Photo Essay

A Hard Won Rocky Mountain Gem

A gallery of images from BC's stunning Muskwa-Kechika region.

By Wayne Sawchuk 8 Jun 2005 | TheTyee.ca

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[Editor’s note: Photographer Wayne Sawchuk grew up in Chetwynd and worked as a logger before turning to the Northern Rockies as a guide and trapper where he fell in love with the beauty of the area. Sawchuk has been a full-time conservationist since 1993 and played an integral part in creating the Muskwa-Kechika Management Area, along with George Smith, National Conservation Director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

Created by three Land and Resource Management Plans and larger than Switzerland,, the Muskwa-Kechika area, pronounced MUSK-quah ke-CHEE-kah and named after two of its major rivers, is the result of a decade of planning and consensus building by all groups with an interest in the area, from eco-tourism operators to natural gas exploration companies.

Presented here is the preface and a gallery of images from Sawchuck’s new photo book: Muskwa-Kechika: The Wild Heart of Canada’s Northern Rockies.]

I first explored BC’s northern Rockies from the back of a horse on an 85-day, two-person, six-horse and one-dog expedition in the summer of 1984. During that trip to the heads of the Prophet, Tuchodi and Muskwa rivers, it was rare to meet another person. We encountered no year-round settlements or human habitation, something that is not unusual. Except for the Alaska Highway corridor, very few people live within the Muskwa-Kechika.

This is true wilderness.

Since that first journey, I have snowshoed, hiked and ridden many hundreds of miles through these wild mountains.

Out on the trapline on a night as black as pitch, the temperature –20 C ( –30 F), I have set my boots, socks and pants on the ice, then eased into the knee deep water of an icy stream to heave a sunken snowmobile onto the bank.

The sounds of avalanches and of moose calling and feeding in the cool grey dawn, the soul-touching howl of a wolf pack, and the myriad tiny sounds of the wilderness have wakened me to greet the dawn from one end of the Muskwa-Kechika to the other.

Over the years, the spirit of this great land and the wild heart of these rugged mountains have been instilled deep within me.

My new book chronicles a few of these experiences, and the photographs showcase some of the history, the processes, the animals, the landscapes and the First Nations’ values that make up the Muskwa-Kechika.

Many others know what I know – the Muskwa-Kechika is one of the few remaining places in the entire world where a fully-functioning wilderness ecosystem of this complexity and value still lives and breathes as it always has. This knowledge fueled the years of nose-to-nose negotiating that led to the hard-won creation of the Muskwa-Kechika Management Area.

The Muskwa-Kechika Management Area is now at a critical point. Much has been done and all sectors have demonstrated genuine willingness to work together. However, the potential of the Muskwa-Kechika is yet unproven, and there are trouble signs for the future.

It comes down to this: can we seize this opportunity, in this one place, to protect and sustain natural values of global significance, now and forever?

Or will the Muskwa-Kechika become a failed experiment in land use planning? I fervently believe we can and will work together to sustain this legacy for generations of both humans and animals.

Only time will tell if this optimism is justified. In the meantime, the survival of one of the most important wildlife and wilderness complexes in North America hangs in the balance.

Muskwa-Kechika: The Wild Heart of Canada’s Northern Rockies can be ordered from the author at 250-788-2685 or www.MuskwaKechika.com, or through Peace photoGraphics, toll-free at 1-866-373-8488 or www.peacePhotographics.com.  [Tyee]

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