Arctic Light in the Arrigetch Peaks, Brooks Range, Alaska

In July and August, I was part of a team of four people who made a mountaineering pilgrimage to the most northern mountain range in North America. The central Brooks Range (Gwazhał in Athabaskan) is the traditional territory of the Inupiaq-speaking Kuuvanmiit and Nunamiut people and the Athapaskan-speaking Koyukon. Today, the landscape we visited is in included in Gates of the Arctic National Park.

Forest McBrian, Steph Williams, Drew Lovell and myself spent 3 weeks exploring the Arrigetch Peaks region which comprises two drainages of the Alatna River. My first trip to the Arctic, learning about the beautiful long and low light of summer in the far north was amazing as a photographer. Here are a few shots celebrating the season of light in this expansive and wild mountain range. 

Field Notes: Winter in the Monashee Mountains

Photos and text by David Moskowitz. Expedition partners: Steph Williams and Forest McBrian.

A Fruitless Search For Caribou

We go to the mountains searching for answers. We go to the forests looking for clues. We watch the clouds roll across the peaks, keen to see what the universe will deliver on the wind. We scan the snow for the tracks of elusive creatures of the wild wonder about their lives when we find them and their absence when we don’t.

Back home, developing images of stark landscapes Carved by forces beyond our comprehension Turned to black and white and every shade of grey in between. Their is a haunting beauty in precarious landscapes Unsettled times What’s missing from our maps? What’s hidden in the clouds? When will these mountains come tumbling down?

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People of the Caribou Rainforest

People of the Caribou Rainforest

Text and photography by David Moskowitz

Over the course of our team's explorations of the Caribou Rainforest we have had the chance to meet many folks who live, work, and play in this unique region of the world. We have talked with and learned from First Nations people - whose families have been on this land for millennia - and vacationers from Europe here for just a week of vacation. We've talked with snowmobilers and backcountry skiers, loggers and environmental activists, foresters and wildlife biologists.

The variety of voices we have heard has given us a wide variety of perspectives on the ecology, economy, history and culture of the region. Here are just a few of the people who have shared some of their thoughts with us over the past year as we seek to collect stories and perspectives from people across the region.

Former logger Leanard Edwards, member of Splatsin First Nation, shared his thoughts about caribou and his other work as an environmental monitor from the Revelstoke Maternity pen where he helps look after the captive cows and calves.
Former logger Leanard Edwards, member of Splatsin First Nation, shared his thoughts about caribou and his other work as an environmental monitor from the Revelstoke Maternity pen where he helps look after the captive cows and calves.
 Revelstoke Community Forest Corperation forester Kevin Bollefer and his dog gave us a tour of some of the experimental harvest methods they have been trying in order to minimize the impact of forestry activity on caribou.

Revelstoke Community Forest Corperation forester Kevin Bollefer and his dog gave us a tour of some of the experimental harvest methods they have been trying in order to minimize the impact of forestry activity on caribou.

Boris and Alice servicing the feeding stations at Kennedy siding
Boris and Alice servicing the feeding stations at Kennedy siding
Virginia Thompson in her home with caribou maps. Revelstoke BC
Virginia Thompson in her home with caribou maps. Revelstoke BC
Rami Rothkop, the mill manager for Harrop-Procter Community Forest.
Rami Rothkop, the mill manager for Harrop-Procter Community Forest.
 Brian Pate, biologist for Wildlife Infometrics uses a spotting scope to search for caribou and other wildlife in the Hart Range.

Brian Pate, biologist for Wildlife Infometrics uses a spotting scope to search for caribou and other wildlife in the Hart Range.

 Chief Roland Wilson of the West Moberly First Nation spoke with us about his people’s connection with their traditional homeland and the current state of caribou conservation in that region.

Chief Roland Wilson of the West Moberly First Nation spoke with us about his people’s connection with their traditional homeland and the current state of caribou conservation in that region.

 Paul Sarafinchan has been logging for three decades in the interior of British Columbia.

