Looking for a Better Kind of Homeland Security
Blog Lead Photo, courtesy of Ives Carrier.
Blog Lead Photo, courtesy of Ives Carrier.
TrekEast has garnered many stories about wild places and wild creatures during our exploration of the once and future Eastern Wildway, but the most politically charged story happened almost by accident. Fortuitous communications brought me into the Three Borders Area -- a little-known wildland where New Brunswick, Quebec, and Maine meet on the map, and mingle in real life. Conrad Reining of Wildlands Network, Bill Weber of Two Countries One Forest, and Jerry Jenkins of Wildlife Conservation Society had all alerted me to the importance of the Three Borders Area, but after pedaling a day along the St. John River (following a wonderful paddle down the Allagash; see last blog), I was dubious of viable habitat connections from Maine north into New Brunswick. Below the confluence with the Allagash, the St. John River seemed too hemmed in by roads and houses. (Upriver, farther from the border, The Nature Conservancy has saved tens of thousands of acres on the St. John.)
Then, as I was about to flee north and east from another of Maine’s struggling old mill towns, Madawaska, my call to Dr. Yves Carrier went through, and he happened to have a day free. He and his conspirator Guy Landry picked me up on the Canadian St John road, deftly tossed my overloaded mountain bike in the back of Yves’s pick-up truck, and drove me to one of the wildest secrets I almost missed.
The St. John River, below its confluence with the Allagash, is unfortunately bounded by roads and development along much of its length. Even there, though, stretches remain lightly settled, and we must not give up, Yves reminded me, for moose and other creatures are commonly crossing the two-lane roads (busy at intervals during day, but lightly trafficked at night) and swimming the river. Before they were extirpated from the area by guns and saws, caribou apparently moved through the St. John Valley, as well. The stronger remaining ecological connection, however, Yves and Guy taught me, is a bit farther north and west, along a tributary of the St. John, the St. Francis River.
Look at a map of northern New England and southeastern Canada , if you can find one that does not stop at the US/Canada border, (one pictured below right, for starters). You may think that from Maine’s northern-most point, the international border is going straight south and east along mere survey lines. Actually, it’s going in amazingly (glacially?) straight south and southeast lines along the St. Francis River and its various lakes. One of the more intact second-order river systems in the eastern United States is actually half Canadian – the US/Canada line running down the middle of the St. Francis waterway from Lac Pohenegamook to the confluence with the St. John – and its whole watershed ought to be a trans-boundary peace park!
Dr. Carrier and his wife Juliet and their friend Guy have for years been advocating for and taking people to a trans-boundary wildland that is like an unrecognized mirror-image of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. They used to organize “Eco-Challenges” that had teams of outdoor athletes taking a big wild loop that included remote mountain biking, bushwhacking the New Brunswick/Quebec border, and canoeing more than 50 wild miles down the St. Francis. Opportunities abound here for outdoor adventure; and the area could be attracting numerous paddlers, hikers, mountain bikers and other outdoorspeople, if it were publically protected as a park.
Yves and Guy ran me up the St. Francis River in their big canoe from GlazierLake (pictured above left) to Beau Lake. During four hours on the water, we saw no other people, and only two cottages on the lakes, neither used much. This quietude could be lost, however, if a park or other protected area is not created, since most private lands in the area are protected only by lack of road access. As we boated along the international boundary, we periodically landed on the Canadian side but never the US side, in case Homeland Security has hidden spy cameras in the Maine woods; but an osprey overhead wove back and forth from the US to Canada without heeding US customs at all! Guy said people on both sides of the international boundary commonly and innocently crossed and intermingled and thought little of the border, until American Homeland Security paranoia set in after the terrorist attacks of September 11 ten years ago. Since then, border tensions have been a big, and sad, part of life for people in these parts, especially on the Canadian side – US customs officials being the less tolerant. Part of Guy’s desire for a trans-boundary park stems from his family’s and friends’ ways of life being truncated by border tensions.
