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Naturalist’s trek comes to Durango

Courtesy of Wildlands Network

John Davis, right, the main Wildlands Network trekker trying to establish uninterrupted corridors for wildlife from Canada to Mexico, and Kenyon Fields, the organization’s strategy director, paddle their gear across the Colorado River from Westwater, Utah, to a private ranch in Colorado on June 14. They were on their way to talk to the ranch owner whose property is a conservation preserve.

By Dale Rodebaugh Herald staff writer

A naturalist who is trying to establish a continuous corridor for wildlife along the spine of the Rocky Mountains from Mexico to Canada is due in Durango today.

John Davis, a founder of the Wildlands Network and at one time the editor of the journal Wild Earth, will join the dedication of an old-growth forest in Hermosa and speak at the Smiley Building.

The 10-month TrekWest is not Davis’ first outing to promote his vision. In 2011, he walked, biked and paddled 7,500 miles from the Florida Keys to the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec to outline an Eastern wildway, as he calls the corridors.

The 5,000-mile TrekWest that Davis is covering on foot, horseback, raft and bicycle is not a straight shot from border to border. He will zig-zag, back track and circle around to visit areas that meet the criteria for wildlife habitat.

Human infrastructure – freeways uninterrupted by breaks for wildlife and developments such as the proposed Village at Wolf Creek, a 10,000-population high-elevation settlement – are barriers that fragment natural habitat to such a degree that they’re no longer viable for wildlife, Davis will tell you.

Davis’ goal is to stir enough interest to create connected wildways where terrestrial and avian residents or transients can find conditions required for survival.

He knows that to succeed, he must swing public decision-makers and private enterprise as well as environmentalists behind the effort.

“TrekWest is as much about connecting people with people and people with land as it is connecting land segments with each other,” Davis said in a telephone interview.

Interests as disparate as ranching, recreation and energy development can share the goal of protecting wildlife and still prosper, he says.

Davis recently spent a couple of days at the High Lonesome Ranch near DeBeque where Paul R. Vahldiek Jr., a retired Texas attorney and investor, practices a brand of land stewardship that accommodates natural-gas development, hunters and anglers, dude ranching, cattle grazing, habitat restoration and wildlife – elk and, just maybe, wolves.

Vahldiek controls about 300 square miles through purchase of old homesteads and Bureau of Land Management leases on the Western Slope northeast of Grand Junction. The ranch is to be home to the High Lonesome Institute, an environmental research center supported by endowments.

“In my mind, private land stewardship will be important to create large-scale wildlife habitat,” Davis said. “Private land is critical to success.”

Davis talks to anyone who will listen – public officials, scientists, landowners, business people and the general public. He gets logistical support along the way from environmental organizations.

Stepping up to help in the Four Corners are Rocky Mountain Wild, the Colorado Safe Passage Coalition, New Mexico Priority Linkages, New Mexico Wildways and the Western Environmental Law Center.

Davis started his trek in Hermosillo, Mexico, on Jan. 30, passing through the town of Sahuaripa and a 45,000-acre jaguar preserve maintained by a Mexican environmental organization with support from American interests.

If Davis has his way, there will be a Pacific wildway from British Columbia into Baja California and a Boreal wildway stretching from Alaska across Canada to Newfoundland.

daler@durangoherald.com

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