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2018 Year in Review: Building Quiet Momentum

At Wildlands Network, our momentum builds quietly.  We’ve doggedly pushed forward for the past 5 years, and now in 2018, we are on the cusp of some big victories for the wild places and wild things of North America.

From field research to introducing wildlife corridor protections in Congress to creating new collaborative partnerships, we’ve worked harder than ever—sometimes stressed, sometimes angered, and often exhausted—but always resolute and hopeful. We’ve seen baby steps turn into national initiatives and have engaged state conservation efforts more successfully this year than we imagined possible.

Here are some of our highlights from 2018:

Carnivores

In this closeup shot, a red wolf stares straight at the camera, his ears alert and snout pointed downward.
The fate of red wolves is uncertain. Photo: Becky Bartell, USFWS

We shone a bright light on the federal government’s disastrous plan to eviscerate protections for the remaining 30-35 wild red wolves in North Carolina, generating stories in the Washington Post, Associated Press, and USA Today. We fought back by launching a critical landowner outreach initiative, hiring a local staffer to rebuild tolerance for these iconic, endangered carnivores.

The payoff: when we and our partner groups waded through the 108,000+ public comments received by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about their plan to give up on the few remaining red wolves, we revealed that fully 99.9% of the comments were in support of protecting the wolves in the wild—where they belong.  We will keep the pressure on, doing all we can to protect the most endangered species in North America.

We developed an extensive summary of federal responsibility to recover the Mexican gray wolf, which integrates Forest Service planning requirements and opportunities. In addition, we developed a groundbreaking new map of predicted Mexican gray wolf connectivity with Albuquerque-based GIS expert Birds Eye View to identify the most likely pathways of wolf movement, for land managers and conservationists, identifying a major wildlife corridor we call the Aldo Leopold wildlife corridor, from western New Mexico’s Gila wilderness complex and Arizona’s Blue Range, across the magnificent Mogollon Rim to the San Francisco Peaks near Grand Canyon.

4 adorable brown and white pups sitting in the grass
Mexican wolf pups. Photo: Juan Carlos Bravo

The payoff: The summary of federal responsibility will be submitted to Tonto and Gila National Forest Planning Committees to guide make science-based decisions to manage the land for Mexican wolf recovery.

Road Ecology

In the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee, we are using cutting-edge science to determine the best locations for wildlife road crossings along a critical stretch of Interstate 40 near Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We’ve fitted several elk with GPS collars to learn where they attempt to cross the road, and our newly hired wildlife scientist is installing cameras and running road kill surveys along the highway to determine hotspots for wildlife mortality.

Five people tend to a bull elk whose face is covered with a green cloth.
Wildlands Network’s Liz Hillard and National Park Service’s Joe Yarkovich (foreground) collar a bull elk in the Cataloochee Valley, November 16, 2018. Photo: Keith Martin

The payoff: By reducing vehicle collisions with elk, deer, and bear, we protect wildlife and people.

Further east, in Durham North Carolina, our Wildlife Conservationist has collected an entire year’s worth of camera trapping data under a large highway bridge that was expanded in the mid-2000s to allow wildlife to move underneath it, along the important New Hope Creek Corridor.

The payoff: We will use the results from the project to highlight the value of wildlife road crossings across the state, in addition to pushing for more road mitigation projects along this regionally significant wildlife corridor.

This year, we’ve worked harder than ever—sometimes stressed, sometimes angered, and often exhausted—but always resolute and hopeful.

On Mexico’s Highway 2, a major barrier to wildlife movement in the Sky Islands region of Sonora, we identified and advocated for fencing and escape ramps; started a camera-monitoring project to document wildlife movement along the highway; and supported Sonora’s state congress in issuing an exhortation to federal Mexican transportation authorities requesting wildlife crossings.

The payoff: Introducing wildlife crossings along this dangerous hotspot of wildlife-vehicle collisions will create permeability for wildlife, including jaguars and Mexican wolves, moving throughout the region and between our two countries, to find food, mates, and shelter, reducing the fatal dangers to both wildlife and people.

Mapping

With help from numerous experts, we’ve continued to update our visionary map of the entire Eastern Wildway, a network of habitat cores and corridors stretching from Florida to Quebec.

Drawing of the Eastern United States with much of the coast the interior regions mapped out in green and yellow.
Wildlands Network’s map of the Eastern Wildway builds on E.O. Wilson’s Half-Earth theory, protecting 48.68% of eastern North America. Map: Wildlands Network

The payoff: Our corridor maps are already being put to use by conservationists on the ground, including the Blue Ridge Forever Coalition of land trusts in western North Carolina.  And we’ve worked closely with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, using our analysis to help them prioritize land purchases that will increase wildlife habitat and connectivity along the trail.

We began our work with Dr. Josh Lawler and his team at the University of Washington’s Creative Conservation Lab to map connectivity in the Pacific Wildway. We recently completed the first iteration of the map, focusing primarily on identifying the impacts of climate change on the landscape from the border of British Columbia to the San Francisco Bay area.

The payoff: This tool will be made available at no charge to land and resource mangers and conservation partners to assist them in making biologically sound decisions.

We collaborated with Sonoran Next Generation Researchers to help organize the first annual Border Bioblitz. We organized a team to document every plant, animal and bug seen at Coronado National Memorial in the Huachuca Mountains of southeast Arizona. In the spirit of cross-border collaboration, Wildlands Network helped several organizations in Mexico organize their own teams.

A man in a khaki bucket hat and orangey-red long-sleeved shirt squats on the ground while exploring a rocky red cleft with his hands. A green, pointy plant is visible just above the area his hands are searching.
Exploring a crevice in the rocks for signs of life during the Border Bioblitz. Photo: Myles Traphagen

The payoff: Over1,200 different species were documented in one day, highlighting the exceptional biological diversity present along the U.S.-Mexico border and shininga positive light on the dynamic and diverse region thatso many creatures and people call home.

Policy

We welcomed 2 legal summer interns into our Pacific Wildway crew, Erin Yoder-Logue and Dakota Rash. Over the course of 3 months, Erin and Dakota helped draft sample state corridor legislation for 5 states and commented on changes to the Endangered Species Act regulations.

The payoff: Using this draft legislation, Wildlands Network is working with state legislators who intend to introduce wildlife corridor bills next year in Washington, Oregon, New Mexico, Virginia, and Pennsylvania! Other states are coming on board, too.

A group of tan and white four-legged animals stand in a line looking at the camera in a yellow, grassy field in front of some mountains in the evening light.
Pronghorns. Photo: Chip Carroon, BLM

We continued to lead the effort to support the introduction of the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act by Rep. Don Beyer (D- VA) and Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) in the U.S. House and Senate in December 2018.

The payoff: This groundbreaking legislation was introduced this month, and will be reintroduced in 2019, hopefully with bi-partisan support.  If passed, this landmark legislation will protect wide-ranging animals like pronghorns, Florida panthers, grizzly bears, and monarch butterflies. Amazingly, there’s a chance of this bill becoming reality even under this Administration!

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