In the great north woods (part 4)

Day 6
Ryan�s cousin Alex, whose skills as a bike mechanic have been much utilized by the rest of us riders, is fishing on Lake Muncho in front of me, silhouetted against the grey-blue of the evening sky reflected in the lake. Across the water the dark hump of a peak rises, the top is grey stone with swaths of snow in the ravines. We've entered the head of the Canadian Rockies � this mountain range will stretch all the way from here to the border with Mexico. In the mind 1990s, environmental groups in the U.S. and Canada formed the Y2Y coalition to advocate for the creation of a wildlife corridor from Yellowstone to Yukon that would link a series of already protected wilderness areas. The coalition was driven by research from wildlife biologists who, using radio and GPS technologies to track the range of large mammals like bears, wolves, moose and caribou, discovered the natural ranges of these "keystone" species were much larger than anyone had previously imagined. The creation of corridors, the biologists argued, would decrease the risks of extinction by giving wildlife the freedom to roam.
Partnering with corporate sponsors as well as local organizations, the Y2Y coalition began to work with local communities in the Y2Y region to negotiate for the creation of protected wilderness areas. The coalition argued that the economic benefits that would be lost from farming, ranching and other resource extraction activities in the protected areas could be supplanted by ecotourism dollars.
Coming from a background of labor politics and political campaigns, I am skeptical of environmental organizations that prioritize the needs of photogenic wildlife over the economic wellbeing of rural Americans. But after the Edwards campaign I was ready to get away from humans and politics and the Eastern Seaboard. And so if caring about wildness corridors and wildlife conservation could get me a sponsored bike vacation in Northern Canada, I would care. I would despise the developers. I would decry the destruction of precious natural habitat. I would defend the rights of the bears and buffalo to roam.
My preference for the prioritizing human need became evident our first day when our camp became infested with mosquitoes. Having been warned by a guy from my yoga studio, I came prepared. I pulled out my spay bottle of 100% DEET and liberally mist myself head to toe. Apparently, none of my fellow travelers brought bug spray, but I kindly offered to share my small supply. They refused. No one said anything but I could tell they eyed me warily. Teagan, who recently graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in environmental studies, asked if I'm going to rinse off before I go to bed. I know DEET is supposed to be bad for you, that it will give your babies birth defects and will probably seep into the water supply and give all the little birds and wolfs and bison babies birth defects too. But I hate mosquitoes.
Later that day, Ryan complains that his eye is itching and discovers he's been bitten by something that caused a pin sized blood red bump on his eyelid. The next morning his eye is half swollen shut. Everyone else is picking at their ankles and calves. I won�t gloat, but I haven't been bitten yet. Civilization 1, Wilderness 0.
Photo: Day's end (Alex Applegate)

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