Yves and Guy explained their challenges in promoting the area for protection, which sound much like hurdles faced by Maine Woods National Park proponents. Many rural people in New Brunswick assume their livelihoods depend on corporate forestry and factory farms. Pulp and poultry are the two main products of western New Brunswick, neither providing enough jobs and both vulnerable to global markets and corporate drive for profits. As a family-practice doctor with thousands of patients, though, Yves can speak with authority, and has won over some listeners to the cause of a trans-boundary park, which could encompass hundreds of thousands of still mostly intact forested acres and a waterway that would attract paddlers like the Allagash does.
An established outdoor pursuit that is likely to continue on the St. John and St. Francis Rivers is “musky” fishing, including an annual fishing derby in Fort Kent, Maine that draws thousands of sports men and women. Sadly, the muskellunge (pictured left) is an exotic and invasive species in these waters, introduced years ago by a well-meaning but misinformed angler; and it has displaced or devoured many of the brook and lake trout and land-locked Atlantic salmon that swam these river systems in generous numbers and sizes. Were it feasible, encouraging anglers to fish out the muskies and then allowing recovery of native trout and salmon populations would be best; and then might a Three Borders Trans-Boundary Peace Park be a world-class destination also for conscientious anglers.
Moreover, a peace park in the Three Borders Area could be linked to a larger Maine Woods National Park to the south and to Quebec’s great Laurentides Provincial Park to the west, perhaps all to be honored with Biosphere Reserve and/or World Heritage Site designation, to encourage preservation of the rich natural and cultural heritage of the North Woods. Indeed, pull out your map again, and draw a big circle around the sparsely populated landscape stretching from Greenville, Maine north across the St. John watershed and New Brunswick panhandle, and west over the Boundary Mountains, across the St. Lawrence and through Laurentides Faunal Reserve. Arguably, this Greater Laurentian and Acadian landscape has the greatest wildlands recovery potential in the East. Here, lynx are ready to pounce on snowshoe hares, caribou await the chance to roam outward from Laurentides, trout and salmon struggle up undammed streams, moose and eagles have rebounded, and only a few paved roads – which could be retrofitted with wildlife crossings -- stand between wolves and America!
Of course, talking of reconnecting habitats across the St. Lawrence River begs the question of how much this great seaway serves as a barrier to wildlife movement. More study on this is needed, and the answers probably vary up and down the river. Nearing the ocean, the St. Lawrence becomes immense – virtually an inland sea. East of Laurentides, just downstream of Quebec City, it is wide but perhaps not so wide as to dissuade an eager young wolf from trotting across ice in winter. Trouble is, the St. Lawrence Seaway is a major shipping channel, and so ice-breakers keep a channel open in winter. Roads running parallel to the river on both sides are big barriers, but these could be retrofitted with wildlife crossing structures. Anyway, the St. Lawrence Seaway is itself a crucial wildlife habitat – for several species of whales, among other noble creatures – and a defining feature of this region, and needs to be better protected and understood, as we strive to restore an Eastern Wildway.
Back in the St. John watershed, over a delectable dinner of vegetables and meats they’d procured with their own gardens and arrows, Yves and Juliet and Guy told me stories of their Acadian ancestors and native Madawaskan societies, with the unifying theme that the St. John River and its tributaries comprise a watershed of inestimable worth to people of several intermingled cultures as well as to wildlife of many species. A sure way to pass on the vivid natural and cultural histories is to get the peoples of New Brunswick, Quebec, and Maine working together to establish a Three Borders Area Trans-Boundary Peace Park, with wild connections far beyond, where osprey and salmon, wolf and caribou, lynx and hare, moose and archer can wander one great wild forest, heedless of artificial customs.
For the Wild,
Show Us Your Wild Winners
The winner: John (Will) Leonard
The Konza Prairie is located in the Flint Hills region of Kansas and is home to native tallgrass and switchgrasses on its 50,000 square kilometer area. It is home to more than 600 species of fish, reptiles, mammals, and birds. It is a lively, beautiful, and calming environment located just outside of Manhattan, KS.
The runner-up: Kristin Williams
Located at the headwaters of the Peace River in Polk County, Florida, this ecosystem is home to many native fauna and flora. Circle B Reserve is an excellent green space for a family picnic, bike ride, or leisurely stroll. Birds are plentiful, you might also encounter river otters, alligators, snakes, butterflies and so much more.
John Davis on KVNF, NPR CO
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