Former Logger Protects 16 Million Acres in Northern Canada

Since 1993, Wayne Sawchuk, a former logger and grizzly bear hunter, has been working tirelessly to protect “the biggest well-kept secret in North America.”

Wayne Sawchuk recently found some atonement for decades of his life spent logging, partying and grizzly hunting. Funded mostly by private donors, Sawchuck played a major role in the conservation of the MuskwaKechika Management Area in Northern British Columbia.

Taking a month to cross, even with horses, the land has been touted as “the biggest well-kept secret in North America,” and “North America’s Serengeti.”  Teeming with grizzly, black bear, wolf, lynx, caribou, elk, moose, bison and stone sheep, it is the largest intact wildlife habitat in the entire Rocky Mountain chain and only slightly smaller than the state of Maine.

In the early 1990’s, the government of British Columbia came under pressure to make a final decision on how to manage the province’s resources.  Wayne Sawchuk, still a logger at the time, recognized the opportunity of a lifetime and teamed up with other key players to protect the tract of land.

[social_buttons]Involved in the efforts were guide outfitters, recreational hunters, the oil and gas industry, snowmobilers, businesspeople, environmentalists, timber industries and government officials.  Sawchuk had a tremendous impact in the conservation efforts, as he led the media, government and scientists through the area on horseback so that they could get a first hand glimpse at what they were talking about.

Harvey Locke, founder of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative said:  “He wasn’t the only guy, but boy oh boy– without him, I don’t know if it would have happened.”

After nearly ten years of negotiations, the final deal that was agreed upon allotted 25% of the land to become part of the provincial park system.  60% of the land was designated as “special managements zones,” open to limited oil, gas and mineral development, and 15% became “special wildlife zones” where logging is not allowed.

“We argued over every last foot,”  said Sawchuk.  “If we couldn’t come to an agreement, the government would decide for us, and that scared the hell out of everybody.”

Today the MuskwaKechika Management Area represents a major link in the 2,000-mile-long wildlife corridor from the Yukon Territory to Yellowstone National Park.

Source:  November 2008 National Geographic Magazine

Photo:  Flickr Creative Commons under a Creative Commons Attribution License

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