Steve Kallick joined The Pew Charitable Trusts in 1997 as a program officer and is now director of the International Boreal Conservation Campaign, managing one of the largest and most successful projects in The Pew Charitable Trusts's portfolio.
As a child growing up in Illinois, I became interested in the history of the Great Lakes region: the pre-history, the aboriginal people and the early French explorers. I devoured historical accounts of what the place was like before Western civilization arrived. Then one early spring day in 1975, while I was sitting on the shore of Lake Michigan and looking at smog on the horizon over Chicago and dead fish on the beach below, it dawned on me what profound and terrible environmental changes had taken place over just a few hundred years in the Great Lakes region. It left me with an enormous sense of loss.
I spent the rest of the summer of 1975 traveling in northern Canada and Alaska, visiting relatives, camping, fishing, hiking and learning. What I realized on that adventure was that the great North American frontier had not been lost but that, except for the far north and the high mountains of the West, it was being rolled back. I vowed after that summer to spend the rest of my life working to strike a balance between development and conservation and to safeguard the natural world by learning from the mistakes of the past.
One of the greatest challenges of this work is the struggle to bridge cultural differences and connect people of disparate experiences and backgrounds who, usually unknown to each other, share common views about environmental stewardship. We humans are a tribal species by nature, and unfortunately so much of humanity seems determined to divide us into warring camps, to create enemies to hate and fight and conquer. Yet in a democratic society, where we have shared rights and responsibilities and a structure for making collective decisions, we can only succeed through building political consensus.
It's a struggle that is not only political but personal, and I often have to remind myself that those who do not agree with me now are potential allies and that it's my job to connect with them and persuade them (or be persuaded by them). One of my mentors taught me that “politics is a game of addition.” I try to remember that and live by it every day.
I used to say that I moved to Alaska for the wilderness but stayed because of the people. I feel the same way about working in northern Canada now. It's an incredible gift to experience the boreal wilderness: unbroken forests that stretch to the horizon; crystalline lakes and rivers teeming with trophy fish; vast wild caribou herds roaming the hills; the calls of the wolf, owl and loon; northern lights reflected on the snow; and breathing absolutely pure air, under the bluest skies you can imagine.
But what keeps me going are the individuals I work with and meet—the natives of the north and others who discovered it and fell in love, as I did. I believe there is something about that country that brings out the best in our own nature. The rich, thriving environment buoys and sustains the unique, wonderful and irrepressible people.
The wilderness of northern Canada and Alaska, dominated by the boreal forest, is the world's largest, healthiest remaining terrestrial ecosystem. It is a global treasure. To safeguard it, we need both a common, science-based vision and an effective implementation approach. Our vision, represented by the Canadian Boreal Conservation Framework,was developed with the guidance of scientists and major public stakeholders.
The Boreal Framework would allocate parts of the boreal forest into a network of large, interconnected protected areas and have other areas designated for careful development. These twin land-use prescriptions can work together to maximize environmental protection and economic benefit, empowering and strengthening local communities. We work multinationally and multiculturally, bringing people, organizations and governments together in support of the Boreal Framework vision. That requires extensive diplomacy, community organizing, and public education efforts.
The Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement we helped broker this year is a classic example of how the Boreal Framework and our approach can guide conservation policy in practical ways, such as resolving the growing conflict between woodland caribou habitat needs and the existing logging contracts held by Canadian timber companies. With each side focusing on its most important priorities, we have a chance to save both the caribou and the rural economies dependent on a healthy timber industry.