Paul Sarafinchan has been logging for three decades in the interior of British Columbia.

 Kate Devine, of Revelstoke BC, spends her summers cruising timber (evaluating stands of trees for their lumber value) and her winters working as a backcountry ski guide.

Kate Devine, of Revelstoke BC, spends her summers cruising timber (evaluating stands of trees for their lumber value) and her winters working as a backcountry ski guide.

 Harley Poitras currently works as a log truck driver and informed us that “You can’t call yourself a log truck driver until you’ve rolled a truck at least once.”

Harley Poitras currently works as a log truck driver and informed us that “You can’t call yourself a log truck driver until you’ve rolled a truck at least once.”

 David Walker allowed us to follow him around for a morning of work felling trees in the northern Selkirk Mountains.

David Walker allowed us to follow him around for a morning of work felling trees in the northern Selkirk Mountains.

 Ryan “Dunny” Dunford kicked up some powder for us on his mountain sled on Boulder Mountain.

Ryan “Dunny” Dunford kicked up some powder for us on his mountain sled on Boulder Mountain.

 Doug Heard, a legend in the world of Canadian caribou biology, shared stories and his current interests in caribou conservation from his home outside of Prince George.

Doug Heard, a legend in the world of Canadian caribou biology, shared stories and his current interests in caribou conservation from his home outside of Prince George.

 We interviewed Kootenai Tribal Chairman Gary Aitken Jr. along with biologists Scott Soults and Norm Merz at the tribal headquarters outside of Bonners Ferry, Idaho. The Kootenai tribe has taken on developing an updated management plan for mountain caribou on the USA side of their range for the USFWS. Gary noted to us that the Kootenai have a “covenant with the creator and a sacred obligation to care for the land.” Their goal was, rather than look at things “species by species”, to “take a ridgetop approach” in looking at how to “bring the ecosystem back to more natural levels.”

We interviewed Kootenai Tribal Chairman Gary Aitken Jr. along with biologists Scott Soults and Norm Merz at the tribal headquarters outside of Bonners Ferry, Idaho. The Kootenai tribe has taken on developing an updated management plan for mountain caribou on the USA side of their range for the USFWS. Gary noted to us that the Kootenai have a “covenant with the creator and a sacred obligation to care for the land.” Their goal was, rather than look at things “species by species”, to “take a ridgetop approach” in looking at how to “bring the ecosystem back to more natural levels.”

 Gilbert Desrosiers is president of the Beaver Mountain snowmobile club in the West Kootenay mountains and has worked with the province of BC and the Nature Conservancy of Canada to ensure responsible riding in the Kootenays.

Gilbert Desrosiers is president of the Beaver Mountain snowmobile club in the West Kootenay mountains and has worked with the province of BC and the Nature Conservancy of Canada to ensure responsible riding in the Kootenays.

 Three buddies from the eastern United States paused to chat with us at Kootenay Pass in the Southern Selkirks during their week-long backcountry ski vacation to the region.

Three buddies from the eastern United States paused to chat with us at Kootenay Pass in the Southern Selkirks during their week-long backcountry ski vacation to the region.

 Outward Bound Instructor Judith Roberston of Nelson British Columbia on a backcountry ski tour in the southern Selkirk mountains.

Outward Bound Instructor Judith Roberston of Nelson British Columbia on a backcountry ski tour in the southern Selkirk mountains.

 Harley Davis and Garret Napoleon of the Saulteau First Nation at the Klinze-sa Maternal pen where they help monitor captive caribou cows and calves.

Harley Davis and Garret Napoleon of the Saulteau First Nation at the Klinze-sa Maternal pen where they help monitor captive caribou cows and calves.

 Erik Leslie (left), the forester for the Harrop-Proctor Community Forest, and two board members look over a map of the region they are responsible for managing.

Erik Leslie (left), the forester for the Harrop-Proctor Community Forest, and two board members look over a map of the region they are responsible for managing.

