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A Look Back at Our Deep Ecology Roots in Wild Earth, Volume 1, Issue 1

A new year has just begun, so we’re looking ahead to the many exciting programs and opportunities we have to reconnect, restore, and rewild wildlife and wildlands across North America.

This year, we’ll be monitoring wildlife crossings on major roadways across the continent. We’ll update our Wildway maps to highlight priority areas in need of conservation. We’ll continue to work with federal legislators to promote wildlife corridors on a national scale, and so much more.

The belief in the dignity of the diversity of life is at the heart of all we do to reconnect, restore, and rewild North America.

But as the first month of 2019 comes to a close, we’d also like to take a look back at our deep ecology roots. We can only forge ahead, protecting species and ensuring sustainable biodiversity, if we have a clear sense of who we are and what we’re about.

Wildlands Network was founded in 1991 by a small group of visionary conservationists, including Michael Soulé and Dave Foreman, who understood that North America’s protected areas were too small and disconnected to sustain the diversity of life. The world was in the midst of the Sixth Great Extinction, facing a rapid loss of biodiversity and certain extinction for specific species.

Our solution? Connecting huge swaths of land, covering about 50% of the earth’s surface, so that wide-ranging wildlife—including keystone species like wolves, grizzly bears, and big cats—could have room to roam to find food, mates, and shelter in what we call Wildways.

Map of North America showing the Eastern, Western, Pacific, and Boreal Wildways envisioned by Wildlands Network.
Map of North America showing the Eastern, Western, Pacific, and Arctic/Boreal Wildways envisioned by Wildlands Network.

We also knew that humans need room to roam, too. Wide open, protected natural areas provide solitude, spiritual renewal, and a quiet setting for backcountry recreation. They also provide a unique opportunity to coexist with our wild neighbors, with whom we share this planet.

In our inaugural issue of Wild Earth, we explored what it would mean to endeavor to preserve our planet’s precious biodiversity, so that life—from cacti to butterfly to wolf to human—could thrive. From the introduction on page 2, Dave Foreman writes:

Mere reform of industrial civilization will not suffice. Grappling with the ecological crisis requires a re-thinking of the role of humans within the life community. We must recognize with John Muir that all things are connected, that humans are only one of many millions of species that have been produced by evolution. We have no divine right to treat all other life as “resources” for our use. Other beings have value independent of their worth to humans; they live for their own sake.

You see, from the time we were founded 28 years ago, our on-the-ground efforts have been informed by this basic belief that all of life has the right to exist on this planet, and that as those with the voice and the power to effect change, we must speak up for those wild animals who cannot speak up for themselves. We must endeavor to protect those wild creatures we’ve systematically wiped out, some species to near extinction.

A lone Mexican wolf moves through green vegetation, with the photo blurred to show that the wolf is in motion.
The Mexican wolf (lobo) was hunted and killed to near extinction in the U.S. in the 1970s. Today, the lobo is rare and highly endangered on both sides of the Mexico-U.S. border. Photo: Juan Carlos Bravo

In another article later in the issue in an excerpt from his book Confessions of an Eco-Warrior on page 10, Foreman writes:

Why does a man with a life span of seventy yeas think it proper to destroy a two-thousand-year-old redwood to make picnic tables? To kill one of thirty breeding female Grizzlies in the Yellowstone region because she ate one of his sheep? To rip though a five-thousand-year-old Creosote Bush on a motorized tricycle for some kind of macho thrill? To dam Glen Canyon and Hetch Hetchy for electricity and water to irrigate lawns?

Until we learn to respect these others as our equals, we will be strangers and barbarians on Earth. Wilderness, real wilderness, is the path home. The articulation of that truth is the vital duty of the preservation movement. We cannot achieve it by hiding behind the anthropocentric arguments of monumentalism, worthless lands, utilitarianism or primitive recreation. We can do it only by stating what we truly believe and challenging humankind with that ethical idea.

Grizzly bear. Photo: Jean Pierre Lavoie

Further in the issue, mountaineer and ecophilosopher Dolores LaChapelle paints a moving picture of our deep, ancestral relationship with the natural world. She writes in her essay “Wild Human Wild Earth” on page 55 that we share certain emotions with our animal ancestors.

The emotions we humans value most—altruism and empathy—do not come from the neocortex but from the deeper, the so-called animal or limbic, level of the brain. We inherited these emotions from our animal ancestors, and when we operate within this brain we share thinking with the animals.

And that, my friends, is what Trusting Wildness is all about. We are much more like the wild creatures with whom we share the planet than we are different. We hope to encourage conversation from our readers and partners about appreciating and protecting the right of all of life to exist. This belief in the dignity of the diversity of life is at the heart of all we do to reconnect, restore, and rewild North America.

Throughout the year, we will publish monthly posts meant to challenge our perceptions of how we relate to and conserve the natural world. We hope you’ll join us on our journey this year. Look out for a new Trusting Wildness next month! In the meantime, you can stay connected with Wildlands Network by signing up for our newsletter, or taking action for wildlife.

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