UCalgary alumna helps shape the conservation landscape in Alberta

Dr. Hilary Young returns to campus to share her journey in large landscape conservation

For many, Alberta is known for its diverse geography – from mountains to prairies – with vast expanses of space that are home to a wide range of animals, large and small. But, did you know that the Rocky Mountain corridor, passing through Alberta, is one of the last remaining regions in North America that still has more than ten species of large mammals? Neither did I until I attended a talk on campus with Dr. Hilary Young, MA’05 (Anthropology), PhD’15. Young is the Senior Alberta Program Manager at Yellowstone to Yukon (Y2Y) Conservation Initiative. In this role, Young supports science-based advocacy work in western Alberta, and focuses on work that ensures that large mammals have room to roam.

Y2Y is a non-profit organization whose mission is to protect and connect habitats from Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming up through Alberta and British Columbia, to the Yukon and Northwest Territories. Through their conservation efforts they strive to help both people and nature thrive.

The Yellowstone to Yukon Region

The Yellowstone to Yukon Region

Since finishing her MA in the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, and her PhD in the Department of Biological Sciences where she studied ungulates, including moose and deer, Young began work with Y2Y where she has applied her expertise and research skills to support the development of conservation initiatives on Alberta’s Eastern Slopes. When speaking about her transition from school to the workplace she says, “Although my role no longer entails doing the research in the field, I now focus on synthesizing, reviewing, and applying findings from the studies that have been done.” Young describes how research happening at the University of Calgary, other academic institutions and non-governmental organizations, and through mobile apps encouraging citizen science are helping Y2Y understand local animal populations. For example, Young says, “research on the role of roads as barriers to wildlife movement has helped us understand the best ways for wildlife-vehicle collisions to be mitigated. And when we combine that information with the movement patterns of wildlife through an area, we can help with decisions about how to get the best bang for the buck.”  

Young and her team are working on a number of projects to protect habitats and landscapes across Alberta’s Eastern Slopes, including conservation efforts in the regions of the Castle Parks, Kananaskis Country, the Bow Valley, and the Bighorn. While efforts are ongoing Young says a recent win – for the community and local wildlife populations – was the decision the provincial government made in November 2019 to advance a wildlife overpass on Highway 1 east of Canmore and a wildlife underpass on Highway 3 east of Crowsnest Pass, each with wildlife fencing.

While decisions such as these have a large upfront cost, the long-term savings are evident. Young says that conservation efforts can become politicized and she has developed many new skills throughout her journey such as negotiation, media training, and government relations. One skill in particular is the ability to communicate complex scientific findings to a broader audience. Another area where her perspective has grown is recognizing and supporting Indigenous leadership. "I'm grateful to work at an organization where diversity, equity and inclusion is a priority. Y2Y values all ways of knowing including Indigenous and traditional knowledge. I believe it’s important to recognize when initiatives should in fact be Indigenous-led.”

In her presentation Young touched on the feelings of fear and overwhelm some people have about working in environmental conservation in our world today. “Some folks are worried they’ll consistently be faced with doom and gloom” and to this group she says, “but being an active player has helped me overcome a sense of sadness and instead develop a feeling that I am making a positive impact on the future.”


Learn more about the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative

In the field, Dr. Hilary Young, MA'05, PhD'15

Dr. Hilary Young in the field

The Yellowstone to Yukon region in North America

The Yellowstone to Yukon region in North America