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“Flat, white nothingness.” That’s how Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton recently described Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Congressional testimony on behalf of oil drilling in the 19.3-million-acre sanctuary.
Karsten Heuer despises such talk. He thinks ANWR is a magical place, full of life and color-and he’s willing to suffer to prove it. In early April, the 34-year-old biologist and park warden from Calgary, Alberta, departed from Old Crow, Yukon, on a 7-month journey that will take him and wife Leanne, 34, across 1,200 miles of tundra, muskeg, and mountains. On ski and by foot, they will follow the 123,000-strong Porcupine caribou herd from its wintering grounds in the Yukon to its calving grounds in ANWR and back. Traveling up to 20 miles a day, and often at night, they’ll face deep snow, hordes of mosquitoes, and withering heat as their tent bakes under the midnight sun.
“Our goal,” says Heuer, “is to go beyond the aerial snapshots and bring to life the challenges a herd faces daily, and the extraordinary diversity of the Arctic ecosystem.” He hopes the stories, photos, and videotape he brings back will inspire permanent protection for the herd’s calving grounds. “And when I return,” he says, “my first call is to Gale Norton.”
BACKPACKER is getting behind Heuer’s expedition with a $5,000 Adventure Grant, the first such award given through our new annual grants program. Send your donation to Being Caribou, 7 Cassino St., Whitehorse, YK, Y1A 3B9. Watch for monthly updates from his team, right here.