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Karsten Heuer and Leanne Allison are planning an epic 2,000-kilometre journey starting next March. - Lynn Lau/NNSL photo

Caribou walkers

Inuvik park warden planning to trace Porcupine caribou

Lynn Lau
Northern News Services

Inuvik (Oct 21/02) - This summer, they took their vows -- 'til death do us part.

Next summer, if all goes well, they'll be battling swarms of mosquitos and blackflies, icy river crossings and months of arduous travel across the hummocky tundra.

Karsten Heuer and Leanne Allison, both 33, are planning to spend six months next year following the migration of the Porcupine caribou. They'll start from the winter range, off the Dempster Highway and travel to the calving grounds in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and then follow the herd back again -- a round trip journey of 2,000 kilometres. It's not exactly an ordinary honeymoon. But they've never been much into the ordinary. Heuer, a wildlife biologist and park warden for Ivvavik National Park, just spent the last two summers writing his first book, "Walking the Big Wild" about his epic walk from Yellowstone Park to the Yukon. Allison is an environmental activist and mountaineer, who in 1993 was part of the first all-women's ascent of Mount Logan's east ridge.

The pair are planning to ski, hike, and canoe portions of the trip. Their purpose is to attract media attention to the ongoing struggle to protect the herd's Alaskan calving grounds from oil development.

Heuer says the idea to follow the entire length of the migration came from his experience working at Ivvavik National Park, where he witnessed the post-calving migration first hand.

"The really neat thing about it is the whole ecosystem is travelling with the caribou," Heuer says. "You'll see grizzly bears, golden eagles, bald eagles, gulls, ravens, fox. It's an incredible pulse of life being towed across the tundra. But there's a real fragility to it all, because of what's being proposed on the calving grounds of Alaska."

During the trip, the couple plan on sending live media reports via satellite phone. Heuer will be taking still photos and Allison, a recent graduate of the Gulf Islands Film and Television School, will be shooting video footage. Together, they want to bring their own feelings of reverence for the landscape to audiences in the south.

"In most places in Canada or the States, people don't know about caribou," Allison says. "We're at that stage in history where we could lose the caribou just like the Great Plains Buffalo were lost."