Florian Shulz's journey to save North America's wilderness.
More than anything else, wildlife needs room — room to roam, to forage, to follow the flow of the seasons. The same can be said of Florian Schulz, a German-born nature photographer who has spent nearly half his life wandering the wilderness of North America, trying to preserve the fragile paradise around him, one photo at a time.
His cause can be summed up neatly in three characters, Y2Y, an acronym that stands for Yellowstone to Yukon, the vast, 2,000-mile long "ecoregion" stretching from the Alaska/Canada border, down the Rocky Mountains to Wyoming. Inside this region are some of the last remaining areas of pristine wilderness on the continent, mostly isolated in little islands of biodiversity amid growing suburban sprawl.
Y2Y also is the subject of his new book, "Yellowstone to Yukon: Freedom to Roam," published last November by The Mountaineers Books in Seattle. Filled with more than 200 photos of the ecoregion's flora and fauna, the book has an ambitious goal: to encourage governments and private landowners to link the various wilderness areas, national parks and protected lands together to form a corridor to ensure that migrating wildlife can survive.
With the support of about 200 environmental organizations, the Y2Y concept is the biggest conservation effort in North America, Schulz says. His book includes several essays in praise of the plan from prominent scientists, conservationists and biologists, including an epilogue by Robert F. Kennedy Jr..
As a child in his home town of Wilhelmsdorf in southern Germany, Schulz was influenced by the writings of Jack London and dreamed of visiting the Northern Rockies. He made his first backpacking visit at 16 and has been hooked ever since.
"Coming from Europe, I've seen what can happen if we don't act," Schulz says. "Most of the wilderness over there is already gone. It's such a gift to have as much [unspoiled land] as you do still have in America."
Now 30, he says that he spends far more time traveling in the Rockies and Pacific Northwest in his Volkswagen van than he does at his nominal home address in Wilhelmsdorf. For the last decade, while working on the book, Schulz spent an average of eight to 10 months per year in the field, occasionally stopping in Seattle or Portland, Ore., for short periods.
Schulz focuses on subjects ranging from popular vistas, such as the much-photographed Vermillion Lakes in Alberta's Banff National Park (below right), to lesser-known gems such as Freezeout Lake, Mont., a vital way station along the Rocky Mountain Front for flocks of migrating snow geese (top right), sometimes numbering 200,000 to 300,000 birds strong.
Although animals and landscapes are the true stars of his book, Schulz also touches on the human side of the 460,000-square-mile region, hoping to dispel some myths about ranchers and their alleged indifference toward endangered wildlife.
In the old days, some cowboys would indeed hunt grizzlies, as depicted in this image (below left). In reality, however, the subjects of this photograph are about a foot high — the cowboys are only a nostalgic cutout metal sculpture on the fencepost of Montana rancher Karl Rappold, who now is known as one of the great defenders of the region's natural habitat.
Because he chooses to shoot as much as possible in open wilderness rather than in game parks, Schulz doesn't always expect to have close encounters with animals. For that reason, he shoots with long lenses, preferably with a 200-400mm telephoto, on his digital Nikon D2X.
Sometimes, however, he is lucky. While trekking through the Mackenzie Mountains in Canada's Yukon Territory, Schulz came up on a pack of wolves roaming the hillsides and caught this animal in mid-howl (middle right). "I never dreamed I could ever get close enough to get a shot like that," he says.
For more information about "Yellowstone to Yukon" and Schulz's award-winning work, visit his web site at visionsofthewild.com.