Wilderness the size of Ireland

Local travelers canoe remote Canadian rivers

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Steamboat Springs-based adventure traveler John Spezia will present a slideshow Saturday detailing the vast Canadian wilderness of Muskwa-Kechika.

The show, called "Boreal Dreams," will be hosted by the Trappers Lake Sierra Club. There is no admission charge.

Spezia's slides will feature photographs of grizzly bears, caribou, a couple species of wild sheep, moose and bison, glacier-fed rivers and dramatic mountain ranges. The evening also will include a discussion of the attributes of roadless wilderness areas.

Muskwa-Kechika is in northeast British Columbia, close to the Al-Can Highway. At 11 million acres, it is the largest wilderness area in the Rocky Mountains -- about the size of Ireland.

Spezia and Diane Brower, also of Steamboat, visited Muskwa-Kechika in late summer 2005, when they completed a 200-mile canoe journey on the Gataga, Muskwa and Kechika rivers. Their curiosity was piqued by the growing movement to conserve wildlife corridors stretching from Yellowstone National Park north to the Yukon.

They began their journey by taking a float plane to a remote lake. A short portage took them to a put-in point on the Gataga. They traveled in a simple canoe with a spray skirt. The rapids were mostly mild, but they roped around a couple of them because they couldn't afford any mishaps -- they didn't see another person until the final day of the trip.

Spezia said he was drawn to the trip by the opportunity to observe large and small mammals in a wilderness that is on a grander scale than Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain national parks.

"Muskwa-Kechika is five times the size of Yellowstone," Spezia said. "I wanted to see what it felt like. When I go to Yellowstone, I'm a little afraid of park bears."

Spezia had ample opportunity to view and photograph predators and other mammals on their trip. He is interested in how animals behave in a large, intact environment that offers all the space they require. He's already observed how the resident elk are over-grazing Rocky Mountain National Park and how the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone has rebounded since predation by reintroduced wolves has reduced the populations of grazing animals.

The Muskwa-Kechika Management Area was created by the provincial government of British Columbia at the urging of an unlikely coalition of conservations interests and businesses in the resource extraction industries. They reached an agreement to protect Muskwa-Kechika in exchange for the ability to develop energy resources elsewhere in the province while protecting wildlife.

Although part of the Rocky Mountains, Muskwa-Kechika is a vastly different environment from the Colorado Rockies. The mountain ranges were formed from limestone and shale, timberline at that latitude is at 2,000 feet, and the boreal forests grow in the midst of patchy tracts of permafrost.

Spezia promises to give Saturday's audience an extended glimpse of the unspoiled wilderness.

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