves that just like us, animals move around frequently and geographical borders don’t make sense from a geographical perspective. If a grizzly bear were to wake up in Glacier National Park and travel to the Flathead in B.C., he leaves an area where he’s protected and moves into an area where he could be a target for hunting. The same applies to the goats and sheep that go from being protected to being a target within the space of a few hours.

Right now and until the end of August, dozens of people are gathering in this special trans-boundary area to participate in a Bioblitz, which is a short but intense period of biological surveying to inventory an area’s biodiversity. The last ecological inventory done in the Flathead Valley was in 1957. Can you imagine what we’ll fine?! After the bioblitz, we’ll be joined by Dwayne Harty, the main artist in the Yellowstone to Yukon art show, and other regional artists to participate in a workshop dedicated to the beauty of the Flathead region.

CPAWS is actively campaigning for the protection of the Flathead, to finalize the work that was started 80 years ago. Along with Sierra Club B.C., Wildsight and Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, we’re campaigning to protect the southeastern third of the Flathead River Valley as a national park, and to establish a Wildlife Management Area in the rest of the valley and adjoining habitat to reconnect with Kootenay and Banff National Parks. Learn more and be part of the Friends of the Flathead with us at www.flathead.ca.

I’m currently spending just under two weeks in the Flathead. I wish you could join me! You may not be able to get in the Flathead with us, but I hope you can come to the Rockies to see the art show and learn more about this special place. If not, the online exhibition is a great place to learn more.

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PS: Yellowstone to Yukon: The Journey of Wildlife and Art presents paintings and sculptures from the permanent collections of the National Museum of Wildlife Art and the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. In addition, as a special commissioned part of the show, the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative sent acclaimed artist Dwayne Harty into the field to discover anew the landscape and wildlife along the Yellowstone to Yukon corridor. For three summers, Dwayne travelled and painted in some of the most remote regions of the area, capturing scenes that few, if any, painters have sketched firsthand.

Photos by Harvey Locke