 Gordie Hale takes a break from his work moving logs on a logging operation in the southern Selkirk Mountains.

Gordie Hale takes a break from his work moving logs on a logging operation in the southern Selkirk Mountains.

 Naomi Owens, Treaty Manager for the Saulteau First Nation discussed her people’s involvement in protecting caribou and other resources on their traditional territory.

Naomi Owens, Treaty Manager for the Saulteau First Nation discussed her people’s involvement in protecting caribou and other resources on their traditional territory.

 Helicopter pilot Timothy Seabrook removing the door to his aircraft in the Hart Range.

Helicopter pilot Timothy Seabrook removing the door to his aircraft in the Hart Range.

 Revelstoke Snowmobile Club president Daniel Kellie along with two club members, lean on the club’s new groomer close to the very popular Boulder Mountain trailhead, also the location of a dwindling number of mountain caribou.

Revelstoke Snowmobile Club president Daniel Kellie along with two club members, lean on the club’s new groomer close to the very popular Boulder Mountain trailhead, also the location of a dwindling number of mountain caribou.

 Ecologist Greg Utzig of Nelson British Columbia was part of the negotiations to create the 2007 Mountain Caribou Recovery Plan which currently steers conservation efforts of caribou in British Columbia.

Ecologist Greg Utzig of Nelson British Columbia was part of the negotiations to create the 2007 Mountain Caribou Recovery Plan which currently steers conservation efforts of caribou in British Columbia.

 Some of wildlife Biologist Rob Serroya’s research includes investigations into the relationship between moose and wolf populations and their relationship to caribou population dynamics.

Some of wildlife Biologist Rob Serroya’s research includes investigations into the relationship between moose and wolf populations and their relationship to caribou population dynamics.

Along with collecting the stories of the people of this region, our team has been busy creating stories of our own out in the field. While we work to help create understanding across many groups of people and on a variety of geographic scales, the people, places, and wild animals of this region have been shaping who we are as well.

 Marcus Reynerson in a blind we constructed in the Monashee Mountains in July of 2015.

Marcus Reynerson in a blind we constructed in the Monashee Mountains in July of 2015.

 Kim Shelton seeks shelter from the rain this summer in the southern Selkirk Mountains close to the Washington-BC border.

Kim Shelton seeks shelter from the rain this summer in the southern Selkirk Mountains close to the Washington-BC border.

 Colin Arisman skinning up through treeline in the Columbia Mountains in February 2016 on a multiday backcountry tour in the winter range for the North Columbia herd.

Colin Arisman skinning up through treeline in the Columbia Mountains in February 2016 on a multiday backcountry tour in the winter range for the North Columbia herd.

 David Moskowitz inspects a recent clearcut in the Upper Seymour River on the west slope of the Monashee Mountains. Photo by Marcus Reynerson.

David Moskowitz inspects a recent clearcut in the Upper Seymour River on the west slope of the Monashee Mountains. Photo by Marcus Reynerson.

MCP Field Notes: Cariboo Mountains

 Looking across the Rocky Mountain Trench at the Hart Mountains from the Cariboo Mountains. The Fraser River oxbows through the trench which divides these two mountain ranges.

Looking across the Rocky Mountain Trench at the Hart Mountains from the Cariboo Mountains. The Fraser River oxbows through the trench which divides these two mountain ranges.

I made my furthest trip north for the project to explore a small corner of the Cariboo Mountains, just south of the town of Prince George, British Columbia. In these mountains and across the Rocky Mountain Trench, in the Hart Ranges, caribou numbers are fairing a bit better than further south. However, with lots of room to spread out in the summer across multiple vast mountain ranges, finding them this time of year proved to be a challenge. During the summer mountain caribou disperse across the subalpine forests of these mountains in order to reduce the chance of being detected by predators. This strategy apparently also works effective for avoiding curious humans as well!

 Treeline meadows and ponds where I searched for caribou in the area.

