In the great north woods (finale)

Day 20
We arrived in Prince George today, my final destination. While the rest of the group will continue south to Yellowstone, I have to return to the office. While I cannot wait for a twenty-minute hot shower, a real bed with clean sheets, to cut my fingernails, shave my legs and have a fresh salad and a real cup of coffee, if I could stay on the road, I would. I contemplate possible excuses involving moose and bears and a missed flight that would warrant a three-week late return, but nothing seems credible.
I don't see another car on the highway in route to the airport. It's just me and my cab driver gliding through the foggy silence. My cab driver is a bit gruff at first when he arrives to pick me up at 4 am. After watching me lift my bike box into the cab, he wants to know what sort of crazy person would buy a bike in Prince George and fly it back to New York.
I tell him about the ride, and he wants to know what sort of wildlife we saw along our route. Lots of bison, I say, and some caribou and a couple of black bears. Any moose, he asks? Just a dead one, on the side of the road, I reply. He tells me that�s because hunting season starts next week and they've all gone into hiding. He�s excited though, that it�s almost the season, because this year he bought a permit for one bull moose.
I tell him how much I enjoyed the moose stew we had one evening, cooked from moose shanks that a supporter in Watson Lake had given us. Moose is delicious, he agrees, and then goes on to explain to me all the best ways to prepare caribou and bison. Bear is tricky though, he warns. You have to boil the heck out of the meat for it to be edible. And you should be warned, he cautions, bear skin looks just like human skin after you remove the hair. Which just drives home the point that humans are really just another large mammal. As the advocates of ecosystem based management argue, when drafting policies for environmental stewardship, we must recognize that humans are components in every ecosystem.
The fog seems to thicken as we approach the airport. You won't be leaving anytime soon with the fog like this, he warns me, and he is right. Five hours late, the sun burns through and my plane finally lifts off.
From Prince George, we follow the power lines that run from the Peace River dams all the way to Vancouver. The size of the city � mile after mile of urban grid stretching from the base of the Coast Range to the Pacific Coast � feels immense compared to the human settlements further north. As we make our final descent, we bank steeply over the Fraser River. The surface of the water is barely visible under the platoons of log floats and I wonder if some of the timber that passed us on logging trucks on the highway has made it here already. Every mile of urban infrastructure is evidence of Vancouver's dependence on natural resources extracted from up north.
Until we are able to figure out how more effectively and sustainably manage our natural resources, what we define as wildlife and wilderness will always be endangered. Even if we are to set aside wilderness corridors and protect these areas from logging or mining or farming, they will still be impacted by human civilization. Wilderness areas are not immune to climate change, nor are they protected from air pollution, the invasion of non-native species or the contamination or depletion of water tables. The beetle kill we encountered along our route is only one example.
My father, a marine ecologist for the State of Washington, has commented on the futility of proposals calling for the designation of specific ocean regions as "protected areas." You can�t expect pollution or marine animals to stay within their designated protected areas, he grouses. And it�s an unspoken license to destroy the rest.
In creating protected areas, are we tacitly admitting that we have given up on creating sustainable land use principles for the rest of the planet? While we struggle to establish wildlife corridors and national parks, vast other areas of undeveloped land will come under heavy and unsustainable use as a result of our unbridled energy consumption. In northern Alberta, surface mining of the oil sands has already destroyed over 180 square miles of boreal forest and muskeg swamp, and the Canadian government has already given oil companies the right to surface mine on an area roughly the size of the state of Maryland. In the U.S., politicians from both side of the aisle are pushing for the surface mining of oil shale deposits in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.
Wilderness corridors and preserves represent one extreme of how we choose to coexist with our planet, but in order to address the underlying barriers to environmental health, we must adopt a much more comprehensive approach towards conservation that reckons with climate change, land use and our unsustainable burn rate of natural resources.
Photo: Rest stop (Isan Brant)

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