People & Culture

Featured Fellow: Karsten Heuer

  • Nov 30, 2012
  • 564 words
  • 3 minutes
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In the wee hours of a late-fall morning 30 years ago, Karsten Heuer and his father were hiking through a dark, wet campground, tackle boxes in hand, heading for their favourite fishing spot in Kootenay National Park, in southeast British Columbia. Feeling the chilling, damp air on his back, Heuer was less than excited about spending the rest of that miserable day outside.

“All of a sudden,” says Heuer, “this big floodlight comes on and this voice booms out of the darkness telling us to ‘Freeze.’ It was a park warden on a stakeout, alone in the middle of the night in a cold downpour, sitting on top of an outhouse waiting for poachers. I was just completely dumbstruck that a job like that existed. I was full of admiration for the passion and commitment this person had shown for conserving and saving wildlife.”

The experience helped shape Heuer, now 44, into what he is today: a seasonal warden at Banff National Park, a passionate wildlife conservationist and an award-winning author whose adventures have taken him across North America.

Heuer, a Fellow of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society since 2007, set out on his first major journey in 1998, hiking 3,400 kilometres from Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming to Watson Lake in the Yukon after becoming more aware of the problems with tracking wildlife across park borders. The expedition inspired his first book, Walking the Big Wild. “The hike was exposing this big weakness in how we, as a human species, have been approaching wildlife conservation,” says Heuer, who has a bachelor of science in ecology. During the second half of that expedition, Heuer was joined by longtime friend, fellow wildlife conservationist and filmmaker Leanne Allison. In 2003, the newlywed couple set out on a five-month trek from the Yukon to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, travelling alongside the Porcupine caribou herd. The expedition yielded Being Caribou, which earned Heuer numerous awards, including a U.S. National Outdoor Book of the Year award in 2006.

Heuer and Allison — along with their two-year-old son and the family dog — embarked on another five-month expedition in 2007, this time walking, canoeing and sailing from their home in Canmore, Alta., to Cape Breton, N.S., to meet Heuer’s hero, Canadian literary legend Farley Mowat. The family charted a path across the country using Mowat’s stories as a guide. “We thought we should pay respect to everything he’s written about and try to do this trip as a tribute as well,” says Heuer. “The stories that still might be there, we wanted to give them time to speak to us as we passed through those landscapes.”

Although Heuer is currently busy preparing for his new role, starting this January, as president of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative — a Canada-U.S. not-for-profit organization that focuses on preserving and maintaining the wildlife of the mountainous region from Yellowstone National Park to the Yukon — he’s not giving up on writing. His third book, Finding Farley, about his family’s cross-country journey to visit Mowat, is due in 2013. “I kind of imagined myself as just a scientist,” says Heuer of his writing. “But over the years, I’ve found that I have an ability to bridge the gap between the science and the everyday real working world.”

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