On Oct. 7, Colorado College kicked off its annual State of the Rockies Speakers Series with a presentation by Dr. Gary Tabor VMD MES, Director of the Center for Large Landscape Conservation. Dr. Tabor, originally a wildlife veterinarian and ecologist, now works to protect species on a larger scale by focusing his efforts on conserving entire habitats and increasing connectivity between protected areas.
In his presentation, “The Emergence of Large Landscape Conservation in an Era of Planetary Thresholds,” Dr. Tabor spoke of the devastating effects that a single, seemingly innocuous road can have on species like the grizzly bear. Even if the rest of the habitat remains intact, the road can separate bear populations by genetic groups, causing fragmentation, which, Dr. Tabor explained, can cause “ecological Armageddon.”
Protected areas like Yellowstone National Park are usually square-like chunks of land. Animals, he explained, “don’t stay in boxes.” To illustrate his point, Dr. Tabor presented the case of M30, a wolverine living in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem that had been tagged by researchers. Wolverines are notoriously far-ranging mammals, but it was still a surprise when researchers discovered that M30 had, in the middle of winter, traveled out of his usual territory and climbed up and over the highest peak in Glacier National Park.
Dr. Tabor also discussed the conflict between the scale that conservation is usually conducted on, and the space that ecosystems need to maintain ecological processes. There is a frequent disconnect between scientists and policymakers when discussing this issue. “Nature,” Dr. Tabor says, “exists on a scale larger than on which we are doing protection.”
In an effort to help combat the lack of connectivity between protected areas, Dr. Tabor was a major participant in the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y), a large landscape project that established a region 3200 km long connecting Yellowstone National Park, WY, and Yukon, AK in 1997.
The entire Y2Y area is not a park; although it does contain 700 protected areas, humans live in parts of the region. Instead, the Y2Y region is maintained so that wild animals are able to travel safely through lands next to and between parks. The Y2Y project is one of over 200 large landscape efforts that have occurred or are occurring around the world.
One of Dr. Tabor’s most important points, and perhaps the one most immediately relevant to CC students, was the need for what he referred to as “planet doctors”. Dr. Tabor spoke of the need for people from all backgrounds and fields of work to come together to work on initiatives like the one for large landscape conservation. He emphasized the connection between the health of animals, the health of habitats, the health of the planet, and the need to begin working on a larger scale.