Treeline meadows and ponds where I searched for caribou in the area.

 The wet meadow system was miles from the closes road or trail. With huge amounts of inaccessible forested landscapes to spread out in, mountain caribou can seemingly disappear into these mountains.

The wet meadow system was miles from the closes road or trail. With huge amounts of inaccessible forested landscapes to spread out in, mountain caribou can seemingly disappear into these mountains.

 A double rainbow at sunrise precedes a violent thunderstorm that rolled across the landscape shortly afterwards.

A double rainbow at sunrise precedes a violent thunderstorm that rolled across the landscape shortly afterwards.

 The closest I came to caribou on my excursion–some old scats found while out exploring.

The closest I came to caribou on my excursion–some old scats found while out exploring.

 I stumbled upon this little black bear while walking back to my truck at the end of a long day in the field.

I stumbled upon this little black bear while walking back to my truck at the end of a long day in the field.

 Mount Sir Alexander, 10,745 ft (3275m) towers above the peaks around it in the Canadian Rockies, across the Rocky Mountain trench from the Cariboo Mountains.

Mount Sir Alexander, 10,745 ft (3275m) towers above the peaks around it in the Canadian Rockies, across the Rocky Mountain trench from the Cariboo Mountains.

Time Lapse: 1,200 miles in the tracks of a lone wolf

With over half a year gone by since we completed the OR7 Expedition, our team has been busy working on the educational products which were a key motivator to take on the expedition to begin with. We have been delivering slideshows up and down the west coast and abroad (for a list of upcoming events I am speaking at click here, and for a complete list of all events by all our team members click here).

Reflections on the journey

The fact that OR7 found a mate and has produced a litter of pups in southwestern Oregon, well over 200 miles from the closest know breeding population of wolves demonstrates the amazing capacity for wolves to reestablish themselves in areas they have been absent from for decades. It also speaks to the excellent habitat condition for wolves which currently exist across much of the west including large sections of northern California. As has been made clear, in studies from around the globe, that large terrestrial carnivores play important roles ecologically in the natural systems they inhabit--especially in concert with each other. The re-establishment of wolves in parts of California, alongside the existing recovered populations of mountain lions and black bears in the state, would be a very real step forward towards creating more diverse, resilient, and self-regulating wildlife populations and biological communities in parts of California where humans have significantly altered the landscape through removal of some species and heavy management of others.

Wildlife and wild land conservation in the 21st century

The world is a very different place now than it was in the early 1900's when the last wolves were being extirpated from the west coast. Human populations have shifted away from rural areas towards urban centers. Even in the last 50 years, since our society adopted the concept of protecting wild landscapes in the form of Wilderness, the world has shifted greatly. OR7 shows the scale at which we need to think about conservation and co-existance. Wolves speak to the very real limitations of Wilderness preservation. As we have begun to understand how interconnected ecological processes are we have learned about the vulnerability and ineffectiveness of islands of protected Wilderness. Conservation in the 21st century must look at protecting and restoring broad connected landscapes. With such a broad perspective on the types of lands that need to be incorporated into conservation planning, its impossible to consider removing human uses from all these areas. Because of this, modern conservation needs to take a hard look at the human-nature dichotomy which was enshrined in the Wilderness Act and move towards an appreciation that humans and human uses are part of the natural world. Rather than isolation of our impacts from nature and maintaining space for wild things like wolves in places far from where most people live, the way forward must be one of intermingled uses. A modern wolf like OR7 has learned to deal with a landscape covered with roads, high speed traffic, industrial scale agriculture and forestry. Similarly modern humans need to learn how to share the landscape once again with large carnivores, wild rivers, unmanaged forests, and landscapes with both the capacity to feed us, and preserve the diversity of life on which we as a species ultimately depend.

Expedition Time Lapse Video

Here is a time lapse of the entire Wolf OR7 Expedition created by my team member Jay Simpson and set to an original poem of another team member Galeo Saintz. Enjoy!