Here is the article about our TrekWest event at the S. Broadway Cultural Center in ABQ last TH night:
PEOPLE: Man’s Mexico-to-Canada trek aims to bolster protection for wildlife (Friday, June 21, 2013)
April Reese, E&E reporter
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For a man who has walked, biked and paddled 2,500 miles since January, John Davis is surprisingly energetic.
Taking a break from his 5,000-mile trek from Mexico to Canada to spread the conservation gospel to a small but attentive audience at the South Broadway Cultural Center here last night, the 50-year-old conservationist and adventurer made an enthusiastic case for creating a north-south wildlife corridor up the middle of the continent.
“We’re trying to build a groundswell of support for protecting wildlife corridors,” he told the crowd as he clicked through photos of Mexico’s Jaguar Reserve, forests on the north rim of the Grand Canyon and mountains in southern Utah. “One of the goals is to get people actively protecting our natural heritage, not just quietly appreciating it,” he said. “Our protected areas are few and far between.”
The nine-month trip, known as “TrekWest,” is intended to bolster the public support needed to make such a corridor a reality. Based on the research of conservation biologist Michael Soulé and others, it’s well-established that a system of connected swaths of high-priority habitat is good for wildlife, but political and broad community support has been hard to come by, Davis said.
Conservationist-adventurer John Davis hikes through Arizona with a staff depicting an ocelot, one of the animals whose habitat he’d like to see protected through the creation of a wildlife corridor from Mexico to Canada. Photo by Kim Vacariu of the Wildlands Network.
“These wildways are about all the other earthlings besides us,” said conservationist Dave Foreman of the Rewilding Institute, who also spoke at the gathering. “It’s recognizing we need to do conservation on a local scale, but we need to do it as part of a larger vision that runs all the way from Sonora [Mexico] to British Columbia.”
The vision of a Western corridor could be achieved through the creation of new national monuments and wilderness areas, conservation easements on private lands, and other legal and voluntary mechanisms, Davis said.
But he also noted the enormity of that challenge.
“There’s no doubt about it — protecting the spine of the continent and achieving a Western wildway through the Rocky Mountains is a very ambitious goal,” Davis said in an interview after his talk. “But if we got the public support, the changes on the ground would not be that difficult to make.”
Davis, who helped establish the Wildlands Network (formerly the Wildlands Project) with Soulé in 1991, said his experience trekking around the West has made him more hopeful about the prospects for securing a connected border-to-border wildlife corridor across state, federal and private lands.
“On the whole I’m more optimistic,” he said. “There’s a tremendous amount of work being done.”
Efforts underway in New Mexico’s Galisteo Basin are just one reason for that optimism, he said. On Wednesday, while biking southward through the basin from Santa Fe to Albuquerque, he said he learned about recent conservation easements with landowners in the area and other local conservation work.
A call for conservationists
Almost every step, turn of the wheel or paddle stroke on Davis’ zigzagging TrekWest journey is in a high-priority wildlife corridor targeted for protection by local conservationists and wildlife advocates.
So far, the trek has taken Davis through drought-parched deserts, snowy mountain passes, old-growth forests, ranchlands, wetlands and grasslands. Along the way, he’s seen plenty of the wildlife that inspired his trek, including eagles, bobcats and songbirds.
On one particularly memorable day in Utah, Davis biked from the edge of Capitol Reef National Park up into the Henry Mountains, gaining about 5,000 feet in elevation, then hiked from a snowy mountain pass up two 11,000-foot peaks.
“By the end of the day, I think I had climbed more than 7,000 feet,” he recalled. “I was pretty worn out. But it was all pretty fun.”
Every few days, Davis stops to talk with local conservationists, schoolchildren or members of the public and present his slide show.
While Davis is educating audiences along the way about the need for connected wildlife corridors, he’s also learning a lot himself from his wildland explorations and encounters with local conservation advocates, he said.
“I have so much more understanding and appreciation of what it would take to knit back together Western landscapes now than I did a year ago,” he said.
Besides raising awareness for linking wildlife corridors, another goal of the trek is to link the local groups that are working for the protection of those corridors under a broader, shared vision, he added.
Davis also hopes to encourage more outdoor recreation enthusiasts to get more involved in conservation.
“Hikers, hunters and wildlife advocates need to be talking,” he said. “We have more in common than we have difference, I think, at least where land use is concerned. People who enjoy being out there — there’s every reason for them to be conservationists.”
Conservation vs. energy development
There have been some unpleasant surprises along the way, he added. During a trip through Desolation Canyon in southern Utah, Davis was taken aback by the sight of new oil and gas wells above the cliffs.
“When Dave Foreman and I went through there 20 years ago, those weren’t there,” he said, adding that energy development is one of the biggest challenges he sees to keeping Western wildlife corridors intact.
Asked how he thinks putting wildlife habitat protection ahead of resource extraction will go over with poor rural counties in the interior West, Davis said the assumption that logging, mining and other industries that historically fueled the region’s economy continue to be of paramount importance is a false one.
“Tourism is a bigger part of a lot of local economies, and the service industry and telecommuting and information technologies,” he said, citing reports such as a recent study issued by Headwaters Economics last November linking protected areas to job growth in the West (Greenwire, Nov. 30, 2012).
“We continue to consume resources,” he added. “So we’ll continue to cut trees and mine lands and raise farm animals and have farms. But I think we should be more careful about where we do it.”
A volunteer trekker
Davis, who lives in upstate New York, makes his living as a contractor with the Nature Conservancy and other organizations, monitoring conservation easements and keeping an eye out for illegal activity in the forest preserves of the Adirondacks.
But Davis is a volunteer trekker. He undertook a similar venture in 2011 on the Eastern Seaboard, becoming the first person to continuously hike, bike and paddle 7,500 backcountry miles from the Florida Keys to Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula.
Davis originally planned to finish his expedition in October but decided to quicken the pace to be able to get home a month early to begin a new contract job and start replenishing his bank account, he said.
Conservationists, friends and sometimes strangers accompany Davis along stretches of the route. He estimates he treks alone about 30 percent of the time. “It’s a good balance,” he said.
Today, Davis begins heading north to his next stop: Colorado. Then it will be on to Wyoming, Montana and finally Fernie, British Columbia.